Will the Real Process Owner Please Stand Up?

When I was leading a department, I never thought of myself as a process owner. It wasn’t in my job description, and I never heard anyone used the term. It’s one of those useful concepts that I wish I had known, prior to my Six Sigma and Lean education.

Here’s my working definition: The process owner is that leader who is closest to the process itself, who has responsibility for achieving the expected outcome of the process, both before and after an improvement project.

So now, I try to introduce the term right away and use it frequently so that everyone knows what the role is, in respect to a project (and afterwards). I also try to spend extra time with the process owner if they are new to the role. Even then, though, it’s hard sometimes to get across the continuing expectations. A statement that I hear frequently is, “I’m glad that the project is over – now I can quit being the process owner!”

Have any of you faced this challenge, or is it more clearcut in some industries than in others? Have you had to do extra education or mentoring of someone who was not sure they were a process owner – for either a project or a process? Do you have a different definition of process owner, that’s been helpful for you?

It would be great to hear your thoughts.

Comments 3

  1. Lorax

    Howdy Sue,

    We have very similar issues here. Most centre around the PO not spending enough time on "their" process after the event is over.
    We put a lot of emphasis on the informal leadership of an area – those who sway public opinion but tend not to be in leadership roles. The nurse who’s opinion is critical to an idea or new practice taking off, or the person who normally shoots down ideas because as the senior person in the area it’s not "the way things are done".
    I suspect that getting these people on board with any change that is to be made in an area, makes the PO’s life significantly easier and as a result makes them more comfortable to be seen holding the reins.

  2. anderhugheson


    I believe this is often a problem in many organizations. I worked for a Fortune 100 Company for 9 years, manufacturing windows and doors. The leadership in this company was great and I believe they used several things to ensure changes stuck and people accepted their responsibility.

    1) Expectations were clearly communicated from the top down, over and over and over and over….repitition is the key here.

    2) People were held accountable through the use of performance objectives. If you don’t meet your performance objectives your yearly pay increase is marginal.

    3) Getting the process owner involved from the begining and clearly communicating your need for there expertise. Let them present the findings to leadership toward the end so they know this is their process and they are a major contributor to the solution. Management will be watching them for successful execution.

    4) Utilize process maps the "AS IS" and "TO BE"

    5) Measure cost, quality and time before and after the change to justify the projects solutions are infact worthy of change.

    6) Update the Standard Operating Procedures

    Hope this helps!

  3. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks for your comments! I like Lorax’s perspective that – in addition to the Process Owner – we need to pay attention to those informal leaders who can support the change. And anderhugheson shares a great template for setting up a positive environment for change – a great way to focus thinking around this issue!
    Sue K.

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