Skip to main content

Author: Ivan Seselj

The Uphill Battle of Process Standards in Project Management

For project managers, the battle to drive process consistency across the organization can sometimes feel like an uphill climb.

Despite the obvious benefits of standardization – from the simplicity of managing fewer processes to the delivery of a consistent customer experience – business teams often push for local control and local variations, which opens the door for multiple versions of the same process.

The issue of process standardization has become even more complicated by globalization and rapid technological innovations. Even relatively small companies now find themselves doing business in multiple countries, operating in multiple regulatory environments, adapting to new technologies, and having little choice but to customize the customer experience they deliver.

At the other end of the corporate spectrum, some larger, more complex organizations find it easier to focus on smaller units than on the entire global enterprise. Citizenship is felt locally. This has the potential to create a weak corporate center, possessing the limited power to mandate compliance with standardized processes. And as power shifts to the periphery and is held by geographic, product or function leaders, it becomes almost impossible to focus on standardization and success across the entire enterprise.

All of these challenges result in too many process variations that are unnecessarily complex, costly, and inconsistent. It’s the dirty little secret of process management. Process owners know they have so-called “standard” processes that do not actually meet the requirements of the teams who are expected to apply them. These processes may as well not exist.

While businesses react to this issue in a variety of ways, there seem to be three most common responses to the problem of process standardization:

Create standardized processes at a high-level only: This approach is most commonly taken by early maturity organizations. It is problematic, however, in that information that is summarized at such a high-level is really not useful to anyone. It fails to provide day-to-day process guidance, while at the same time providing little from which to direct or respond to future change.

Create mega-processes that include every possible variation: To get their arms around all of the complexity, technical teams and large transformation projects often respond with detailed, technically correct process documents that apply approved process standards to a seemingly endless array of possible variations. The problem with this approach is that it is needlessly complex and difficult to understand. As such, it typically fails to engage the project team and stalls any attempt at agility.

Allow owners to create their own individual variant processes: Organizations that are further along the process maturity curve often opt to simply throw their hands in the air in desperation and allow process variants to be owned, managed, and changed independently. As might be expected, this approach creates administrative and change management headaches, does nothing to address cost overruns and process inconsistencies, and ultimately transforms existing processes into little more than “suggestions” as to how to proceed.

Given these responses, it’s no surprise that industry expert Steve Stanton, Managing Director, FCB Partners, concludes, “Ninety percent of the organizations I know have failed at standardization.”

Despite the many failed attempts, it is actually possible for businesses to achieve the benefits of standardized processes across their entire organization, while simultaneously providing individual operations with the ability to control process variations where needed.

As a first step, an organization must agree on the standard processes owned by global process owners. These will form a platform against which to consider local variations. Local process variations cannot be created haphazardly. Rather, they must be established only off of the base of standard processes, with all variations highlighted and visible against the core processes. Businesses must also have the ability to compare these variations to the standard process and contrast the impact of each process variation.

Next, teams must be able to select the variation they seek from a list or even better – be routed automatically to their process variant if they have a “default” location, product team or business unit. Doing so will improve process relevancy and adherence.

Organizations must also establish a global reporting capability so that process champions can see the list of variations that exist for each process. Local variant owners should be notified of any changes applied to the standard processes by the global process owners, enabling them to merge those changes into each process variant or amend as necessary.

Finally, process variant costing and timeframe tracking should be in place so that process owners can calculate the difference in cost and time between each variation and the standard processes. This will enable them to make informed decisions about whether to maintain or eliminate certain process variations.

Employing these steps will help businesses to understand better the extent of the process variations they are managing. That, in turn, will enable them to challenge, control, and report on those variants. It will also help them to be more agile, customizing or eliminating activities as necessary because they will have actual clarity and control over the process variations.

Leadership Traits That Inhibit Innovation (& Those That Don’t)

Throughout the world, the pace of digital disruption is increasing by the day.

Business models are being challenged, workplaces altered and career paths brought into question. Change has become the only constant.

To survive in this ‘new normal’ world, organizations must constantly strive to innovate. Those that do stand to succeed, while those that don’t risk becoming irrelevant and closing their doors. The ability to innovate has suddenly been elevated from a ‘nice-to-do’ activity to being a survival factor.

Related Article: 5 Tips to Creating the Process-Centric Organization

Innovation has to cover every facet of an organization’s activity. All methods of work need to be challenged to determine whether they are adding maximum value. Product and service offerings must constantly be evaluated and improved to ensure they are meeting evolving market demands.

