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Energizing a Process-Based Organization Through a Process Curriculum

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
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In most companies, the greatest opportunities for growth and profit enhancement are not small, localized efforts, but rather large cross-functional initiatives. And therein lies the problem. 

Executing even perfectly articulated strategies requires an inordinate amount of coordination and communication across teams led by different leaders. Often times, these leaders have conflicting priorities. Having experienced these challenges firsthand with multiple clients, I am now a convert of organizing resources via a process-based approach. 

Enter the process network 

Every organization is comprised of a collection of big and small processes that span from the acquisition of raw materials to the delivery of an end product. I call this web of interconnected and interdependent processes a “process network.” In contrast to the traditional hierarchical structure, process-based organizations align their employees to the process network.   

In a process-based organization, process owners replace department managers. These process owners oversee and manage the major processes of the process network. They are responsible for managing the employees working on their process, coordinating improvement activities with other process owners, and representing the process in planning activities. In short, they are the drivers of performance and innovation for a part of the organization. 

Companies are shifting toward this model because it supercharges innovation. It creates a network of operational experts across the organization and empowers them to enact meaningful change in coordination with larger goals. By staffing processes with individuals skilled in improving quality, reducing cost, and increasing efficiency, the organization enters a state of continual improvement. 

Enter the process curriculum 

But this model requires a good number of individuals with a fundamental understanding of process improvement. Finding appropriately qualified individuals to operate in a process-based model can be frustrating. There simply aren’t the numbers needed in most organizations. Fortunately, process skills can be taught and reinforced with well-designed training programs. 

For most process-based organizations, the process knowledge requirements of employees can be segmented into three levels: 

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  • base level
  • expert level
  • executive level. 

These segments deliver the right knowledge base to each level of individual. When launching a process-based curriculum, I recommend starting with a “Basic Process Skills” course to develop foundational process knowledge across a wide range of employees and then following it with programs tailored for the experts and the executives in the organization.   
Basic process skills. The intent of this initial program is to develop a basic level of process understanding across a large swath of employees. Include line-level associates and the leadership team—so everyone can view challenges and opportunities through the same process lens. Another reason for including such a large group is to embed innovation capabilities throughout an organization and provide a solid foundation for organization-wide execution of corporate initiatives. 

The initial coursework should include instruction on mapping processes, measuring process performance, and how to identify opportunities to improve processes. And from my experience, the true key to any process training program is to get the attendees to use these skills as quickly as possible. 

Fortunately, every employee has worked with a process—whether they know it or not. By bringing their prior experiences into the classroom, not only are they receiving hands on training, but they also are immediately contributing to the improvement of the their area. 

Expert process skills. Basic skills are not sufficient for those requiring a far greater depth of knowledge: the process owners. A program for expert skills aims to develop organizational expertise in process methodologies, such as Six Sigma, Lean, and others. Individuals participating in this program are groomed to lead major initiatives or serve as process owners for significant processes.

As the customer is the true arbiter of an organization’s success, it only follows that the major processes should be calibrated to the wants and needs of the target customer. Individuals designated as experts need to keep the customer front-and-center on any improvement effort. It is critical that expert training courses include a healthy dose of customer-focused analytical and tactical tools, including how customer feedback channels are created, how to analyze customer data, and how to build customer profiles. 

Executive-level process skills. Even after process knowledge is permeated throughout an organization, leadership must be able to grasp the potential of this model and leverage the full capabilities of the organization. Although often overlooked, it is extremely important to train the senior leadership team in the process-based approach.  

This last program reviews process basics—providing the executive team with a general awareness of process approaches, tools, and tactics. This course is not intended to elevate executives to process mastery. Rather, it is intended to help them understand how to leverage the overall process network to plot potential improvements and coordinate their execution. For example, a good executive training course will include instruction on how to use enterprise process maps to build a collective understanding of operations and communicate strategic intentions to process owners and other key employees. 

Bottom line

All three programs, in tandem, provide the learning curriculum for an enterprise moving to a process-based organizational structure. When educational and training programs fail to keep pace with the transition, the value of the organizational restructuring is diminished. A process ownership model yields the greatest returns when it is comprised of qualified individuals armed with the knowledge and tools to continually reassess and improve the process network in line with customer preferences. At the end of the day, the success of any organizational model is based upon its ability to focus the appropriately qualified individuals on the activities that translate into success.

About the Author
David Hamme is an innovation consultant and the award-winning author of Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution. He serves as managing director of Ephesus Consulting, an innovative consulting firm focused on driving game-changing initiatives for its clients. Prior to founding Ephesus, Hamme worked stints as a management consultant for Ernst & Young and the North Highland Company, as well as served as an executive in Lowe’s Home Improvement’s $3 billion Installation Business Unit where he oversaw the strategic planning, marketing, product management, pricing, new product development and sales functions. Contact him at www.davidhamme.org.
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