Practical Process: A New As Is–Making Process Improvement Real

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In the world of continuous process improvement, the results sometimes seem to be not very continuous and with little evidence of real improvement.

Nothing changes?

The process improvement project (PIP) goes well with lots of good analysis and healthy debate. The final presentation of PIP outcomes is very well received, and all improvement recommendations are accepted. Many congratulations on a job well done…except— and I’m sorry to rain on your parade—it’s as well to note at this point that no business process has been improved in the execution of this project.

The purpose of a successful PIP is to create, not a To Be, but a new As Is.

The work is not done until the change projects are completed, and the benefits have been delivered. Without delivered, proven, valued business benefits the PIP was, by our own process definitions, waste.

Those who manage, and participate in, the PIP can, quite rightly, claim that their job is to analyze the process in question and make carefully considered suggestions to capitalize on an opportunity, resolve a performance issue, or avoid an emergent performance problem. They will say that they are not running the resulting change projects and can’t force the changes to happen. Agreed.

However, we can’t sustain a situation where we are making more recommendations than changes. This wastes time, delivers sub-optimal benefits, and cheapens the idea of effective process improvement.

What might cause this to happen and how could be avoided? These three possible causes and thoughts on countermeasures are described below:

  • PIP pressure
  • Insufficient impact analysis
  • Lack of measurement

PIP pressure

There can be a tendency during a process improvement project to, perhaps unconsciously, feel pressure to ‘come up with some process changes’ even if none are seriously warranted.

It would feel like the project team had failed if the result of a PIP were that there were no changes worth making, so let’s make some recommendations even if they are not compelling or urgent.

The result of this is a series of recommended changes that are likely never going to be implemented because nobody cares enough to make them happen. The suggested changes are just ‘presentation fillers’ and don’t address any compelling business opportunities or problems.

COUNTERMEASURES:

  1. Ensure that the PIP methodology includes an option to close down the project if serious change proposals can be made.
  2. Test the level of engagement of key stakeholders by seeking a commitment to make the changes within a resonable timetable.

Impact analysis

An important, and too often omitted, step in forming suggestions for process change to improve performance is impact analysis.

What would be the impact of closing the process performance gap? What would be the impact of not closing the gap? Who cares? Why? Why now?

Every organization has thousands of processes. Why is one process a priority for improvement over others?

We can sure that if we can’t establish a credible and urgent business case for change then it is unlikely to happen, whatever it might have said in the PIP outcomes report.

The organization already has plenty of things on its To Do list. There needs to be a compelling reason to add something else.

Don’t include an action in the To Be set if it only qualifies for the May Be list.

COUNTERMEASURES:

  1. Subject every change idea to rigorous impact analysis to discover a compelling reason for change.
  2. Only suggest process changes where there is a strong business case and significant performance improvement potential.

Lack of measurement

If we aren’t measuring process performance, we aren’t doing process management and we cannot know if we are doing process improvement.

Neither can we create a credible business case for change.

Without measurement we can’t make a compelling argument for the costs and benefits of any change. “We hope things will be better” is unlikely to be a winning argument.

Process performance measurement is needed for the As Is, the To Be, and the New As Is. We need good data on current performance to make informed decisions about the need for change, the degree of change, and the urgency of change. To Be performance predictions are needed to create the business case and ROI, key requirements if change is going to happen. Measuring the New As Is tests if the changes were successful…and if further changes are needed—putting the “continuous” element in continuous improvement.

Continuous measurement of process performance is mandatory if effective process performance improvement is to be achieved and sustained.

COUNTERMEASURES:

  1. Prioritize high-impact processes and set process KPIs and targets.
  2. Measure and analyze process perfomance continually.
  3. Only recommend and implement process changes where there is credible performance data.

Delivering the new As Is

When recommended and accepted process changes are subsequently not implemented it will be because there wasn’t an evidence-based and compelling business case to fix or avoid a problem or capitalize on an opportunity.

If we haven’t demonstrated the impact of the recommended changes, they are not going to be anyone’s priority.

If you can’t make the case, don’t make the recommendation.

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Roger Tregear

Roger Tregear

As the Principal Advisor with TregearBPM (www.tregearbpm.com), Roger Tregear delivers BPM courses and consulting assignments around the world. Roger spends his working life talking, consulting, thinking, and writing about analysis, improvement, innovation, and management of business processes. His work with clients is in organizational performance improvement and problem solving based on BPM capability development, and business process, analysis, improvement, and management. He helps small and large organizations understand the potential, and realize the practical benefits, of process-based management. Roger is the author of the book Reimagining Management. Contact Roger on +61 (0)419 220 280 or at roger@tregearbpm.com.
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