Inhibiting innovation

Senior leaders hold the key to the extent and success of innovation within their organizatation. Without their direction and clear support, it simply won’t happen. This is because true innovation requires a level of risk-taking and failure that’s just not possible without this top-down support.

Unfortunately, there are two common leadership traits that can greatly inhibit innovation within an organization. They are:

1. Solution leadership

Those who reach the ranks of senior management tend to be strong, confident individuals. They have often achieved a top position because they have taken responsibility and solved problems along the way.

Many of these leaders take a solution leadership approach where they use their skills and experience to solve problems and dictate which paths to follow and which projects to complete.

This is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to innovation. Innovation is not aided by a leader who gets personally involved in every area and makes all the key decisions. A different approach is required.

Many fail to realise that they need to delegate responsibility and decision-making power to the teams undertaking the innovative projects. If they don’t, the teams will feel subservient and constrained. As a result, they won’t have the confidence to take the risk and contribute to exploring innovative new ideas.

Innovation takes trust – leaders need to learn to let go and instead encourage the buy-in and participation from everyone within their organization. They need to help their teams understand that innovation is a team effort and that those involved will have the support and freedom they require to make it happen.

2. Sending mixed signals

Senior managers may not realise it, but they can provide a lot of subtle signals to teams working on innovation projects that can have a significant impact on the likelihood of their success. Some of these signals can actually derail innovation efforts.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that innovation, by its very nature, involves a significant risk of failure.

For example, senior executives may fall back to focussing on short-term performance targets rather than longer-term goals. This can cause a team to question whether they should risk potential failures in search of improvement opportunities. As a result, future innovative ideas may be lost.

Executives may also send mixed messages by offering incentives geared to short-term deadlines. This can dissuade people from spending time on any activity that will not help them meet their quarterly numbers.

Another strong signal is when senior managers re-assign senior staff away from innovation teams and projects. This suggests to teams that the initiatives underway are not being taken particularly seriously, and are not a priority. Teams might take the hint that it’s not worth their time and effort to continue to participate and shift their focus elsewhere.

A different approach

To encourage and drive innovation, senior leaders need to commit to a different management approach. They need to step up and lead by example, sending strong, consistent signals.

It must be clear to everyone in the organization that innovation is key and that it will be supported as a long-term goal because it has the power to help drive growth and expansion, and outpace competitors.

In a world of constant disruption, an innovative culture is no longer an optional organizational asset, and unless the executive leadership team makes innovation a priority, it will not happen.

5 Tips to Creating a Process-Centric Organization

There is a widespread misconception about what a truly process-centric organization looks like. Many people have the impression that it is an organization filled with documentation and constant audits, where operations and innovation are tightly constrained.

The reality, however, is very different. Process-centric organizations can actually promote dynamic, innovative behavior. Rather than being constraints, clear processes can help identify and enable new ideas and new ways of working.

Related Article: 2016 – The Year of Process

Within these organizations, the positive impact of process management on everything from customer service to staff safety is recognized. Rather than simply focusing on the creation of documentation as the end goal, these organizations are putting the power of process to work in practical ways.

The journey to becoming a process-centric organization is one that is easy to start and can deliver benefits immediately. Here are five key points to consider when starting out:

1. Believe in the ‘why’

Everyone in the organization needs to understand and genuinely believe in the ‘why’. What’s the burning platform? Why does the organization really need to change? How will this have an impact on long-term strategy and success?

If everyone is not on board, efforts to change will be a waste of time. For this reason, the role of the leadership team is vital – they must clearly express belief in the company and in the important role that processes must play.

2. Process ownership

For a process-centric culture to permeate an organization, teams need to ‘own’ their own processes. They need to understand their responsibilities and how their activities fit into the big picture.

An effective ownership framework needs to operate from top to bottom. First, senior management must have complete buy-in, and they should communicate this clearly and regularly. Second, Process Champions should be appointed to ensure activity remains on track and teams stay focused on the task. Third, there are the Process Owners who actually work with the processes every day. They are responsible for establishing and improving processes over time.

3. Information management

Process-centric organizations must have the ability to centrally store and manage their process knowledge. This central store becomes the repository for corporate knowledge about all processes and is an invaluable asset to drive ongoing innovation.

Simply storing information on the g:drive or in word documents doesn’t work. What staff really need is quick access to simple, understandable guidance that helps guide their behaviors every day.

4. Avoid the big bang start

Racing out to capture thousands of processes to build a complete library of information is a knee-jerk reaction, often in response to a realization that processes aren’t adequately understood or controlled. Not only is this not needed, but it can actually result in the opposite of the intended outcome, and further damage the process culture.

