Where Have All the Leaders Gone? The Long-Lost Executive Process Improvement Project

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December 15, 2006

Written By: Alan Ramias

Look at any book on business process management or improvement these days and you’ll see a good amount of advice being expended on the creating, chartering, nurturing and managing of process design, or improvement, teams. Typically, these are made up of employees who perform the processes being improved along with a gaggle of supporters, technical experts, and the like. In organizations where process management is a goal, a similar phenomenon takes place, typically with teams of mid- level managers nominated as “process owners” accompanied by a host of process excellence specialists and various other coaches or hangers-on. Look inside a corporation that has gotten into process work with technology as the driver and you are likely again to find a huge complex infrastructure of improvement teams, steering committees, regional oversight committees of site coordinating teams, centers of excellence, and on and on. The complexities of these team infrastructures tend to mirror the organization’s structure, with tiers of interlocking teams for every level that exists in the company.

Is this a good thing? Usually, not very. The teams frequently tend to either ignore each other or bicker over tools and methods and get territorial, and then they burn out after documenting the processes like maniacs for a time but never quite getting to any real improvement or management.

So where on earth did the idea come from that creating a bureaucracy was the way to do BPM? Sad to say, from us. That is to say, it came from the various consultants and advocates who over the past 15 years have advised companies on the worth and mechanics of process improvement and management. My colleagues at the Performance Design Lab (PDL) and my former colleagues at the Rummler-Brache Group all recommended these steering team/design team infrastructures, and so did all of our competitors. So now it’s a given. But once upon a time, there once were no such givens.