Further Thoughts on a Philosophy for Process Excellence

In my last post (My Philosophy for Process Excellence) I described a personal philosophy towards process excellence. Here are two additional ideas that form the foundation of my personal approach to process excellence.

Understanding the As-Is and Requisite Leadership, Strategy and Culture Required for a Winning Process Excellence Proposition

Building process excellence in any organization is much more than disseminating tools, executing projects, or conducting training sessions. It requires considering and more often than not altering certain habits and beliefs, some of them deeply engrained. Attaining process excellence involves many elements including:

  • Top leadership that understands, applies, and embodies process excellence principles, tools, and practices as a natural part of how they think, work, and decide;
  • Organization structure, roles, accountabilities, metrics, and rewards that are aligned to the principles of process excellence;
  • Employee recruitment, promotion, and training that continually reinforce and renew process excellence.

Important also is ensuring process excellence is not approached tactically nor in isolation of organization strategy. Specifically:

  • Ensuring that a coherent strategy exists;
  • That it is an objective and winning strategy;
  • That the cultural, structural, and process excellence implications of the strategy are fully thought out to their logical conclusions.

Consequently, the approach to moving towards process excellence involves not just teaching problem-solving tools to executives and employees, but considering the as-is strategy, organization, and processes as well as the requisite strategy, organization and processes going forward. It is for this reason that the education and coaching of an organization’s senior leadership team needs to cover these elements so as to provide an understanding of the context of the organization to enable proper tailoring of the performance improvement approach and deployment:

  1. Articulation of the current goals, threats, weaknesses, and opportunities and strategy to achieve these;
  2. Appreciation of what process excellence means and entails;
  3. Reflection on the areas of alignment, contradiction, and gaps between the as-is culture of the organization and the requisite one;
  4. Crafting a pathway to move forward in light of the strategic, cultural, and business considerations including what sequence, timing and type of projects and other top-down interventions (e.g. changes in roles, rewards, training);
  5. Awareness of the potential and power of various tools and concepts not only for frontline operations but also for management in all functions.

Combining Left and Right-Brain Approaches When Pursuing Process Excellence

Lasting and profound change is usually the result of a combination of “left-brain” analytical tools as well as “right-brain” techniques and tacit skills. In many cases, both are required to effectively achieve results: for example the design, conduct, and interpretation of a designed experiment.

In my experience most people mistakenly consider process excellence as strictly a left brain endeavor consisting of rigid procedures and statistical analysis. That is certainly the way, unfortunately, that many trainers, consultants and others have conducted, led and taught things like “Lean Six Sigma” or “continuous improvement.” This has led in some cases to limited success and in other cases to outright failure as the limitations of approaches using only one side of the brain manifest themselves.

Equally weak are approaches that emphasize the right side – leadership dynamics, facilitation, cultural design – but do not fully grasp the need to inculcate new and often counterintuitive ways of interpreting data and to approach process design with a systems engineering mindset.

Left Brain Examples

  • Disaggregating processes into their components
  • Designing and engineering systems of processes for capability, reliability and robustness
  • Distinguishing signal from noise
  • Measuring correctly and understanding the quality of one’s data
  • Applying proper risk analysis
  • Understanding confidence intervals and their impact on management decision-making
  • Using statistically designed experiments to reveal practically significant main effects

Right Brain Examples

  • Envisioning whole systems and thinking systemically
  • Listening and observing to seek to understand a culture, group dynamics and individual motivations and issues
  • Using and capturing tacit knowledge to achieve breakthroughs
  • Interpreting experimental and other analytical results
  • Observing, articulating, and summarizing behaviors and attitudes of employees and customers
  • Coaching and advising leaders