The Unseen Face of Process Projects - Part Three: Process Ownership

This is the next in a series of posts focused on process work. Particularly process work being carried out in projects. It links in closely to my eBook ‘The Perfect Process Project’, version 2 of which has been released. If, after reading these posts, you want to purchase a copy of the book please feel free to click over to the appropriate page and do the business.

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This post is going to focus on having the appropriate owner for your processes.

I am firmly of the opinion that you need to have an owner for your processes. This owner has to fulfill the following three criteria:
  • Has to be the right person to manage the process in question
  • Has to have the authority needed
  • Has to have the right incentive/objectives to be successful

Identifying the right person to manage
Considered opinion within the process world is that the best processes (i.e. the most effective) are those that cover the whole organisation and are not restricted to one department or function. These are generally user facing processes. As such ownership for these is something that needs to be at a level that covers the whole organisation. Therefore giving ownership to Angie in accounts or Aaron in manufacturing is probably not the right way to go. This person has to be at the appropriate level to manage the process across the whole organisation. Therefore they should probably be a senior person. But remember responsibility isn't equal to expertise.  I am indebted to Anatoly Belychook from for the following example:
A deeply committed project sponsor developed key solutions instead of setting requirements and making decisions. He had detailed vision of to-be processes in his head and this vision prevented him from hearing what supposed-to-be-competent process consultants (us) had to say. He needed only our arms, not our brains
Don't allocate just anyone to the role - even if they are at the right level - as they may not have the necessary knowledge to understand the implications of a process change.

Giving them the authority
Linked in with the previous point is the whole area of authority. As well as having a level of command over the whole of the organisation the process owner will need to also have the authority needed to make the changes necessary to a company-wide process. This also includes inhibiting changes that are made where these changes will not be beneficial to the organisation.

Take for example a process which touches sales, manufacturing and finance. If the company is a predominantly manufacturing based organisation it may happen that somebody in the manufacturing function may decide to alter this process within their area. These alterations may be made with the best intentions and - in an isolated manufacturing-based world - would be excellent changes to make. But as a small part of a much larger process the ramifications of that change might be huge. If, for example, manufacturing decided to increase speed by reducing the number of quality checks in their process from 4 to 3, normally this would be acceptable (and indeed in any process, reducing the number of steps would be acceptable). But if this change causes low quality products that can't be sold to be shipped to Sales these products have to be shipped back to manufacturing for rework. Overall the effect is that the pipeline of product manufacture is then congested because reworked products now have to battle with first-time products for manufacturing time. This can impact production schedules and forward planning as well as causing low customer satisfaction. Therefore the person who is responsible for owning the process has to have the authority to be able to tell manufacturing that the change cannot be made (or if it has been made, that it needs to be reversed)

If the person in charge is primarily responsible for, say, sales, then the manufacturing function may be reluctant to change their part of the process to satisfy a salesman. but if it is made clear that this person is responsible for the whole process across the organisation - and has the authority to make this happen - then conflict is reduced or eliminated.

Giving them the right incentive/objectives
The one thing that I have discovered with processes is that managing them is usually a long and thankless task. 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 (It's the same managing web-sites...). This means that finding an appropriate way to reward a process owner is important. Relying on user feedback is not totally appropriate - especially if there is conflict across departments as mentioned in the previous entry. Therefore other measures have to be put in place and process owners appraised based on that. We'll talk about measures a little later in this series.

Process Ownership is a fairly simple concept that ahs a complex implementation. There is an art and a science involved in identifying the right person, at the right level, with the right authority and giving that person the appropriate objectives and incentives to manage the process. But without these in place the organisation will probably end up spiralling into a cycle of change and review as parts of a process are modified and updated constantly.

Spend time on this and make it a key part of your process definition

For earlier posts in this series please click here:

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project V2' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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