Making Process Work Intrinsically Valuable
Every two years APQC conducts a survey that explores process frameworks. Overall, the applications and implementation of frameworks is static. There is an array of ways that organizations use process frameworks. But typically, they use a framework to help them understand and codify their processes—usually to create standardization and a common understanding of what each process means.
While frameworks are explicitly beneficial, organizations still seem to struggle with effective implementation.
What’s Holding Process Teams Back?
Most of the challenges organizations face have little to nothing to do with the process framework itself. Instead, the challenges tend to fall into two categories:
- Buy-in and engagement — the ability to ingrain the value of process work with leadership and employees in and develop accountability and participation for process work in the business.
- Alignment and purpose — entrench process efforts as support mechanisms for organizational goals and provide tangible value to those executing the process.
While evergreen challenges around buy-in and engagement for process work are important, without alignment and purpose those efforts are not sustainable. Hence this article will focus on alignment and purpose.
Alignment and Purpose Create Better Process Results
There are three key challenges organizations face when it comes to alignment and purpose: no set goals, mapping everything regardless of value and lack of knowledge management for their processes.
No Clear Strategy
One of the key factors for ensuring leadership support and elevating the maturity of process management is tying its efforts to the organization’s strategy. Process management and frameworks help provide structure and transparency around an organization’s capabilities and performance. Conversely, if an organization’s process management is not linked to the strategic objectives of the organization, then it will suffer from a lack of support by leadership and not have the needed resources.
Consequently, the first thing any organization should do when implementing a process framework is clearly outline the following:
- Why it’s doing it and how does it support organizational goals? For example, is the organization engaging in process management activities because it wants to reduce costs, implement a new set of technologies, support strategic initiatives, or set up a culture of continuous improvement.
- What does success look like? Starting with the end state in mind helps the organization stay focused on the value of its process efforts. It also helps pinpoint clear measures of program value.
- How will the organization’s efforts impact its employees? Understand who will be impacted by the changes, how it will change the way they conduct work, and what value it will add to their jobs.
By asking itself these questions the organization can establish clear, measurable goals that align directly with strategic enterprise-wide goals for its process efforts. This information, in turn, outlines the value of process efforts with executive management and sets clear guard rails for process-related decisions.
Quantity Trumps Value
Organizations tend to struggle with building process maps for all processes, regardless of value. Though mapping is a great way to bring clarity around how work gets accomplished, mapping indiscriminately is a waste of resources. When organizations try to map everything, there is rarely a plan for what to do with all the maps: storage, upkeep, and even communication and accessibility to those who conduct the processes. It also keeps the focus on the wrong aspects of process management.
Though rampant mapping is the explicit challenge, the real cause of this problem is a lack of clarity on the purpose of the process work and clear guides on what value process mapping should provide the organization.
The first step for any process mapping work should be understanding why and what is being mapped. This means asking questions like:
- Why are we mapping this process (e.g., process is going to be automated, there is a lot of turnover for the role associated with the process, or the process is high risk)?
- What do we plan to do with the process once its mapped?
- What are the boundaries and constraints of the process (i.e., where does it begin and end, and what are its resource limitations)?
- Who are the key stakeholders for the process and what are their needs?
By scoping the process, the organization can create some boundaries and a common understanding around what will be mapped, why it is being mapped, and what’s the context of the process.
A Process without Knowledge is Hollow
Organizations indicate a lack of knowledge management is detrimental to their process efforts. Accessibility to process knowledge is paramount to it providing value throughout the organization. This means organizations not only have to develop process repositories so that people can easily access process knowledge in the flow of work, but it also means that organizations need to include the contextual knowledge associated with the process (e.g., business rules, templates, lessons learned, and best practices).
One way organizations can get their arms around process knowledge assets is through knowledge mapping. In its simplest form, a knowledge map is a visual representation of an organization’s knowledge resources and helps the organization understand:
- What knowledge is critical to a business process?
- Is there governance for the knowledge (who owns it and who can validate it)?
- Where does the knowledge resides?
- Is the information documented (explicit) or resides in someone’s head (tacit)?
- How does knowledge flow between people and systems while doing work?
There are many ways people structure knowledge maps (e.g., processes, expertise, and roles.) While it’s not strictly necessary to conduct a knowledge map while mapping your processes, doing so ensures that the organization is able to capture the relevant knowledge assets and identify redundancies and gaps.
Process frameworks are foundational elements for many organizations as they either embark on their process journeys or continue to strive for process maturity. While the application of frameworks remains consistent year-on-year, organizations continue to struggle with core issues around value and supporting organizational purpose. By starting with a clear strategy or purpose organizations can overcome many of the challenges around buy-in, focus on value rather than volume or the perception of busy work. Additionally, by building a bridge between process and knowledge management, organizations also ensure that their processes help employees execute their work more effectively and avoid process maps that sit on the proverbial shelf gathering dust.
Building on more than 10 years of business research and consulting experience, Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland is a principal research lead who conducts and publishes APQC research on process management and improvement, quality, project management, measurement, and benchmarking for APQC’s Process and Performance Management research team. Her research supports APQC members and clients across disciplines and centers on helping professionals and project managers solve business problems with strategy, process and measurement.
Holly regularly partners with other APQC research leads to look at improving the end-to-end business processes in areas such as procure-to-pay or order-to-cash where true improvement rests in the entire process versus one functional department. On a biannual basis, she conducts APQC’s extensive research survey and report on The Value of Benchmarking as well as annual surveys and reports on how organizations adopt and use the Process Classification Framework®.
She is a regular contributor for APQC’s blogs on topics of process and performance management, benchmarking, and IT and organizes monthly webinars on these topics for APQC members and subscribers. A few of her more in-depth research reports include, Transformational Change: Making It Last and The Value of Benchmarking.
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