Pitfalls of Not Addressing the Process Management System

Author: Rick Rummler

Paul Harmon, Editor of BPTrends, recently referenced a paper in which the author had an interesting idea.  The author of the paper argued that a trucking company should have spent time delegating power to drivers to deal with unforeseen emergencies rather than trying to build automated management systems to deal with them.

I believe the real issue is something altogether different – bypassing the design of an effective process management system.  The trucking company story calls into question the best approach to assessing unforeseen emergencies and determining appropriate corrective actions.  This is a classic example of process management system design.  Just in case there’s any confusion, a process management system can be automated in part but it’s not by nature automated.  Basically, a process management system is the collection of management roles, responsibilities (whether performed by humans or technology) and practices for planning, directing, monitoring, analyzing and adjusting the performance of a given process as shown here.

Process Management Model


The trucking company story where automation was pursued without fully considering process management system needs and options isn’t unique.  It’s relatively easy to find situations where the work of educating process stakeholders in the purpose, value and application of process management was cut short or skipped in an effort to quickly get something tangible in place.  This also isn’t the only scenario where we’ve seen the design of process management systems get left out.

Similarly, there has long been a tendency to focus on achieving efficiencies in process execution (reducing process variability, cost, defects, cycle time, etc.) with little or no thought given to the process management system design.  This is unfortunate and a huge missed opportunity.   Here are a few examples of why:

  1. Any process (execution) design, no matter how good, has a limited effective life span if there’s no mechanism to sense and interpret the need or opportunity for the process to change.  Think of it as a missile without a guidance system.  No matter how effective and efficient a process may be it can’t transform itself in response to projected changes in volume or the need to accommodate product or service changes.  And the process can’t signal business leadership that it doesn’t have the capabilities that are being called for in the new business plan.  We have witnessed many breakthrough process redesign efforts that surpassed all of the goals stated at the time of project initiation but still required adjustment shortly after implementation due to changing business requirements.  Process management provides the ongoing alignment checks against changes in customer and business needs.  As a result, the return on investment of any process improvement initiative is always limited if insufficient attention is given to process management.
  2. The root cause of many process execution issues lie in the process management system (or the lack thereof).  We may be able to fix the present issue, but we are unable to prevent its reoccurrence if we don’t also consider the process management system.  Classic examples are issues involving variability and standards.  We can make adjustments in variability tolerances and standards definition that solve the problem and improve the process, but realistically these “solutions” are little more than band aids because they are only effective as long as the business environment remains the same, and they fail to address the need for a mechanism for future adjustments which is the process management system.
  3. Process (execution) designs that don’t consider the design of the process management system are often self-limiting and less adaptable to changes in business needs.  We’ve seen many process design efforts that focused on hard wiring the process to operate with few or no exceptions and little or no human judgment in order to simplify automation requirements and reduce variability and the need for oversight.  Limiting the process design can make implementation and maintenance faster and cheaper, but it can also make changing the process to meet changing business needs extremely difficult and cost prohibitive.

In our experience, it’s much more effective to design (or redesign) the execution and management of processes in concert.  By considering both, you:

  • Extend the life span of process designs and the associated return on investment,
  • Fully address the root cause of all process performance issues and minimize the potential for reoccurrence, and
  • Arrive at process designs that are effective and more adaptable to changes in business needs.

Coming back to the trucking company story, an effective process management system is also the mechanism for monitoring available technology and making sure the application of automation factors both process management and process execution principles and goals.