Process is a verb, output is a noun

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Improving Performance (the book).

In my leisurely amble through Rummler and Brache’s Improving Performance, John Cleese keeps intruding.  Cleese made training films, including the classic Meetings, Bloody Meetings, with the immortal line, “You don’t do work in meetings — you just meet.

(The movie title links to a preview; fast forward to about 2:40 to skip the intro.)

Rummler and Brache, looking at the process level of the organization, say that processes (like meetings or the Energizer bunny) just keep going.  “In our experience, most processes do not have goals,” they say, which makes it hard to align goals with those at the organizational level.

If the organization chart is a vertical view, a process chart is a horizontal one.  And while a few processes exist entirely within one functional area, most extend across those areas: they span the white space on the org chart.

Rummler and Brache apparently developed the swimlane version of a process chart, with horizontal rows for the functions, like lanes in a swimming pool.  Here’s a simple example from this article (pdf) by Ken Orr of the Cutter Consortium.  (Click to enlarge the chart.)

Even this “straightforward order fulfillment process” involves a credit manager, a sales manager, the shop, accounting, and customer service — and, of course, the customer.

We fall easily into the habit of confusing a process with a group that has the same name.  If it’s the marketing process, then it must be Marketing’s responsibility.  And obviously if it’s the sales process, then Sales is in charge.

Rummler and Brache recommend “as is” charts as a tool for breaking through functional walls. They’re talking about process maps that show what groups take part in a process.

“All too often, a team finds that there isn’t an established process;
the work just somehow gets done.”

(Which takes some of the shine off “organization,” doesn’t it?)

Like behavior, process is a verb: it’s what’s happening.  Output is a noun: it’s the result of the process.  It’s vital, Rummler and Brache content, to make sure the process has goals, and that the goals align with those of the organization.

Process effectiveness and efficiency should drive a multitude of business decisions.  For example, a reorganization serves no purpose if it doesn’t improve process performance.  Jobs should be designed so that people can best contribute to process outputs.  Automation is a waste of money if it calcifies an illogical process.

The authors contend that the process level is the least understood (and therefore the least managed) level of performance.  “Viewing business issues from a process perspective often reveals a need to make radical changes in goals, in the design of business systems, and in management practices.”

If nothing else, a look at the business section of the paper might nudge you toward re-examining the organization you work with.

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