Frameworks: Process Framework Fundamentals Remain Foundational

Process frameworks are an incredibly useful tool for jumpstarting process discovery, developing a common language for processes, creating end-to-end process maps, and more. However, these activities and the work of process management more broadly can be challenging, and organizations are often unsure how or where to get started when they implement a process framework.

Consequently, APQC conducts a survey every two years which explores process frameworks. How do people use them? What are their benefits? And where do people get hung up during implementation?

So, what did we find in this year’s survey?

What are the Common Applications?

Overall, the applications of frameworks are static. There’s an array of ways that organizations use process frameworks from building maps to developing a process library for an ERP system.

Process Discovery and Standardization

The primary application of process frameworks remains helping organizations understand and codify their processes—usually to create standardization and a common understanding of what each process means.

Build process maps

Maps tangibly illustrate how processes occur and work happens. When an organization can visualize how its processes play out and interact, it can better coordinate improvement projects, choose measures, facilitate training, manage personnel, resolve conflicts, rationalize investments, support strategic planning, automate work, secure buy-in, and communicate relationships.

Identify current processes

A current state assessment helps an organization understand where it is before planning its future state and know what resources it needs to progress. Additionally, organizations conduct current state process assessments to: identify gaps and redundancies, uncover variations, link to roles and systems, assess performance and value.

Performance Improvement

Organizations leverage the pre-existing process measures found in frameworks to help pinpoint the best fit measures for their processes. They also use process frameworks as a taxonomy to help manage improvement opportunities and ensure efforts aren’t redundant or negatively affect adjacent processes.

Identify measures and KPIs

Organizations know that choosing the right measures is a critical step in generating meaningful insights and reports. A well-balanced set of measures provides actionable insights into a process’ performance, helps identify current challenges and opportunities, and aligns with the organization’s culture and strategic goals.

Manage improvement projects

Year-after-year process professionals report that “identifying, prioritizing, and selecting improvement opportunities” is one of their biggest improvement challenges. Teams struggle with ensuring improvement efforts are balanced, proactive, and focus on the highest value problems. Teams also need to take a holistic perspective for improvements to take advantage of synergies between projects and develop improvements that won’t fix one area while breaking something further downstream.

What Value Do They Bring?

Though standardization is a meaningful benefit, organizations will often need to build a business case or outline tangible value for adopting a framework. In previous years the top benefits focused on communications and buy-in for process work. However, teams have matured in their value-capture and two of the top three benefits are more tangible:

  1. Established transparency on processes—moves beyond creating a common language for how work gets done to include visibility about what work is being executed across business siloes.
  2. Saved time—because organizations already have a list of common process, they don’t have to start their process efforts from a blank page.
  3. Reduced redundant processes—by using a framework as a reference model, organizations can take inventory of their processes and understand if there are multiple groups carrying out the same process—creating rework—or unnecessary variations that over complicate the execution of work.

While frameworks are explicitly beneficial, organizations still seem to struggle with effective implementation.

What’s Holding Process Teams Back?

Most of the challenges organizations face have little to nothing with the framework itself. Instead, the challenges tend to fall into two categories: buy-in and engagement and alignment and purpose.

Buy-in and Engagement

Refers to the ability to engage leadership and employees in the value of process work and develop accountability and participation for process work in the business. The top two challenges in this area include:

  1. Lack of incentives for participating in process work—employees are already stretched thin trying to do more with less. And process work is often taken on in addition to employees’ regular tasks. Consequently, process teams need to sell employees on the what’s in it for me of process work—which means both tangible—recognition and rewards—and intangible incentives—ability to be a part of the solution.
  2. Front-line resistance—in addition to employees being overburdened, processes can be an emotionally charged subject for employees. In some cases, employees see any criticism or need to rework their processes as a judgment of their own performance. While in other case the employees may have been a part of the development of the current processes or documentation efforts and don’t see the need for something different.

Alignment and Purpose

Focuses on ensuring that process efforts support the goals of the organizations and provides tangible value to those executing the process. The top two challenges in this area include:

  1. Adopt and build maps for all processes, regardless of value—though mapping is a valuable tool, mapping indiscriminately is a waste of resources. When organizations try to map everything, there is rarely a plan for what to do with all the maps: storage, upkeep, and even communication and accessibility to those who conduct the processes. It also keeps the focus on the wrong aspects of process management and does not ensure that the process maps create value.
  2. Lack of knowledge management—accessibility to process knowledge is paramount to it providing value throughout the organization. This means organizations not only have to develop process repositories so that people can easily access process knowledge in the flow of work, but it also means that organizations need to include the contextual knowledge associated with the process (e.g., business rules, templates, lessons learned, and best practices).

Conclusion

Process frameworks are foundational elements for many organizations as they either embark on their process journeys or continue to strive for process maturity. While the application of frameworks remains consistent year-on-year, organizations continue to evolve in the benefits they derive from them. Furthermore, by sharing best practices and learning from one another framework users also continue to evolve in their implementation and tackle the challenges around their implementation.

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Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland is a research specialist at APQC, with over ten years of business research and consulting experience. Her focus has predominantly been on best practices in business processes, corporate strategy, and R&D. She can be reached via email at hlykehogland@apqc.org and on Twitter at @hlykehogland.
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