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What Does ‘Fix My Process’ Even Mean?

In the first three installments of this blog series we’ve discussed practical and tactical steps to:

The net result of these three activities is a ton of work. Executives’ desires are now put to the test as you begin to forecast how many labor hours will be necessary to achieve their goals. Our experience is that good organizations sometimes fail under the strain of the heavy lifting left.

But you won’t. Why? Because the following blog will help you prioritize the work to be done, enabling you to focus on the areas of greatest need and value, helping you garner senior buy-in along the way.

‘Fix it’

That was the order a senior executive told a client of mine. His organization was in the midst of a multi-billion dollar SAP implementation when it realized it didn’t have consistent processes in place across the enterprise. And after over-spending on “custom” work, it was finally determined that no amount of technology automation was going to solve that foundational need.

With the SAP roll-out on hold, a middle manager was called into an executive’s meeting and told to go “fix it.”

He went back to his office and scratched his head. “What does ‘fix’ mean? And what is the scope of ‘it’?

It’s easy to identify the symptoms of a broken process – there’s inefficiency, ineffective execution, firefighting becomes the norm, etc. But fixing it – determining what needs to be fixed, by how much, and the prioritization of your efforts – is much more difficult.

Step One: Identify What’s the Most Broken

Egos are the biggest killers of process improvement efforts – far more so than budget and resource restrictions, limited executive buy-in, or lack of sponsorship. So, whenever possible, take the human element out of your prioritization analysis. Use numbers to make your case to identify the right business needs, action steps, etc. Numbers will help you avoid the temptation of prioritizing the needs of the executive screaming the loudest.

To get to the right numbers, don’t rely on just the measures you already collect. Picking from those dashboard measures will likely only lead you down the path you were already on. Our suggestion is to start by considering your strategic goals. Then consider the objectives, drivers of those goals, and the processes in place to meet those goals. This so-called “Value Path” analysis will lead you to the most relevant set of measures.

Tying measures back to strategic goals will help you to identify which measures are important and which are a waste of time. Below is an example for product innovation.

Value Path Example

Identifying the right measures lets you benchmark – both internally and externally. APQC members have unlimited access to thousands of internal benchmarks, all tied to specific PCF elements. It’s a great assessment tool. But it’s just a tool, not a solution.

Benchmarking can only shed light on part of the challenge. It can help identify which processes are most broken, but not where the fix is most needed. Assuming you’ve got a limited budget and resources, you’ve got to go deeper – exploring the parts of the processes that need your focus.  The key isn’t just to figure out which process needs your help first, but which parts of which processes need your help first.

Step Two: Identify Quickest Wins

In addition to the measurement piece, the Value Path analysis forces you to consider business needs. What are your core strategic objectives? This next exercise will help you determine where heightened process management focus can “fix it”.

For each business need that’s below an acceptable level of performance (as defined by your organization – i.e., below average, below top quartile of peers, below a financial benchmark, etc.), assess its process maturity. Below is a simple view of this analysis.

Down the left axis, APQC suggests using a common five-point scale:

  1. Initial: Every business unit is doing things differently.

  2. Managed: Consistency only occurs at business unit level; enterprise inconsistency exists.

  3. Standardized: Every business unit performs common processes the same way.

  4. Predictable: Utilizing measurement, the organization can identify and execute “best practice”. (At this level, the goal is an organization that is transitioning from doing the same thing to doing the right thing.)

  5. Optimized: Process management is so engrained in the culture that breaks in the process are virtually self-healing.

And across the top of the maturity grid, we break out APQC’s 7 Tenets of Process Management, the key things we’ve found that all successful process-focused organizations consistently focus on:

  1. Strategic Alignment: Focusing on the right things for the organization

  2. Governance: Clear ownership and responsibilities for all processes/process steps

  3. Process Model: The use of frameworks and maps to visualize process management

  4. Change Management: the softer side of training, communication and garnering buy-in

  5. Process Performance: Measuring baselines and on-going success; quickly identifying unintended consequences

  6. Process Improvement: Identify and select the right approaches to adjusting processes

  7. Tools and Technology: Computer systems and automation tools to accelerate process management.

 For each business need identified, ask yourself three questions:

  • At the enterprise level, what’s my current level of maturity?
  • At the individual project or business unit level, what’s the highest we’ve performed?
  • What is the minimum level of maturity necessary to make an improvement in that business need? (Be conservative. I’ve never seen an organization that could build the business case for 5s across all 7 areas. Only invest the level you need to generate improvements; over-investing is as wasteful as under-investing.)

Process Maturity Assessment

This view of your core, but broken, processes will help assess where there are process breakdowns. And then, look for patterns.

Often, organizations that haven’t actively managed their processes haven’t thought about governance in a systematic way. If that’s the case with your organization, it wouldn’t matter how well designed the process steps are if there’s inconsistent accountability. A three-month project to assign process owners, and train them on what it means, could pay huge dividends across the organization.

Looking for internal success stories can help you build allies and stories, two things you can never have enough of. As folks begin to gripe about changing how they do things, you need examples of internal teams that made it work – with the same political, financial, and leadership challenges currently facing your organization.

And looking at the gap between current and future state can help identify the quickest wins. Management is always anxious to show ROI and change management is difficult. Building momentum from quick, easy fixes is tremendously advantageous.

However, the fastest wins may not necessarily be the most important wins.

Step Three: Identify Most Valuable Wins

Often, the quickest fixes are the least valuable and the valuable fixes require the most investment. So how do you strike the right balance? Sometimes a simple Excel-based heat map is all it takes.

Having gone through these steps with multiple organizations, the most important advice I can share is to keep it simple. Identify commonly-understood variables first, things like importance, impact potential, and/or knowledge capture. You might also consider variables that make up those buckets.  (See example below.) Get buy-in into those variables first. Executives will have less to argue over if they’ve already signed off on the columns of your heat map.

Before you start scoring, get input on the variable weighting. Are all variable equal in importance? Or, are some columns more or less important than others? Keep the scoring simple too. In the example below, “1” simply meant it was “high risk” or “high value”; “5” is “low risk” or “low value” and “3” is somewhere in the middle.

As priorities become clearer, people will freak out. Keep reminding them, and yourself, that the goal is simply to begin to pare down the process steps, identifying which are top issues and which are less so. Embrace the screamers by using it to gut-check the results of your heat map.

Prioritizaton Heat Map Example

From this view, you now know where the highest value fixes are and how much relative effort it’ll take to achieve them. You’re ready to start building a plan. Consider: Which fixes will affect multiple broken processes or business needs? Which fixes might be dependent on other activities?

It’s time to go back to your executive and get her sign-off on your plan of how to “fix it.”


Next month, we’ll help you roadmap your journey and set up realistic milestones. The fun is just beginning.

Comments/Questions

If you have any questions or comments about your processes you’d rather not post publicly, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Process Advisory team directly.

Jess Scheer can be reached on LinkedIn or  by

Email: jscheer@apqc.org

Phone: 1+ 713-685-7215