“We don’t have processes. What I mean to say is, we don’t use them.”
This was the reply of a Fortune 500 executive when asked recently about his company’s processes. Oddly enough, this response is quite common in spite of the inordinate amount of time and effort spent trying to convince managers otherwise. Most managers condemn process improvement as a failed experiment, never to be tried again.
Part of the problem is that process consultants have not kept pace with the managers’ practical needs. They recommend bloated methodologies that do more to justify their large fees than to improve their clients’ business. All that conceptual brilliance, while necessary to advance new ways of thinking, isn’t always tied to business reality. To combat this onslaught, managers have created a seemingly endless list of reasons for blowing up process improvement projects. I will address these “myths” and present “realities” to help you overcome the initial resistance.
“I can’t do just a couple of processes. I’ve got to improve them all, and I’ll never get that done.”
Concentrate first and foremost on the processes that touch the customer. Not every process requires the same level of resources or attention to build, design or repair. Six Sigma uses the concept of “critical business processes” and process management.
“Process improvement takes too long.”
Most processes should be redesigned in weeks, and some should be finished in days. Strive for getting it 80 percent right and get it done. The extra 20 percent can be integrated in real-time. Six Sigma projects can always have their timeline accelerated if the business need is large enough and the resources can be committed.
“We can’t do this ourselves. We need outside help.”
Process competency should be owned and internalized by the business. Today, the intellectual capital can be bought to tackle process needs. Six Sigma methodologies are designed to train people to create self-sustaining systems, including certified Black Belts and Green Belts.
“All processes require a blank-sheet approach to redesign.”
Not true. Some portion of the process can always be salvaged and reused in the new version. Six Sigma offers incremental improvement using methodologies like DMAIC where the initial process is not discarded but improved.
“Modeling my process is complicated and it won’t get me anywhere.”
Software is available to perform modeling and save hours of your time and frustration. It runs the process in the confines of the computer before it is unleashed on the organization. Six Sigma offers simulation and controlled convergence techniques to effectively scope and attack the most appropriate part of the process.
“We don’t need to spend time understanding the current process. I already know what the new process needs to look like.”
Take the time to understand the current environment. This is by far the best technique for ensuring a smooth transition to the future. This is done in all Six Sigma methodologies – mapping the “as is” process. Process issues can many times be addressed just by realizing and understanding the “as is” process.
“We’ve already improved our processes.”
If the company’s level of attention to a process coincides with the level of customer impact, then you’re on the right track. In the race of quality, there is no finish line. Business processes must change and improve to meet the ever-changing requirements and CTQs (critical to quality) of your customers.
“Managing and improving processes means functions decrease in importance and go away.”
Functions will never go away. Focus intently on the processes that impact customers – both internal and external. Six Sigma does this by developing the CTQ flow-down by tracing the voice of customer to the voice of engineer.
The best projects are anchored to business needs. It can be a positive opportunity like introducing a new product, or a negative opportunity like shoring up a weak market position. All successful projects will have a profound impact on how the business operates. Managers will soon learn to care deeply about their processes – or, at least, admit they exist.