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Archive for June, 2009

Why are we lagging?

Here is a response I penned this morning in one of the LinkedIn process groups.  The person who initiated the discussion was asking the question “Why are Americans lagging in trying new things in relation to processes?  Even the two approaches of Lean and Six Sigma are not being adhered to as strictly as in the UK and on the continent.”  

My response to that question is:
You have hit directly at the core of a problem I keep running into.  I have been trying to connect conceptually and intellectually with both business leaders as well as academics around the idea of business design. Every principle you can think of in relation to process design is equally true for business design.

Here are some examples:

  • A poor process design can never result in great process performance.
  • The key to process performance is in the design, not the strategies.
  • You can not execute process strategies unless the process design can accommodate those strategies.
  • Processes have a design, just like products.
  • Performance requirements for processes should not be arbitrary but instead based upon requirements of the market place and stakeholders.
  • Before making adjustments to a process you should always document the process to reduce the likelihood of unintended consequences.
  • When documenting a process what one is actually doing is documenting the design of the process.
  • Process management consists of four steps (DIEM): Design (according to performance requirements); Implement (the design according to specs); Execute (the design according to specs); and Manage (keep track of KPIs to know whether design is meeting requirements of two sources: customers and shareholders).  Go back to first step when design either does not meet performance requirements or performance requirements change.
  • Now reread every bullet in the preceding paragraph and substitute business for process. And every sentence is equally true. Only now you are operating at a higher level, one where processes are just one piece of the puzzle.

Why am I having trouble getting across the importance of business design to executives and academics? I think for two reasons: 1) they have trouble with critical thinking. They have been taught what to think and not how to think. They filter everything through what they have been taught and can not see other possibilities. This is reinforced by consulting companies who keep selling them the same processes (strategic planning for one) that continue not to work (which I can explain why rather easily). And 2) they have too much invested in the way they currently think to allow something new to come in. I have been especially disappointed in people I know and respect and have even studied under in their inability to consider what I have to say. They have been teaching the same ideas for years and have all of their case studies lined up for students to review, analyze and report. But the universities and colleges are supposed to be the heart of new ideas and creativity and what I am finding is a stone wall just as thick as those of the business world.

And I see some of that same resistance in several of the process groups.

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