Rather than taking a big bang approach – teams can start by brainstorming the list of processes they operate, then selectively move forward, tackling real problems first so people understand it’s being done to drive real outcomes – not just to satisfy audit requirements. Identifying and sharing quick wins will motivate staff to seek further success.

5. Sustain the culture

Sustained effort and innovative improvement lie at the heart of every process-centric organization. As well as clearly understood responsibilities, a communication plan to intentionally share successes and wins will help keep teams engaged and motivated. Another recommended tactic is to set up ongoing structures that can’t disappear when the next priority project turns up. Perhaps a quarterly center of excellence meeting, tracking reports for the executive team or regular cross-functional innovation workshops. Whatever the format – set up a mechanism that drives ongoing and sustainable effort towards improving how teams work.

Despite what many think, the journey to becoming a process-centric organization is not difficult to start, and can quickly become a springboard for innovation. Rather than being an administrative effort that drains the goodwill of teams, process-centric organizations are efficient, agile and ready for the next big challenge.

2016: The Year of the Process

At some point every business needs to take a step back in order to get a more holistic view of its operations. Which business processes are really working and which aren’t?

To get critical business processes back on track, start by recognizing that documentation alone is not going to fix things. Instead, teams within your business need to find ways to truly collaborate so that continual process improvement becomes a fundamental part of your company’s culture.

Seeing the need to change versus being told to change

To ensure that this happens across the organization, begin by instilling a sense of urgency. It’s essential for teams to understand and be committed to the need to change, rather than just being told to change. They must also understand that work on reaching this goal must begin now, not at some distant date in the future.

A great example of this is often cited by change management expert JP Kotter. He tells the story of a senior purchasing executive who was concerned that his organization was wasting money because of its decentralized purchasing process. When he reviewed the purchasing process, he learned that his company was purchasing 424 different types of gloves for staff working in its 14 factories.

{module ad 300×100 Large mobile}

The executive immediately saw that changing this situation would result in significant savings. To instil that needed sense of urgency, though, he waited until the next meeting of the company’s senior managers, then piled all 424 gloves onto the boardroom table. The executives, of course, were shocked at how much money was being wasted on such a simple item, motivating them to take immediate action.

Once that sense of urgency has been established, identify the most important processes that exist within your business, and then work through each of them in turn. First and foremost, make certain that process documentation is easily accessible. No matter how good your information is, it will be of little value if no one knows where it is located and – as a result – your staff never bother to look at it.

Deliver and communicate benefits fast

As changes in processes are identified, they should be introduced immediately, rather than at the conclusion of the entire review. As the resulting benefits become apparent, it will be far easier to achieve positive buy-in from everyone in your organization.

Just as important, recognize that process information can become outdated easily. Because of this, you should never consider your data to be static. All information must keep pace with changes that occur in the organization as a whole. Regular updates mean that users will have ready access to current information, and also ensures that they develop a level of trust in the validity of the information you’re providing. Bottom line, if they don’t trust the information, they won’t use it.

Complexity creates confusion and lack of engagement

Beyond regular updates, one of the biggest inhibitors for business improvement is complexity. A complex and confusing workplace leads to people feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and unproductive.

To avoid this, key business processes should be assigned “owners.” These owners must be given the authority to change processes that are inefficient or unnecessarily complex. Working together, process owners and their teams can ensure complexity is removed and processes become as simple as possible.

Admittedly, ease of use will vary by user group. While one group of users may require very detailed, step-by-step instructions, a high-level process overview may be sufficient for another group. Given these differences, it is important to present information in a format and at a level of detail that is required for specific user groups.

Establish governance to maintain momentum

Finally, business process improvement is something that requires sustained momentum. Processes must be put in place that will ensure teams continue to collaborate and find ways to boost productivity and effectiveness. Over time, this has to become an integral part of your organization’s culture.

Here there is an important role to be played by the executive team, which must communicate the importance of the process management activity. To help achieve this, some companies are appointing Chief Process Officers to lead activity across the business.

Above all, regular communication with all business teams is vital. It’s important to explain the reasons for the changes you’re making and highlight the benefits that those changes will deliver. Having a positive feedback loop in place will ensure buy-in from all involved.

Following these steps will ensure that business process management and improvement becomes an element of everyone’s job. Rather than putting up with (or ignoring) inefficient and ineffective processes, staff will feel they can contribute to real change.

Why not make 2016 the “year of the process”? The result of this effort will be improvements across your business that will deliver benefits for years to come.