Why it pays to focus on process

Published on the 31/08/2015 | Written by Ivan Seselj


process improvement

For more than a decade business surveys and management text books have identified strategy execution as the number one challenge facing CEOs. The problem isn't the quality of management strategies, says Ivan Seselj.  It is the difficulty of carrying them out...

Processes and Execution
The critical role that business processes play as a component of change has evolved through the years, and today most organisations recognise process management as a key component of the discipline of change management.

More recently however, the traditional methods used to communicate processes have come under the spotlight and a growing number of organisations are starting to examine the impact these approaches have on team execution and innovation.

The disappearing processes
Because of the importance of getting processes right, many companies decide to turn to specialists to document their processes. Generally, these specialists are given a free hand when it comes to choosing software tools for this documentation. For the past two decades, the tools-of-choice for describing a flow of activities have often been Microsoft Office Word and Visio.

Process, quality & improvement specialists study an organisation’s ways of working, look for waste and the potential for improvement, then work with teams to develop and document agreed flows. After this, they communicate these new and improved processes back to teams.

Unfortunately, it is at this point the ‘process of process improvement’ often falls down. The status quo in recent years has been to file this documentation on the shared drive or print it out as a hard copy and never look at it again. At least, not until an auditor visits, or the next specialist is brought in to update the process documentation.

Where’s the problem?
Even without up-to-date or easily accessible documentation about procedures, companies still manage to roll widgets out their doors all over the world, every day. So it’s fair to ask: Is a lack of documentation, or outdated documentation really a problem?

The issues arise when we look at control over execution and impact on collaboration.

Without critical measures in place, only mediocre CEOs would content themselves with subjective assessment of execution rates. If there is no agreed platform to deploy and track strategic ability, the outcomes are being left to chance.

It’s the same story when it comes to a process owner’s ability to drive collaboration and innovation, to truly own a process. When there is no agreed process recorded, how do you deal with repeat problem resolution? How do you ensure incremental improvement? A lack of agreed process makes it that much harder to elicit ideas from all stakeholders across the business. And when you want to make changes or improvements, action relies on building a temporary consensus through often-inefficient forums such as emails and meetings.

For many organisations, process management is now being pulled into the 21st century.

Rather than investing time and money building processes that are destined to become irrelevant, these organisations are shifting this platform for strategic execution into everyday conversation. They are encouraging individuals and teams to make continual improvements by placing process execution tips, videos and guidance online. They make the information simple to find and readily accessible to all within the organisation.

Process conversation breaks into everyday activity
By establishing a platform for process management, process owners now have a database of structured, searchable knowledge. When it’s easy to improve on this knowledge, teams feel free to develop new and better ways of doing things and at the same time, capture and share the new process.

As a result, more business teams are joining the process conversation – whereas in the past these conversations were held behind the closed doors of technical specialists and auditors.

Even better, simple communication tools are helping to embed these conversations into everyday business activity.

Terms such as “process owners” and “process champions” are shifting traditional thinking of who needs to be involved and how.

What does this mean for strategic execution?

The number one challenge for CEOs – execution – is becoming a whole lot more tangible and more traceable.

As for all those beautiful ideas, they stop being ‘ideas’ as soon as teams across the organisation sit down and agree exactly how to execute them in a systematic way. If processes aren’t meeting customer expectations, problems can be readily identified and critiqued, just as opportunities can be lauded. In other words the processes gain currency. Rather than becoming the subject of a boardroom assessment following yet another failed strategy 12 months down the track, an organisation’s processes become part of everyday discussion, capable of being examined, altered and improved in ways that deliver maximum benefit to the business and to their customers.

Ivan SeseljABOUT IVAN SESELJ//

Ivan Seselj is the founder and CEO of Promapp Solutions, a Deloitte Asia Pacific Tech Fast 500 company. With a finance and internal audit background, and experience in business process improvement roles across a range of organisations and industries, Ivan has helped hundreds of companies around the world develop and foster a positive improvement culture.

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