Process Ownership and Governance; Paradigm Shift

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After 3 decades of Total Quality Management, Process Reengineering, Lean, Six Sigma and now Business Process Management, it is mind boggling to observe that only a few companies have an excellent process Governance in place and consistently manage their processes.

It is certainly valid to ask ourselves why we are not doing better and what can we do to remediate to the situation. The literature from the ABPMP BPM CBOKTM to the different Gartner reports and our understanding of process ownership and governance has certainly improved tremendously over the last 5 years and yet we still count only a few companies that manage by process year after year.

After pondering the question for a while here are a few thoughts on the question and some suggestions on how to approach Governance and Ownership in a way that can lead to better results and a sustainable process culture.

Governance Focus

Governance includes two main dimensions, one for the Governance provided for each end-to-end process and the other one for the Governance by which a company manages its processes including the methods, tools, policies and standards. In the past, most consulting firms and written literature on this subject focused more on the first Governance while I believe sustainability will arise from an improved version of the second Governance.

The problem with the first governance is that we are expecting people to behave in ways that are foreign to them as well as often counter to their own organizational structure and incentive. The second Governance can certainly address this flaw by focusing on education at all levels of management and organizational change management. This Governance body should observe the current culture of the organization, the structure of the organization, the company performance management and the individual performance management processes and propose process ownership structure that will blend in well with the current organization initially. By paying close attention to these areas we can identify any roadblocks to the collaboration and focus needed to allow the first Governance to work and build a roadmap to the desired Governance Best Practices Model commonly accepted.

We have been working in silos for so long that it will take more than a new group of people in charge of end-to-end processes to change the way most companies operate. Only a few leaders have the dedication, focus and position to get a successful top down approach working and even those need to stay focused for a long period of time before the culture shift happens. GE’s transformation under Jack Welch's leadership for instance took place over a decade. Instead of hoping for a radical transformation by assigning end-to-end process ownership at an executive level I suggest that we take a kaizen like approach where a lot of small, easier changes will yield better results in the long run.

Some of the small steps we can take to improve the overall Governance are: develop a training program for all levels of leadership that will foster the skills needed to support BPM such as Business Process Analysis, Business Performance Management, Project Management, and Change Management; increase focus on process performance (KPIs) reporting, solidify understanding of input supplier and output customer understanding, pick a small process and work closely with the process stakeholders and guide them in their new role at every stage of the process improvement initiative, and develop a model of ownership that better fits within the current organization. The next section addresses how to build an ownership model that can better fit in most organizations.

Ownership Challenge

Too often we hear that all it takes to be successful is to have an Executive to own the end to end processes and we are looking for this process owner to carry the following responsibilities:

  • Provide process direction by developing process vision, strategy and objectives.
  • Develop and implement process improvement initiatives
  • Define the process and monitor process performance
  • Develop and manage policies and procedures related to the process
  • Ensure process adoption

Two main challenges arise from this model. The first challenge is that most organizations’ cultures do not allow one person to truly own and have the authority over an end to end process. There tends to be too many people involved, too many agendas, too many boundaries and too many directions. For this model to work we would need a perfect organization with a perfect annual planning process that cascades perfectly throughout all or the departments. Instead of striving for the perfect model, it is better to learn how to fit within the current organization first and then to influence its growth toward the desired model of an Executive owner for each end to end process from there.

The second main challenge with an executive owning the end to end processes is that it is a lot of responsibility for one person and often not intuitive to the Executive on how to delegate the responsibilities since they are not a process expert by trade. To address these challenges, I would suggest using a multi layer process ownership model that matches your process architecture level as well as a 3 tier delegation of authority. For example, let’s assume a 4 level process architecture model with your core and support processes listed at Level 1. In this situation we would look at the list of all the level 4 processes first and assign the following role (3 tier delegation of authority):

1- Process Leader(s): One or more person(s) who set(s) the direction and objectives related to the identified process.2- Process Owner: The only person who is responsible to define, document and enforce a process to meet its objectives.3- Process Steward(s): All the people who are participants in the process that needs to understand their roles and responsibilities and follow the process.

