What’s Next on the Horizon for Process Excellence?

Vince Pierce

Most of us know the history of Process Excellence, from the days leading up to Total Quality Management to the more recent focus on Customer Experience Management. We have all heard of - if not read with interest - the works of Fredrick Taylor, Taiichi Ohno, W. Edwards Deming, and James Womack (to name a few). If not, a 30 minute internet search could easily turn the intellectually curious into a historian on the subject.

However, if you ask four people about the next generation of Process Excellence, you will likely get four different points of view.

This article is my view, and as with all points of view, it may very well evolve as I experiment, learn, and adapt to our volatile business climate.

As we examine this topic, it is reasonable to group the evolution of Process Excellence into two categories: the discipline (e.g. Strategy Deployment, Lean, Six Sigma, BPM, etc.) and the application of the discipline. The discipline itself will evolve continuously as new research findings, strategies, and methods are introduced.

One recent example of discipline evolution is the introduction of the "Improvement Kata" based on Mike Rother’s research, which explores our patterns of thought and action around continuous improvement, innovation, and adaptiveness. There will always be a next generation of discipline on the horizon.

Meanwhile, a quick search on Process Excellence trends returns topics such as Total Innovation and Customer Experience Management. Those trends speak to the application of Process Excellence more than the discipline itself. It is the application of Process Excellence that I believe will have the greatest impact on the future of our industry.

So what is the next generation of Process Excellence in terms of application?

First, let us explore two examples of what the next generation is not. The next generation is not an all-or-nothing proposition or zero-sum game. Most senior leaders will not adopt an entire "Lean Operating System" without years of demonstrated success (if even then). Some of them will not change their approach to Strategy Deployment, regardless of how many case studies and proposals are presented by experts or peers.

The next generation is also not about being doctrinaire. Too many professionals use comparisons to persuade their colleagues or senior leaders to adopt their espoused "ideology". Arguments made around "conventional" versus "Lean" management or Lean versus Six Sigma are not resonating with those audience groups. I recently read a book (rated 4.5 stars by over 100 readers) that suggested that every single one of the Lean principles espoused within the book had to be adopted or else you were doing "fake" Lean (as opposed to "real" Lean). Really?

The next generation of Process Excellence application is about the principles, strategies, and methods becoming ubiquitous and pragmatic. By this I mean that they will be integrated throughout our business functions and present in all industries as a necessary condition of meeting (if not exceeding) the increasingly high expectations of associates, customers, and shareholders.

As we apply Process Excellence in innovative ways, incorporating next generation disciplines along the way, there are countless opportunities to realize differentiation. This will be made possible through the synergy between Process Excellence and other fields and functions – e.g. supply chain, HR, learning and development - more than anything else, where Process Excellence is a (not "the") catalyst for higher performance.

To enable this next generation of application, we must continue to focus on the inter-relationship between relevance and integration. Relevance means adding value to an organization through Process Excellence based on its current needs and state of readiness. This requires a long-term view of "deployment" (as an unfolding journey) and being open to alternative approaches to initiating the journey. It occasionally necessitates acceptance that Process Excellence professionals (even "masters") may need to initially demonstrate value by actually moving the needle as opposed to mobilizing a training pilot or full-scale deployment.

We must first understand the current condition of the business and engage in a relevant way. Demonstrating the power and value of Process Excellence is sometimes the most effective way to influence the organization toward point adoption or systematic cultural change.

If a CXO of a public company is having major performance challenges threatening the annual operating plan, for instance, they may not find an "enablement" strategy relevant. It would be analogous to treating a heart attack patient with a lecture on eating more fruits and vegetables. Is that lecture part of the overall solution, aimed at teaching the patient how to live with a more balanced lifestyle? Absolutely! Just not the immediate next step given the current condition of the patient.

Giving a lecture on healthy eating to someone who’s having a heart attack might not be the best immediate course of action

Overall, business trends often outpace the developments of any individual field or function and Process Excellence is no exception. The key will be integrating Process Excellence throughout the enterprise. For example, applying Process Excellence to emerging trends in Customer Relationship Management -e.g. social media or customer insight analytics -in order to remain relevant. This next generation will require us to adapt and apply our principles, strategies, and methods more creatively – ideally as a complete "business system". Above all, it must be applied practically in any way that adds value to the business and takes us one step further on the journey to excellence.