Becoming A Process-Focused Organization

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Principal, Value Creation Partners
Daniel J. Madison is a principal in Value Creation Partners, an organizational consulting and training firm. He focuses on helping clients increase value through operational improvement, organizational redesign, lean six sigma facilitation, and strategic planning. Dan regularly teaches courses on Process Mapping and Analyzing and Improving Operations through the University of Chicago, University of Tulsa, University of Calgary, and California State University, East Bay.

Process management is comprised of end-to-end documentation, improvement (from radical to continuous), and management of organizational processes. Decisions are data-driven and based on customer satisfaction metrics, quality, timeliness, and cost. The responsibility of monitoring process performance and facilitating process changes belongs to a process advisor or manager. Administering processes is dramatically enabled by business process management technology. Finally a process structure and governance is created to “cement” the move to process based management.

Realigning Around Processes

Successful process redesign efforts in one area will precipitate change in other parts of the organizational system. In some cases, these changes are required for a particular process improvement to be implemented. Sometimes, process improvement and redesign might propel an organization into full-scale change, such as moving toward a matrix or, process based management organization. To completely align around process, your organization must consider the following areas.


  • Uninterested and unhelpful department heads must evolve into leaders who see themselves as links in a chain to create and deliver value.
  • Do department heads and process owners respect each other? Is there enough mutual regard that they consider their actions’ effects on each other without being prompted by policy or structure?
  • Is there an informal network of relationships that complements rather than undermines the formal matrix structure?


  • Supervisors and managers must move from firefighting to structured, team-based problem solving using process improvement tools.
  • The organization needs a vision and strategy to provide context and direction as it becomes more process focused. This should lead to horizontal organization as opposed to a vertical separation based on functional units.
  • The business strategy should be linked to processes through mechanisms such as the balanced scorecard.
  • Data capture and reporting must move from individual departmental performance to process performance highlighting critical customer requirements.
  • Beliefs and assumptions regarding the root causes of problems must focus on processes rather than people.
  • Process methodologies such a lean, Six Sigma, reengineering, process improvement, and design principles should be used throughout the organization.
  • Do the organization’s senior executives “think with process?” That is, do they translate plans into process performance requirements rather than functional assignments?
  • Do they view process capability as a strategic asset that must be cultivated and leveraged?
  • Do they balance the company’s vertical functional organization with a horizontal process structure?
  • Do they allocate resources according to process requirements?
  • Is there a widely shared understanding of process management that draws attention to the horizontal flow of work rather than to vertical hierarchies of control and communication?
  • Can people use process terminology in everyday work encounters without having to provide a dictionary?


  • The organization’s values must shift from individual recognition to process excellence.
  • Pictures, graphs, and stories should highlight process improvement successes.
  • Are there strong values about coordination within and across process teams?
  • Are there strong norms against building fiefdoms or erecting boundaries?
  • Are the organization’s cultural heroes those who find process solutions rather than rebels or cowboys who do without a process focus?
  • Are errors viewed as opportunities to improve processes rather than evidence of personal failure?


  • A formal governing body that oversees enterprise processes, allocates resources, prioritizes initiatives, and links process to strategy is needed.
  • A process advisor or owner is added to the process team.
  • Managers and supervisors who are no longer required to make many of the decisions they used to must switch roles to become facilitators and coaches.
  • A formal, seniority-type reward system must change to one based on knowledge and results. Individual rewards should be replaced by team- and process-based ones.

Changes in job descriptions should enhance multi-skilled and cross-functional capabilities (i.e., generalists versus. specialists). Also, the structure must accommodate the compensation for skill and knowledge.

Changes in traditional career paths should include more horizontal career moves rather than corporate ladder climbing.

The budget’s form and function should change. Activity-based costing will help overcome problems with managerial accounting so that true profitability by product, customer, or market can be calculated.

Policy statements should be created and distributed that read, “No changes in the process can be made without the prior review and approval of the process owner.”


  • Software should be used to model, test, and improve processes.
  • Is the organization’s information infrastructure designed to make process information available to all?


  • All management levels should have training in Six Sigma, lean, reengineering, process improvement, and design principles.
  • Are there enough employees capable of doing process characterization, simulation, and improvement?
  • Does everyone understand that learning process analysis is a key component of their professional development?
  • Is the organization’s hiring process designed to find process awareness among candidates?
  • Do promotion strategies weed out people driven to power and control and favor those inclined to support process flows across organizational segments?


  • Career advancement opportunities should be available only to those who successfully use process methodologies and tools.
  • Are people who use company problems to enhance their own personal agenda or power quickly confronted and weeded out?
  • Is the organization’s well being the primary driver for discussion and decision at all levels?
  • Do senior executives avoid forming alliances to defend their own positions and instead respond openly and candidly to issues facing the organization?

As you can see, becoming a process based organization is not an easy task. In addition, the transformation occurs on many dimensions, of which technology is only one component. While there are multiple advantages to modern BPM software, the IT department, business analysts, and others involved in BPM initiatives need to see the organization as a whole. When all organizational dimensions are identified, managed, and supported, then chances your organizational transformation will succeed are greatly enhanced.

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