Can Process Excellence play a role in the next ‘iPhone’ moment of the business world?

Does process excellence need to re-invent itself for the realities of new economic order? The answer is an unequivocal 'Yes,' according to contributor Prashant Chavan.

The economic downturn in the US and the financial crisis in the EU have left a long lasting impact on the global economy and have forced a comprehensive re-think of current models such as the focus on cost vs value, incremental vs breakthrough growth, etc.

Process excellence needs to reinvent itself for these new economic realities by re-envisaging its role within the business itself because the traditional approaches currently being deployed were conceptualized and designed to meet the demands of completely different set of business circumstances. Now, with serviced-based, ‘knowledge export’ businesses operating in fiercely competitive circumstances, there is an urgent need to re-vitalize the process excellence function.

Consider the following approaches that have often been followed by process excellence teams in the past:

Is your toolbelt a straightjacket?

Traditional approach #1: Tool-based

In a setup of this nature, there is an excessive reliance on adherence to existing conventional tools, standards and bodies of knowledge. There is a general sense of orthodoxy in the methods and approaches and sometimes a dissonance between the wider organizational culture and the culture of process excellence and quality.

An unrelenting focus on deploying the conventional tools in the most exact manner can mean that the cost-benefit and ROI perspective is lost. This may lead to an adverse impact on business results.

Simplification & application of the abstract concepts to enable ease of adoption by the business is often not viewed as a priority task.

Traditional approach #2: Strict adherence to standards

Setups that follow this style are characterized by a high adherence to standards and benchmarks but not so high a percentage of delighted Internal and External customers. The process excellence teams are more inclined towards the ‘Policing’ attribute of the job description than the ‘Collaboration’ attribute. This mode of execution can drive 'Compliance' but rarely does it generate 'Acceptance'. Instead, it often drives employees - particularly middle and upper middle management – to stonewall the process excellence initiatives leading to overall failure.

Traditional approach #3: Simply meeting customer demands

Process excellence functions in most organizations promote the focus of the entire workforce to meet – and, at times, even exceed - customer expectations through excellent process adherence. This approach, at best, allows organizations to achieve incremental growth because it’s about improving the existing paradigm rather than creating and responding to new customer demands. Breakthrough growth is stifled through this focus on simply meeting existing customer requirements.In fact, there is a developing school of thought that questions the impact of process adherence on creativity and intellectual autonomy.

Consider the following concepts which can re-position and re-purpose the process excellence function to better meet the changing business challenges:

Future approach #1: Business outcome and value focused

Focus on the outcomes and business value delivered by linking the process excellence philosophies to go-to-market, market share & business results to bring back the focus on the 'enabling' part of the process excellence function. Generally, the delivery and operations teams rely on the process excellence teams to provide analytics, de-risking and predictions of the business challenges and this can be achieved by total orientation of the goals, objectives and priorities of the process excellence teams with that of the business teams.

Is your attention focused on outcomes?

Future approach #2: Coalition

There is a growing perception on the delivery and operations teams that process practitioners generally operate in a ‘mutually exclusive’ model. The integration of the core delivery and process excellence team is not completely seamless. Process excellence teams need to start seeing themselves as a collaborator and a service provider to the business and also as a value creator through intentional engagement in solving and predicting business problems.

Future approach #3: Innovator

Among all support functions in the services industry, only the Process Excellence function is uniquely positioned to conceptualize, plan and drive the organization wide innovation goals because of its foundations in analytics, creativity, predictive sciences and disciplined approaches to problem solving. From meeting and exceeding customer demands the journey should be made to creating new demands for the customers and new marketplaces. Theprocess excellence function needs to find a balance between processes that stifle and processes that liberates innovation. This can be done through a focus on reducing the cycle time between Status Quo – Ideation – Execution – Business Result – Breakthrough Growth.

Finally, 2 perspectives for introspection –

  1. What’s the next truly big thing after ‘PDCA’?
  2. Can the Process Excellence/Quality play an active role in the next ‘iPhone’ moment of the business world?

The ‘Perfect Storm’ that is currently affecting the industry presents rare opportunity to the Process Excellence/Quality sciences to re-invent themselves through development of newer tools, methodologies, principles & concepts that are forward looking and better equipped at addressing the evolving service challenges. The Process Excellence function has been traditionally viewed as noun but the changing circumstances of the business world will soon force it to be viewed as a verb.