November 26, 2018
by Mike Tillman
My first exposure to process improvement began in 1996 when I was asked to look into “this new thing” called the “Capability Maturity Model,” a framework for improving an organization’s product development processes [primarily software and systems only at that time]. Twenty-two years later, I’m still involved in model-based process improvement, helping businesses improve execution and delivery.
Every organization shares a common goal: grow its success. Success can take many forms. For some, it could be increasing the company’s client base. For others, it might be greater revenue or profitability. Whatever the criterion, the best and most direct way to achieve success is maturing your company’s internal and client-facing processes. Simply put, no matter how gifted your staff, talent alone cannot drive or support organizational growth to the next level.
A process-driven culture characterized by mature processes yields critical byproducts that I like to call the “-ilities.” The four most important are predictability, repeatability, visibility and credibility.
Predictability relates to knowing what is expected both at the business engagement and individual staff member level, whether operating in a service-delivery or product-delivery environment. Predictability enables repeatability – the capability to replicate outcomes as long as conditions remain unchanged. Visibility relates to having ongoing insight into how your organization is doing relative to both its internal and client-facing operations. Ultimately, achieving and adhering to industry standard benchmarks, like ISO standards and models such as the CMMI, give an organization credibility regarding its ability to perform at a consistent level of quality.
MOVING TO A PROCESS-DRIVEN CULTURE
Growing pains, and the “discomfort of change,” always accompany the journey to a process-centric model. However, strong management support, evidenced by organizational sponsorship for the implementation of a process-driven culture, minimizes disruption and makes the effort more likely to succeed. Management champions give the effort credibility and help introduce an element of control over how much and how fast organizational change occurs. Remember, false starts are to be expected in an undertaking of this magnitude. In fact, they are a necessary part of the evolution to a process-driven culture. Thus, perseverance is essential.
Success also requires that the effort be executed like a project, complete with plans, milestones, metrics, reports and more. Key prerequisites include baselining organizational capabilities, establishing goals and objectives, looking for the appropriate benchmarks and best practices, and appointing a dedicated process improvement team or function within the organization. That team should combine organic internal expertise and outside consultants who are experts in the area(s) targeted for improvement. Beyond incorporating the best of both worlds, this hybrid approach helps minimize internal resistance to change.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR ORGANIZATION IS MATURE ENOUGH?
There is no easy answer to the question of readiness, but the pain of not changing the organization must outweigh the pain of change. Typically, there is an instigating factor or triggering event that initiates a process improvement program. Sometimes, it is a recent organizational failure (e.g., the company has been burned on some aspect of delivery or operations) or an external driver (e.g., loss of a major project or inability to bid on a new one due to lack of maturity credentials such as ISO or CMMI). Even with a potent driver, the organization will not be mature enough to institute a process-driven culture if leadership sponsorship is absent. Process internalization and institutionalization depend on management placing value on a process-driven culture.
WHAT DRIVES THE SELECTION OF THE IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVES?
Organizations must identify and prioritize the processes targeted for improvement. Early in my career I made the mistake of trying to concurrently address the pain points of multiple functions within a company. I soon learned you cannot be all things to all people. I stopped, prioritized and focused on the top two priorities. Often, priority selection can be as simple as asking the top executives what keeps them up at night.
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Having come from three very progressive, extremely large organizations where I helped implement process-driven cultures, I sought a career change to a smaller organization where I could help mature its technical, managerial and administrative processes and capabilities. One of the things that drew me to Electrosoft was that, for an organization of its size, it had already developed and implemented a very robust quality management system that is ISO 9001:2015 registered and the firm is appraised at CMMI Level 3 for both Development and Services. It is an incredibly impressive feat and reflective of both executive sponsorship and organizational appreciation for a process-driven culture. It’s amazing how every time a new scenario arises that requires change, the Electrosoft culture is such that the first thought is “We have to update the quality management system.”
So, size doesn’t matter. Leadership and an appreciation of the value that a process-driven culture adds matter more.
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Detractors of a process-driven culture believe it is overly bureaucratic. However, when well implemented, the processes are neither stifling nor overprescribed. A process-driven culture offers a model for operating not a methodology. It is a framework for achieving your measure of success through greater predictability, repeatability, visibility and credibility.
Once you’ve experience working in a mature organization, you’ll never want to go back to the chaos of an immature company again. When everyone knows what is expected of them, uses the same vernacular and can refer to a documented process or workflow template and know exactly what it means, success is almost inevitable.
Mike Tillman is Senior Vice President of Operations at Electrosoft. There he holds full responsibility for customer delivery and operations management. Mike possesses over 25 years of program, financial, operational and organizational leadership experience in federal, state, local, international and commercial markets in addition to his process improvement expertise.