I recommend starting at the lowest level or level 4 in this example because this is where the work gets done. The process owner at this level needs to be a manager and have the authority to define and enforce how the work will get done. Of course the manager who will choose to involve his team in the process definition will be more successful with adoption but the bottom line is that we need to pick someone with the right level of authority and hands on involvement.

This is a very different approach than starting at the top and picking an executive to whom we will give the authority to manage the process from end to end and then believe that the organization will become quickly aligned and surrender all previous delegation of authority.

At level 1-2 and 3, we would only track Process Leaders and Process Owners. The Process Owner(s) of a higher level will be the collection of the lower level Process Owner(s). This supports the reality that to change the interaction of 2 processes we need representation from all the groups impacted and have the people in a position of authority to make the decision about how the works get done.

The level 1 Process Leader role should be assigned to your top executive for direction setting but should be owned by the collective grouping of the process owners of your level 2.

Today process managers don’t always feel empowered to do what they want with their process and this is due primarily to the fact that we are trying to build a structure that is not aligned with how people work functionally. By starting with a bottom ups approach and putting the responsibility where the authority currently exists we will see a faster adoption of the process ownership concept.

To help the managers of our organization be successful with their new ownership responsibility we should offer them training on the technical aspect of process management but also develop their general skills around team work, influence, interpersonal skills, conflict management, fact based management and overall leadership skills. Organizations that are very serious about BPM should also review their hiring practices to ensure that the candidates understand their ownership responsibilities and have the general skills necessary for them to be successful. The company hiring these employees with these general skills can then provide the technical training around process management to ensure their new employee’s success with their new ownership responsibilities.

Most importantly companies that are serious about process governance should ensure that their individual performance evaluation process and incentive plan encourage team work and results over hero and individual performance.

A model of delegation of authority and responsibility

Based on all of the above, here is a model to consider - click image below to view model (PDF):

Click to view image (PDF) - A model of delegation of authority and responsibility

In summary by introducing the responsibility of process ownership closer to where it is currently at in your organization, by providing more training and by focusing on cultural changes you will gain a faster adoption and in the long run the model will evolve by itself toward a Top Down approach. We tried the big bang approach long enough in the Process Governance arena, maybe it is time to scale back and see if a Kaizen like approach could do for us. Best wishes on your Process Governance journey!Nancy Bilodeau, MBA, PMP, recently joined Sears Holdings Corporation as a Process and Communications Manager. Prior to Sears, Nancy worked with company such as OfficeMax, SAIC, BP, Openwave, and PWC. With 16 years of experiences in business transformation across industry via enabling technology, process improvement and sound change management practices, Nancy has implemented Project and Process Management Offices and cumulates a long list of tangible business benefits achievement.


Neha Doshi
posted 7 years 6 weeks ago

Hi, I am unable to download

Hi, I am unable to download the pdf. Can someone help? Thanks
Andrew Login
posted 9 years 32 weeks ago

"Does BPM (in any format)

"Does BPM (in any format) actually work ... because I don't see any conclusive evidence and even fewer business people who seem to care"? I have been wondering if the industry was built on research organisations' hype, consulting sell, growing software & training markets, etc, and that the lack of success should not be a surprise.
Your opening few paragraphs struck all these notes, and articulated a few of issues (e.g. foreign / abstract concepts, not prioritised by business) and principles (e.g. dual-dimensional view of governance) I have been wrestling with for some time.
A "sustainable process culture" has been the goal, with the time requirement being the obstacle. Faster employee turnover, lack of perseverance, and the need for business agility are only three of the factors working against this slower change process. So, I’d support the longer term education and a bottom-up approach (though the practical application will be a challenge for smaller organisations).
I’d add that some first-dimension governance elements should also be introduced, as a ‘road test’ of the supporting governance, a platform for education approaches, a tangible activity for the governance structure to define itself around, proof of concept and success, etc. Measuring, reviewing, and responding to a core process' metrics might be a nice first target.
Thank you for a very relevant article.

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