!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Road Map for Process Improvement

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Road Map for Process Improvement

Reliable advice on how to get a demanding job done is golden. Such advice is what Michael Hammer provides in his article, "The Process Audit," published in the April 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The job in question is planning, implementing and monitoring improvement in business processes, such as order fulfillment or insurance underwriting. Hammer's advice is to assess two sets of characteristics:
  • Process enablers — characteristics of a process that enable sustained high performance.

  • Enterprise capabilities — characteristics of the enterprise that allow process improvements to take root.
The aim is to identify enablers and capabilities that are weak, and then to determine the order in which to address these weak points in order to make steady progress toward transformation that substantially improves cost control, quality, speed, profitability and other key business results.

Hammer derived his five process enablers and four enterprise capabilities from research conducted with a number of companies over a five-year period. He calls the framework in which the enablers and capabilities are assessed the Process and Enterprise Maturity Model (PEMM).

Process enablers are characteristics essential for any process to perform well:
  • Design — subdivided into purpose, context (customer needs, related processes), and documentation. The ideal is a fully comprehensive specification of how the process is to be executed (who does what, what steps are carried out in what order, etc.).

  • Performers — subdivided into knowledge, skills, and behavior of those who execute the process. This is where training needs make their most prominent appearance.

  • Owner — subdivided into identity, activities, and authority of a senior executive who has responsibility for the process and its results. A senior executive is necessary in order to have effective management of the cross-functional aspects of the process. Note that process owners may need training in order to handle their responsibilities well.

  • Infrastructure — subdivided into information systems and human resource systems (hiring, development, rewards and recognition) supporting the process.

  • Metrics — subdivided into the definition and the uses of the measures the enterprise monitors in order to track the process's performance.
Enterprise capabilities are characteristics that equip an enterprise to develop and sustain high-performance processes:
  • Leadership — assessed in terms of awareness, alignment, behavior, and style of senior management as they oversee enterprise processes.

  • Culture — with emphasis on the teamwork, customer focus, responsibility, and attitude toward change that are necessary for effective cross-functional work.

  • Expertise — assessed by looking both at the skills of the people guiding process improvements, and at the soundness of the methodology they use.

  • Governance — covers the mechanisms in place for managing complex projects and change initiatives. Assessment focuses on the sophistication of the process model, accountability for enterprise performance, and integration amongst processes.
Hammer defines four levels of maturity for each of the enablers and capabilities. For example, at the lowest level (not counting near or complete absence, which is level zero):
  • the enablers are present only to a weak degree. The process in question is reliable and predictable, but falls well short of optimal.

  • the capabilities are limited. For example, "There is a widespread belief that customer focus is important, but there is limited appreciation of what that means."
By contrast, at the highest level:
  • the process enablers support high performace that encompasses not only the enterprise itself, but also its customers and suppliers.

  • the capabilities are similarly present in full flower, not only within the enterprise, but also in the enterprise's interactions with customers and suppliers.
Hammer's article is a must-read for anyone concerned with optimizing enterprise results. In particular, training and development specialists can use Hammer's model as a basis for their contributions to senior-level discussions of how to design and execute ambitious change initiatives.


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