Why the future is bright – but also different - for Process Excellence

Parts of our latest PEX Network research report might make gloomy reading for some people. On the face of it, budgets for process excellence/improvement appear relatively stagnant, the number of full time resources dedicated process excellence in any given company is reportedly declining, more companies are reporting that their programs are at risk or have been dismantled and the use of pure-play Six Sigma has declined significantly since similar benchmarking surveys in 2005 and 2011.

Doesn’t sound great, does it?

But - and there’s always a but – it’s not as bad as it sounds. Instead, there are some important changes underway that mean "process thinking" is becoming more important to organizations while the form that process excellence takes is shifting from monolithic, method-driven structures to more flexible, integrated ways of working and doing business.

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks…

That’s a bit of a mouthful to say that forget the huge deployments of old. The future for process excellence is small and agile. The old way of working doesn’t work for the future. Process excellence must become more of a mind set than a departmental structure.

Back in the late 1990’s and early 00’s for instance, many companies set up massive Six Sigma programs hiring specialist Black Belts and Master Black Belts and training hundreds of employee in process improvement methodologies. Structures and approaches were formal and rigid.

While many companies experienced great success with this formal approach, others didn’t. Some found the terminology arcane, the concepts too abstract and the benefits were delivered too slowly or didn’t have enough impact on the business.

Today, many of the practitioners interviewed as part of this report said that often they don’t even tell people that they’re using Six Sigma or Lean methodology. Instead, the methodologies underpin the company’s approach to process excellence and are adapted to fit the business challenge at hand.


Here’s a few predictions of what this new form of process excellence will look like. It will:

  • Ensure that it speaks the language of the business and helps support executives in pursuit of their strategic objectives
  • Be "tool agnostic" and draw upon a wide range of tools and methodologies to suit the business situation
  • Integrate change management capabilities as a core competency to help the businesses respond to markets, regulatory conditions and technological disruptions that are happening at unprecedented levels (think Blackberry)
  • Look at what technology can bring to process improvement in a much more integrated way. Instead of the sequential "improve processes and then automate" both process improvements and technological capabilities will be evaluated in tandem as new technologies enable radically new ways of working.

Process excellence will have a greater role to play in the future. The complexity of business operations, the rising recognition that competitive advantage will come through the customer experience and the tangle of new regulations that are enmeshing some industries, mean that process thinking and the ability to solve problems are becoming more - not less - important.

And that's why the future is still bright for process excellence. But different.

And you can read more about each of these findings in the full report. Download it here: Trends and Success Factors in Business Process Excellence 2014.

But what do you think? Do these trends reflect what’s going on your company?