Process Performance Management: the Basis of Improvement

June 3rd, 2017

Visiting a secure site recently (State of alert: Heightened) I was subjected to the standard process:

  • produce photographic proof of identity;
  • fill in form (who am I, who am I here to see, why);
  • photograph taken;
  • ‘escorted’ identity pass produced;
  • vehicle pass produced.

Collected by my Escort (not previously met), we set off into the site in my car, at the first gate the guard leaned out, waved to my escort and lifted the barrier, at the second barrier the guard again leaned out, shouted a greeting and lifted the barrier. We parked, passes (car and personal) in my pocket we set off to do the work. Task completed I left the site. I still have the ‘Please return before leaving’ passes, never having shown them to anybody!

The point is NOT to highlight the deficiency in security but to highlight the pointlessness of processes which provide neither control nor performance reporting. Without those they cannot be properly considered processes, let alone improved and the organisation is doomed to keep repeating errors!

It is not sufficient to describe what we do, such a description may exist at the level of process, task or procedure, we also need to:

  • Set performance standards for the process;
  • Measure how well it performs against the standard;
  • Make corrective actions to improve it at each cycle.

Where process cycle times are unbounded by natural means or the rhythm of a machine or where the process regularity would otherwise not exist – “I will get round to it” – we need to use measurement to induce process regularities. This is particularly the case in administrative and enabling activity.

A process is a sequence of activities leading to a desired outcome for a customer, and which provides the base for performance measurement in multiple dimensions:

  • Did we do for the customer those things we said we would do?
  • Did we do it better or worse than we expected to?
  • Did we do it better or worse than THEY expected us to?

Multiple dimensions include all the easily obtained ‘hard’ variables – delivery date, specification, price, volume, frequency, cycle time, materials and many other items (selected according to appropriateness to the process) and the slightly less easily controllable ‘soft’ variables – attitude, style, language – which are created and consumed in the moment.

At completion of each cycle we compare the results with the standards and use the information to improve the next cycle, i.e. we use the information outcome of each cycle to improve performance to close the gap between what the customer wanted (the specified outcome) and what we actually did.

Now, what about that ‘soft’ stuff? There is no question that attempting to directly ‘measure’ behaviours can have undesired effects and attempts to do so have been referred to by my colleague Keith Elford as risking ‘arid functionalism’. One company made it a disciplinary offence not to use the name of the customer…..

The short version of the long story (Beckford and Dudley, 1998 a & b, 1999, Beckford 2016, Beckford 2017) is that these soft aspects have to be pre-controlled. If the way we deal with customers is something we consider important (and I argue it should be, regardless of the nature of the organisation or the distance from the final consumer) then we need to define the values that we want our customer interactions to reflect. We can then recruit people who demonstrate those values and then seek to develop their application which is most simply done by demonstrating them ourselves. ‘Walk the Talk’ is the most important thing to do in consistently modelling the values we want other people to demonstrate.

To test whether your own organisation already does all these things:

  • For the ‘hard’ things look at the process documentation and test whether the documentation and measurements are sufficient to exercise control and deliver improvement;
  • For the soft things, look at the behaviour of the leaders, are they consistent with the expectations they purport to espouse?

You can’t fake this, you have to mean it, you have to live it. If you are gaming the system in relation to either the hard or soft dimensions, so will everybody else!

In the absence of embedded control, measurement and improvement we cannot know how well (or badly) we are performing in relation to the expectations of our customers and we cannot improve our performance.

If we do embed control, measurement and improvement in our processes we can manage our organisation to do more for less, we can enable increases in customer satisfaction (outcome expectations met) while recognising and resolving internal process deficiencies. We will embed the capability to improve effectiveness AND efficiency with gains in the order of 15% – 25% readily achievable.

 

References:

Beckford, J., (2017) Quality: A Critical Introduction, 4th Edition, Routledge, Oxford

Beckford, J., (2016) The Intelligent Organisation, Routledge, Oxford

Beckford, J & Dudley, P. (1998) That’s Not Very Big, Is It? Management Issues in Social Care, Vol 5, 4

Beckford, J. & Dudley, P. (1998) Size Isn’t Everything, Management Issues in Social Care, Vol 6, 1,

Beckford, J. & Dudley, P. (1999) It’s What You Do With It That Counts, Management Issues in Social Care, Vol 6, 3