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Solving the process dilemma: metronomes and parties

Arguments about process management can turn bitter these days. Gone is the time when end-to-end process management and reengineering were the magic word to abolish the political battle between the functional kingdoms. However, over the past 20 years many organisations have flattened their structure. Most of them are continuously searching for the right balance between the customer centric logic of process and the knowledge creation/ transfer opportunities of the functions. The cascading of objectives is more and more carried out seeking, not only vertical alignment, but also horizontal alignment in order to prevent the ‘Great parts, bad sum’ syndrome.

Process seems now the natural place to deploy targets, benchmark performance, improve results and review progress. This is a stringent change of culture for the one who can still remember the recurring question of the 1980’s ‘Process what’s zat!?’ So why does process management cause so much antagonism these days and why are board rooms and committees becoming a battle ground for the ‘Pro’ and ‘Anti’ process management?

This is simply because some perceive process management as the new bureaucratic machine marching in between cubicles: this is the “Sorry customer, we cannot answer the telephone, we are in a process management training course” syndrome. At the same time, many insist that we have lost sight of the basic quality principles and that processes are still the right place to create consistency and improve results: “Stop the leadership bla-bla and let’s do the job right first time now”. Solving conflicts and dilemmas require looking at issues from a different angle.The current process management dilemma does not escape this rule.

Let’s look at two parameters in order to understand the issue better:

  • The degree of uncertainty inherent to a process
  • The degree of repeatability of a process You certainly cannot manage in the same way uncertain processes, on one hand, and repetitive, under control ones, on the other.

Process management means something different if you are trying to create an innovative solution for a new customer group or if you are manufacturing, en masse, best selling toy of the last 40years.

The following figure tries to put the process management dilemma in perspective by contrasting process management as a concept of metronome and as a concept of event creation...

In the top right corner,

process management is very much like creating a party or an event. You start from a vague idea of what you want to achieve, but it is impossible to foresee and anticipate all potential risks and issues. You progress through learning loops and regular reviews. When facing issues, you focus on avoiding jeopardizing any future chance of success. You will never get it fully right but 80% right is a good springboard for further learning and success. However, there is still a process as you can discern between better and worse ways of doing this.

In the bottom left corner,

progress is often about improving what already exists. In the top right corner, it is about seizing opportunities often coming from outside.

In the middle,

you are in a hybrid situation. You usually try to separate and carefully manage the interface between the two worlds. ‘Mission critical’ activities usually require metronome logic. Turning the vision into reality is much more about party or event creation. In the hybrid space, you try to combine the best of both worlds and avoid falling into the traps of both of them. You often choose a dual approach.

You seek continual improvement and the development of innovative ideas at the same time but with separate teams. Making the best of both worlds requires establishing the appropriate transfer and learning processes between the two. The insert below consists of a comparison and contrast exercise between the metronome culture and the event creation culture. It is structured around the radar logic.