Business consultants are supposed to help you plan and execute more effectively. A blog post from the Harvard Business Review, however, notes that the process improvement experts have an even more difficult job: making process planning “cool” again.
Editor Sarah Green opens with this claim:
Processes are, if not under attack, then falling out of fashion…Planning is out. “Planning to learn” is in. Little bets, experimentation, just start, iteration, rapid prototyping, lean — these are the cool kids. Process is the dork in the corner wearing mom-jeans and an unironic Christmas sweater.
Green’s choice of language illustrates one of the biggest problems with business process improvement: the way process is perceived.
The reason that business process planning is not popular is that people unfairly associate “process” with large, ineffective bureaucracies. But that’s not really the case. The word “process” simply means “intention.” If you have a business process, that means you decided how you were going to do something before you started doing it.
The author also points out another major issue in business process improvement—fear of increased efficiency:
Too often in business-speak, “We need to get more efficient” translates to “We need to fire some of you.”
That’s one of the reasons that word “efficiency” is one that might be avoided. Improving business processes certainly does allow for an increase in the ratio of work input to work output, but it also makes everything run more smoothly. It helps individuals be more satisfied and have more opportunity to think big. These are the kinds of phrases that process planners should be using as much as (if not more) than technical discussions of queuing theory and parallelism.
Finally, Green is spot on when it comes to the level to which business process improvement must be executed:
A half-adopted process is as bad, if not worse, than none at all. [Also,] invest for the long term. It’s not just about changing the process — it’s about changing the culture. Too many processes are implemented superficially, which is why they don’t work. “This is not a silver bullet,” [one expert stated.] To make it work, you need to be “obsessed.”
That’s the truth. If process is really about intention, then it can’t be something done in a few days and forgotten. It must be something which drives a cultural transformation inside an organization.
That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?