Making Change: Getting from To Be to As Is
The purpose of a process improvement project is NOT to create a To Be. What we must create is a new As Is.
Typically, 'the To Be' is a PowerPoint presentation, perhaps with an accompanying project plan. These are perfectly reasonable and necessary artifacts. However, I am very confident that your organization does not have a business problem called "we don't have enough slides and plans."
Too often our process improvement projects create a Never Will Be and that, by our own process definitions, is waste to be eliminated. Wait! What! Process improvement projects are waste?! That's embarrassing. How do we avoid that vicious cycle?
As well as the opportunity cost of missed performance enhancement, there is also a significant additional negative impact of failed process improvement initiatives. The perceived value of process analysis and improvement is greatly reduced by such failures to deliver benefits commensurate with the effort involved. "We tried process improvement. It was very disruptive and didn't work."
No doubt there are many reasons why process improvement projects make more recommendations than changes. The process of process improvement needs to be improved! There are three that I think are particularly important and far too common:
- Working on the wrong process without a compelling need for change.
- Recommending changes without impact — nice-to-have rather than must-have.
- Change proposals not driven by the business.
If we can avoid these problems the process of process improvement is going to be much more efficient and effective.
These problems have a common theme. It's about impact. What will happen if we make the changes? What's the impact of not making the changes?
Of course, there is no silver bullet. Even if we avoid these and other related problems, we are still constrained by our need to work in the real world where we must apply finite resources to an 'infinite' opportunity space.
Perfection is not our target, or even aspiration, but it is the light on the hill to show us the way.
Purposeful process improvement
We can't get optimum process improvement if we are working on the wrong processes. That seems fairly obvious … and yet, how do processes get selected for analysis and possible improvement? If it's not a deliberate, mindful selection based on consistent criteria, then it's not the best investment, and commitment to change will be hard to achieve and sustain.
Selection should be based on performance against PKPIs (process KPIs) and their targets, or on the possibility of incorporating a new idea or technology into the process operation. I've written extensively about this as incorporated in the Tregear Circles, for example here and here.
We are always looking to discover, define, assess, and possibly close or realize performance gaps. A performance gap might be an opportunity gap or a problem gap, and a problem gap might be related to an existing or emergent problem.
Define the gap with as much detail and objective data as possible. It's not good enough to say something like "the process takes too long to execute." At a minimum we need to know how long it takes now and how long should it take, and why, all of which might vary driven by multiple parameters. Then we want to explore in detail the impact and cost of not closing the gap versus the impact and cost of closing it.
What would good look like? Why? Why now? Who cares? If we answer these questions in as much detail as necessary, then we have a much better chance of defining the right improvements and having those improvements implemented and sustained.
Changes without impact
Are the recommended changes really important? Are they must-haves or just nice-to-have? If it's the latter then they will, not surprisingly, struggle to attract sufficient attention and resources to be realized. There may be some interest in nice-to-have changes at the start but at the first attention or resource conflict they will be abandoned.
It can't be change for the sake of change. It must be change for impact. That impact needs to be well defined so that informed decisions can be made about resource allocation and timing.
Process analysis and improvement methods can produce zombie change recommendations. Dead change walking! There can be pressure to deliver change recommendations even if nothing compelling has been discovered. "We've been working on this for two weeks and there is an executive presentation next week, so we better have at least five changes to recommend!"
If no compelling change has been discovered, then ask if the analysis method is effective and challenge why this process was selected in the first place. The necessary changes might be in a different process.
Not my change
In a previous column I wrote about the prime process imperative to deliver proven, valued, business benefits (PVBB), i.e., benefits to the business, valued by the business, and proven with objective data about which there is no dispute. This sets a high bar, but it is the only level of outcome that can be accepted.
If a change is going to be made and sustained there must be sufficient business motivation to both commence and continue. Some change is easy; most change is hard.
The business case for any change must come from the business. If there is no excitement for the change outside of the process team, then the change won't happen. There must be real business ownership of the need for change and the motivation to make it happen.
Process improvement project teams can discover that it's difficult to handover the change program to business as usual. It can be difficult to make the modeling-to-management transition.
In the real world where everyone is applying finite resources to 'infinite' possibilities, everyone is prioritizing, i.e., everyone is choosing what is at the top and the bottom of the To Do list.
If the process improvement project team can't convince the key stakeholders that the change is vital, then it won't happen — indeed it would be irrational for it happen.
Process improvement is a process.
The process Improve Process Performance should be managed in the same way we evangelize for other processes. It should have PKPIs and targets, a Process Owner should be assigned, performance data collected, and mindful responses should be made. This process should be the gold standard for continuous process management and improvement.
Imagine the impact if the most efficient and effective process in the organization was the process of process improvement!
Important PKPIs for Improve Process Performance will be outcomes such as % of process changes implemented as planned and % of process benefits realized as forecast.
We need to stop making process change recommendations that don't get implemented. We need to understand why that happens. We need to improve the process, so it doesn't happen again.
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