I am indebted to Anatoly Belychook for the idea for this post.
Late last year I put out a post entitled “The Unseen side of process project part three: Process Ownership” which discussed the whole idea of how processes need to be owned by senior individuals in the organisation with authority across all business areas. This is one reason process ownership is so badly done nowadays.
As part of that post I made the following quotation "If everything goes well with them nobody notices. As soon as there is any sort of problem with it then you're the bad guy"
One comment I received from Anatoly about that quote said the following: “Maybe we should learn from medicine? Look: they have prophylaxy/prevention, then theraphy and finally surgery (who said "pathologist"?!). They educate their patients and future patients including 100% healthy - at the moment - ones that they must care about their health early if they want to live long and well. They instruct people passing through surgery what rehabilitation they need. Shouldn't companies go through process inspection annually just like people go to stomatologists? BPR = surgery”
This is a concept which intrigued me and it made me think a little more about how we actually tend to manage processes in the big scheme of things.
My experience is that processes tend to be handled as follows:
Either an organisation leaves their processes to deal with themselves (i.e. no method of process management is implemented) or they tend to have projects which will affect one or more processes and as such will deal with them as part of that project. Occasionally there will be a project that is implemented to document the current state of the process prior to, say, an internal audit or an outsourcing project. Other than that, the management of processes within a company is not isolated and identified as a separate capability or function.
The problem with this approach is that it does not allow the different levels of maintenance that Anatoly mentions in his note.
For example: If a process capability was identified in an organisation with the mandate of overseeing the ‘health’ of processes they could then look at each of the different stages detailed above to potentially identify problems and remedy them.
In a smoothly running organisation there would be regular checks of the state of a process with minor preventative maintenance being made if there is a small issue (Such as when as market shifts and a process has to subtly shift to deal with that). At a later stage in the life cycle of that change it may be identified that there are larger changes which would need to be made to ensure the process is set up for success in the future.
At some point in the life of the organisation a major upheaval may need to be made. This could include being purchased or taken-over my a third party or taking on an outsourced function from another organisation. This could involve major surgery to a process and would have to be dealt with as such.
To monitor all this - and ensure the appropriate level of care is taken of your processes, there needs to be a body which is responsible for the ‘health check’ of the process. This needn’t be a large function - and indeed could just be a capability attached to other parts of the organisation. But it does need to exist and it does need to have the appropriate level of control and authority to identify, recommend and make changes to the processes.
As Anatoly mentions, each process should then go through the equivalent of an annual health check. The process should be scrutinised on two levels:
a) Superficially. Does it have the appropriate ownership, management and measurment in place to identify potential changes and to make those changes?
b) In detail. Is the process still appropriate and relevant? Does it still fit into the overall scheme of processes within the organisation? Does it need to me altered (or removed) to make it more efficient?
Of course a suggestion or proposal such as this is not one which can happen without some sort of difficulty. There are always reasons why something like this should not be done- in the same way as there are always reasons why people do not have regular health checks until something goes wrong. The problem with waiting is that once a problem has been identified, it then becomes a serious matter of cure rather than a less serious matter of prevention. Curing a problem will always take longer and cost more than preventing it in the first place. But preventing something as less sexy and harder to quantify. This is when a company starts to fall into the paradigm of “pay me now or pay me much more later”. Usually companies will elect to pay more later. This is a similar situation to the current problems with airport security that the world is having to face. Back when I travelled 150 to 250 flights per year the security was lax and it was quite easy to turn up at the airport 30 minutes before departure and get on a flight. If someone went to the authorities and asked them to spend a load of money adding extra security checks, more people, more intimate searches and more intelligence into the process you would have been laughed out of the room. However once terrorists used fully fueled planes to target internationally known buildings in suicide attacks it became a lot easier to justify this - although it also cost more as a result. (Please don’t think I am equating the 9/11 terrorists attacks with managing a process. I am not. What I am illustrating is the tendency of people to be adverse to doing the right thing until the situation forces them to do it)
The idea of a ‘health check’ for your processes is one which, I think, holds a lot of merit. There are, of course, barirers in the way to making that happen, but if a company is serious about being world class when it comes to the processes in its organsiation then these barriers can easily be overcome.
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