4.12. 12. Appreciate the Journey
Process improvement is not a project in the sense that we think of for IT projects. There are no start and end dates; it is not a single, self-bounded initiative. And it is not a goal, someplace where you arrive and then issue congratulations all around for a job well done.
Process improvement is a Way. It is the way you see your company. It is the way you do business. And so the only time it should draw to a conclusion is when your business draws to a conclusion. It is a way to plan for business, to manage core business activities, and to oversee business progress and success. And it is a way to forge tangible links between the three core elements of any organizational design: people, activities, and technology.
Process improvement, and its larger discipline, process management, are also about standards, consistencies, and common expectations. They can be used to set the bar for performance, for production, for service, for responsiveness. And they can provide much needed benchmarks for creating and delivering the most important business differentiator of them all: quality.
Performance standards, operational efficiencies, quality: these three ingredientsthis mix that makes up successhave been recognized as sound operating principles in most business markets for decades. Look at Detroit. Look at the way cars roll off the assembly line. The days of the Gremlin, the Vega, and the Chevette are long gone. What are rolling now are rock-solid, dependable automobiles. It's nothing today to think that your new car will deliver 200,000 miles with few if any headaches.
Look at Coca-Cola. That brand is recognized worldwide and sold in more countries on planet Earth than any other drink productprobably any other food product. That's because the formula for Coke is a success formula. And all the structures and processes that drive that bottle to market drive toward the single goal of supporting and maintaining everything that Coke has come to mean to a global marketplace.
Why the technology markets have been slow to embrace process in a similar way has always puzzled me. Maybe it's because the industry as we know it today is relatively youngbarely 40 years old. Maybe it has a right to be immature. Maybe it's because so many of it top managers have risen from the ranks of technical development. Maybe they know more about technos than technique. Then again, maybe it's because the pace of change here is so fast, so prevalent that the temptation to run with the latest and the greatest overcomes any strategic notion toward stability.
Whatever it is, the shortcoming of our IT organizationsthe shops that more and more run American businesscost over $50 billion last year. That's $50 billion in lost profits, in misdirected energies, in lost opportunities, in abandoned projects.
When you look at it long enough and think about it deeply enough, process improvement and process management are not esoteric philosophies or abstract theories. They aren't amorphous approaches or wall-mount placards. They are programs of action steps, concrete catalysts. They push you to the action of externalizing the fundamental understandings of any business enterprise: Why are we here? What do we do? Why do we do it? How do we do it so we make a difference?
Visit a large IT shop nearly anywhere. Ask those questions. More often than not, you'll hear confident concordance that all that's clearly understood. But then ask individuals. Chances are you'll get a surprisingly wide variety of differing responses. Have those crucial and elemental defining points been externalized into guiding principles? Have they been shaped into structures and avenues that unite and coordinate? You probably know the IT industry well. What do you think?
Is process the "capital A" answer? Is it the silver bullet? No. But I do know this: the process program you create is the vessel that holds the answer. And it will often come to the aid of the company in ways that look like a silver bullet.
What the program holds is your expertise, the experience of the people in your organization. Designed properly, it should carry the best of what your organization has to offer. And so the program should hold a central position within your organization. But it is not an end-all in and of itself. It is a way that you establish to guide your people along a managed and conscientious business path. That's the aspect of the program that should be most appreciated. It is a journey to quality, an ongoing momentum leading to increased business success.