The APQC Blog

Overcoming Three Common Process Management Misconceptions

If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you’re a process person. You understand that almost every business need can be addressed through better management of how people do their work. But for everyone that gets it, there’s often several that don’t.

And I believe they don’t get it because they have a basic misunderstanding of what process management is. How do I know? Because I listen to their excuses…all the time.

My favorite reasons executives are dismissive of process management include claims that:

  • “Our work is too important…”
  • “We’re too busy or shorthanded…”
  • “Our people need to remain nimble…”

I can see the half grimace/half smirk on you face as you read that list. It’s painful to hear, because we hear it all the time. There’s a common misconception that attention to process will distract employees from doing their job, will slow down how efficient they are at their job, or, worse, will actually prevent the best work from getting done.

We, as process people, know this not to be true. But how do we combat these misconceptions?

Step One: Define What Process Management Is

Process is most simply defined as how we do what we do. If your organization has more than one employee, there’s a good chance at least two people have to work on producing a good or service. Does employee #2 always get what they need, when they need it, in the form and format they need it, from employee #1? Not even at the Psychic Network can handoffs occur perfectly, every time, without some form of conscience intervention.

And how does either employee know if how they are doing their work is the best way – most efficient, most effective? Either the original tasks and activities assigned on their respective first day on the job will never change, or they change and no one: reviews, considers downstream implications, approves or rejects the change, communicates the changes to all involved, and monitors for improvement and unintended consequences. And without process management, every task or activity performed by an employee makes potential issues increase exponentially.

Random acts of improvement, or simply rogue changes by employees, bring inherent risk to an organization. And no executive wants that.

Step Two: Define What Process Management Is Not

I’ll admit it: I’ve got a serious man crush on Michael Hammer. The man was a genius. But, as much as he advanced the science of process management, he scared a generation of executives into thinking that process management requires massive destruction.

APQC’s process management philosophy is a tad kinder and gentler. There’s nothing wrong with slow and steady incremental change. It’s cheaper and certainly easier to sell internally to a generation of risk-adverse leaders. In this blog series we’ve shard common sense, easy and relatively inexpensive to implement, process management approaches.

Also, please make sure your stodgy old process management curmudgeons don’t think process management is just about mapping the current state. It’s part of it. It’s a common visual. But a simple excel file that includes a process framework, RACI chart, SIPOC and knowledge map can often tell you far more about what happens, who does it, and how it all connects…and how to fix it.

Once you’ve explained that, it seems less scary. Until you get to the dreaded “flexibility” debate.

Step Three: Repeat After Me, ‘Process Unleashes Innovation’

I don’t have any tattoos. But if I did, I’d get the phrase “process unleashes innovation” inked across my forehead and a tear drop for every executive I’ve turned around on this issue. (And now you know why I don’t let myself near tattoo shops.)

Yes, all process management should start with a standard dictionary of process tasks and activities. And yes, process establishes standard approaches. And yes, process enforces adherence to standards.

But standardization doesn’t mean the death to creativity. In fact, I argue it does the opposite.

First, process helps you simply the mundane tasks. For example, there’s no value to be had if every time you walk into a doctor’s office the admission desk has to scramble to figure out a new way to check you in. Nor is there any value in finding a new and creative way to bill the insurance company when you check out.

The reality is by standardizing the non-value add tasks and activities, the business is more efficient at its jobs and can free up more time for the creative work that occurs when you are walked back to see the doctor.

Second, while doctors should be relatively unrestrained to consider all possible diagnosis to your ailments and test until they find the right way to cure you, even they have a process to follow. And over time, by following a diagnostic process doctors today achieve better outcomes than their predecessors.

Doctors are constantly refining the process they use to figure out what’s wrong with you to cure you faster, cheaper, and with fewer side effects. Within the constraints of basic FDA-approved medical practices (think “business rules”), doctors are free to test theories and do what they think is in the patient’s best interest.

Doctors also share their findings in medical journals to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. They have to follow diagnostic processes and share the results in a standard way. And that helps the larger medical profession improve over time.

In the business world, we want the R&D departments to have free rein, to consider all reasonable possibilities. But they have to record their new methods so they can be repeated and refined.

Process doesn’t limit creativity. It enables it to flourish.

As the holidays approach, spare me a trip to the tattoo shop and spread this message. Please.

Jess Scheer can be reached on LinkedIn or by Email at jscheer@apqc.org Stay up to date with our upcoming process & performance management research, webinars, and more by visiting our expertise page.