Ive written several articles that talked about how views on business process and performance improvement have changed over the last 3 years. In the personal development world, there is a mantra that basically says that meaningful change comes only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain associated with change.
The economic downturn definitely created the pain that caused a lot of companies to change the way they look at their business, and at process and continuous improvement. I see very few companies saying they want to launch a top-down, enterprise wide Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) initiative, especially ones that focuses on investing big $s on training and infrastructure up front. Those days, for the most part, seem to be over and gone. Certainly a big change from years past, but is it a bad thing?
Some purists might argue that it is a bad thing, that top-down, large scale change management and process improvement initiatives should be a fundamental part of any enterprise. Theoretically, yes, but how many large-scale Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) initiatives basically collapsed under their own weight in years past, after a great deal of money, time, and intellectual capital was spent? A great many, I can assure you. Why? Well, I might argue that its because they took on a front-and-center life of their own, as initiatives, growing unbounded for the sake of the initiative when their place should have been in supporting the core value-generating processes of the business.
I would argue that the change is not a bad thing, and was necessary to survive in this new normal. Lets think about where are we now? Companies are lean and mean, operating in very much of a do-more-with-less mindset. For many, big Six Sigma (or Lean or BPM) organizations have been disbanded. Productivity is at record levels. 60 hour + work weeks are the norm for many. But, you can only ask so much of your people for so long. Sooner or later the business processes have to be looked at, right?
But, now, what I see is that many organizations are taking a very pragmatic and tactical approach to CI. The competitive environment, the regulatory environment, or maybe even a very important customer is telling them EXACTLY where process problems are, and they are listening. They then focus like a laser beam by identifying and rigorously defining good projects (see a recent article I wrote on the elements of good project definition) that solve real, specific business problems. They then develop the process improvement skills in-house or work with a specialist partner to execute what are, by definition, high-impact improvement projects. No guesswork, no unnecessary overhead, no unnecessary infrastructure.
In essence, what I see is a fundamental shift from CI initiatives that are pushed into the enterprise to an environment where CI and process improvement are pulled in, as specifically needed by the business. Of course, the pendulum has swung very far from the strategic to the tactical and the optimum is probably somewhere in the middle. But, was this change a bad thing? I think not. I think it will serve to refocus CI on what really matters . making the business more competitive and profitable in an ever-changing marketplace.
Feel free to contact me directly. I’d like to hear your thoughts ….