How Many Processes Do You Own? by Kevin McManus
When we normally think about process improvement, we think about cutting the waste out of front line jobs, such as those on an assembly line. Rarely do we think about the waste that might exist in management processes such as meetings, training, and projects. Unfortunately, the waste in these ‘higher level’ processes might be much more costly than those processes that are used to create products or provide services on a daily basis.
Sure, we talk about holding effective meetings, measuring the effectiveness of our training, and making sure each project is completed by the established deadline, but do we consistently measure and trend the cycle time and waste levels of these every day efforts? Are we accomplishing our meeting goals in the least amount of time possible? Are we providing the maximum amount of learning at the lowest cost? If you are like most organizations, the answer is “I really don’t know.”
Similarly, we human beings repeatedly execute the same personal processes each day, with little thought being given to optimizing their effectiveness. Think about how much time you spend each year getting ready for work or preparing supper each night. Process effectiveness might not seem to matter here, unless you happen to say once in awhile “I don’t have time to do that.”
The best organizations, such as those that have aggressively pursued the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, recognize that each employee owns at least one key process in their organization. This recognition leads them to take steps to ensure that each employee, including those in management, knows what steps need to be taken to ensure that their processes are performing at an optimum level.
They know how to use data, lean thinking, and problem solving tools to take the waste out of these processes. They track both process throughput and process waste on a consistent, daily basis to make sure that progress is being made. They are always looking for better ways to meet the needs of each process’s customers.
Process management is a process in itself. Good process managers are able to identify process steps, process waste streams, and key process metrics. They have worked with their internal or external customers to identify those key requirements that a given process is expected to satisfy. They can demonstrate process improvement over time in a fact-based, visual way.
Think of the money that could be saved if each person in your company knew which processes they owned and was given the tools and support to make sure that regular improvement could occur. Would morale improve if meetings and training were more effective? Would a sense of ownership and pride grow over time if each manager set a personal example by improving their own processes?
Making the switch to a process orientation is not hard, but it does involve learning to think differently. More importantly however, such a change involves admitting that we all do repetitive tasks as we perform our daily work, and in turn, we should all be held accountable for the results that these processes produce and making sure that we keep making each key process better as the days go by.
What are Your Key Processes?
Flow charting, or value stream mapping as new variations of this tried and true quality tool are called, is the primary tool that people use to define the value added and non-value added steps of a given process. You probably used this tool at one time or another to define a process, but you may not have gone the extra mile to also identify (1) what the desired process should look like, (2) what the waste, or non-value added, steps in the existing process are, and (3) what the root causes of that waste are.
Even fewer organizations go beyond process mapping to define all of the key processes in their organization, along with the customer requirements and measures for each. The table shown below is central to the process definition efforts of the best companies. By simply taking the time as a leadership team to complete a similar table for your location, you might come across some definition gaps and gain some clarity about why you do what you do each day.
The Baldrige criteria focus on two key process types - value creation and support. Value creation processes exist to build value into the product or service that you are providing to your customers. Support processes help make sure that the value creation processes can do their job. We tend to focus on value creation processes because they are central to the supply chain itself. We shouldn’t ignore the support processes however, because if they contain waste or fail to meet their requirements, the value creation processes will eventually break down as well, or cost much more to execute than they should.
The table to the right is an example of one that is commonly found in a Baldrige application for an organization's value creation processes. There are two key things to note about this example.
First of all, look at the types of process areas that are listed. A lot of companies neglect some of these processes from a process management perspective. They just let them run their cycles each day, with little worry being given to potential process waste or process improvement possibilities.
Second, and more importantly, look at the columns that have been completed for each process area. In each of the six areas shown, key customer requirements, processes, and measures have been defined. This is where both the simplicity and power of process management exists. Imagine - by simply taking the time to complete such a chart for your location (at most an hour or two of your leadership team's time), you could gain a lot of clarity about why your people currently do what they do on the job each day. I would also be willing to bet that you find a gap or two, such as a lack of defined internal or external customer requirements or a missing measure for measuring success in meeting those requirements.
For an example flow chart of a fully developed process management effort, click here! Oh, and by the way, don't forget that a similar chart can be created for your support processes as well (such as human resources, information technology, and maintenance). How much waste and clarity do you think you might find in those areas??
Would You Like Some Help?
Over the past 17 or so years, I have helped set up and manage process management systems in three different companies - both small and large - in the manufacturing and service arenas. This experience has helped me discover value added, simple ways to set up systems for measuring process effectiveness, creating balanced scorecards that link process performance and really tell a company's improvement story, and helping each process owner better understand what makes their systems tick. Failing to define and eliminate process waste streams is the primary power restrictor for this power system - these tools help you both eliminate that barrier and move forward more rapidly towards higher levels of performance.
If you are interested in the process management systems and tools that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, give some thought to working further with me to help you improve your process management system through my interactive process definition and improvement workshop.
Keep improving! -- Kevin McManus, the Systems Guy
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“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates