Defining Cross-Functional Processes: Tools and Inspiration

Michelle Cowan's picture

First of all, I want all of my process management folks to check out this video by the Process Excellence (PEX) Network: Welcome to the Process Excellence Revolution.

Don't you feel inspired? That video sums up what process management is all about. Real process management means that we focus on the customer and how everything we do ultimately creates value for them. Rarely does this value creation only require the efforts of a single organizational function. Many enterprise processes require collaboration across functional lines.

APQC has been asked many times why our Process Classification Framework (PCF) categorizes activities according to functions and not strictly by process. Our twelve main categories correspond to functions like human capital management, finance, marketing, IT, and so on. Within those categories, we list process groups common to those functions, with processes and finally activities underneath.

This structure makes sense to most organizations because most organizations are organized according to function, or they have matrix structures that allow for management by function and process. The PCF and its numbering scheme allow organizations to find the activities they are looking for quickly and then string those activities together in a way that makes sense for how each specific organization conducts that process. Even if an organization's goal is to become process-based, the PCF is a handy tool organized in categories most of us understand.

I asked APQC's resident PCF guru, John Tesmer, to explain how organizations can use the PCF to define cross-functional processes and why the PCF is organized the way it is. He offered this handy explanation:

The PCF was originally envisioned and is still based on the premise that it is a classification system or taxonomy of business processes, similar to how a dictionary classifies words (think about how the words are organized alphabetically, with common attributes). The categorization does not imply that organizations structure their internal operations according to the taxonomy; it merely provides a facility to help define processes so that they can be understood and referenced in a consistent manner. Similarly, a dictionary won't instruct you in proper grammar or sentence construction—you would have to refer to a style guide for that.

A dictionary provides the building blocks of a sentence: words. You have to pick the words and form them into a string that makes sense. Similarly, you select the activities from the PCF that your organization actually performs and put them together in a string that makes sense for the way you do business. As Tesmer says:

Grouping processes from within the taxonomy results in true enterprise (i.e., cross-functional) processes. For instance, an organization can model its order-to-cash process by saying that it consists of process elements 10185 + 10304 + 10341 + 10743 + 10744. (See PCF v5.0.x.) This can work for other cross-functional processes such as procure-to-pay.

Tesmer also reminded me that the main trouble organizations often have with cross-functional processes is assigning ownership. Because a process threads through multiple functions, ownership may be shared or unclear for many activities. Locating the correct stakeholders at each stage in the process can make it difficult to accurately define the process.

Despite these challenges, organizations need to assign owners to these processes so that they are governed by a single authority. In many cases, accountability for a cross-functional process defaults to a C-level executive, but this may not always be the best choice. When it is time to measure, benchmark, or improve the process, lines of communication need to be as open and accessible as possible. Although an executive may take final accountability, specific people need to be assigned as owners of at least certain portions of the process. Simplify the process and its governance so that ownership is not vague or weak.

Here's a suggestion: Watch the PEX video. Let it inspire you to define even those difficult cross-functional processes, and show it to others so that they can catch the process management fever (or at least begin to understand what you are trying to do). Your customers have specific needs, and your hard work across functional lines may be the foundation that keeps them coming back for years to come.

1 Comment

Anonymous's picture
Dear Michelle, Do you know your blog is solving someones confusions after almost three years of it being up :) Thank you :)