Deliverables: Business Process Improvement

(initially published on Escape from Averageness® in October 2014 as the third in a six-part series;  republished here as part of our latest retrospective, “Still Above Average: The Best of Escape from Averageness®, 2009-2021”)

An overwhelming portion of SAI Consulting’s work, in and out of homebuilding, has been about enabling clients to structure themselves around their core-critical business processes;  Business Process Improvement is the area of our practice for which we are most recognized.

GE Capital had the process mandate right.  There is a reason for our focus on business processes.

It is the most basic, most fundamental proposition in all of business:  the reason an enterprise exists is to make money;  the way an enterprise makes money is by delivering value to its customers and other stakeholders;  that value is only delivered through the work that the enterprise performs;  that work has to be performed in some manner of workflow;  the most common form of that workflow is work performed in processes.

Make money . . . by delivering value . . . through work performed . . . in processes.

From a business standpoint, processes are critically, centrally important;  processes exist, whether enterprises are intentional about them or not.

Process mapping involves far more than simply documenting – merely gaining an understanding of – the current workflow;  mapping processes also includes redesigning those workflows, which invariably reveals other issues.  Because it is so foundational, it is impossible to overstate the importance of understanding and improving the way work is performed, before starting down the road on other improvement initiatives.

For us, understanding workflow is the means to a more important end.  It is the front-end of the entire improvement method, in which we eliminate the workflow elements that add no value and refine the remaining value-adding activities (to make the process more clear, more consistent, more connected), then find the best opportunities to productively redeploy the newly-liberated resource capacity.

The analogy from our Pipeline workshops™ is that we want a shorter, straighter pipe.

Understanding workflow tends to clarify the underlying problems and issues.  And, when process workflows are connected to existing and targeted performance measures, builders can start to understand the requirements and necessary conditions that must exist in order for the process to be improved.

Just what is process mapping?  What does it look like?

We view the current (AS-IS) state of a process through the lens of cross-functional flowcharting teams, comprised of the people who actually perform the work in the process (hint: management only knows how it wants the process to work).

In the past, we would also use cross-functional flowcharting teams to redesign the process to reflect its desired future (SHOULD-BE) state;  using the same approach for both made comparisons between previous and redesigned states of a process more insightful;  it made the difference between the AS-IS and the SHOULD-BE more stark.

We like the starkness.  Now, however, we get to the point more quickly, by using IDEF process modeling and notation in the design/redesign and future documentation phases.  For the sake of continuity, and to take advantage of the insight gained mapping the current state, we use the same cross-functional teams for the SHOULD-BE that we used in the AS-IS;  we simply use a different methodology.

The advantage of IDEF0 lies in the ability of its hierarchical structure of graphic diagrams and supporting text diagrams to gradually reveal increasing levels of process detail.  Where IDEF0 process modeling differs from cross-functional flowcharting, SIPOC charts, or value stream mapping, is that IDEF does not impose a single level of process detail;  the level of detail is whatever is necessary to provide the understanding.

As a result, IDEF0 presents a far better learning/training outcome.

There are additional advantages in using IDEF0 to design and document the desired future state of a process.  Unlike other methods, IDEF0 establishes the parameters and outcomes as part of the process design.  More importantly, IDEF0 does not carry the legacy – the burden – of the current state, as other methods tend to do.

After a process has been redesigned, improved, and documented, it still has to be managed.  In a homebuilding environment, process management is largely about visibility, notifications, and follow-up;  the benefit of truly automating processes is of less importance in homebuilding than it is in industries that have high-transaction volumes and high-IT components.  Moreover, the true nature of workflow in homebuilding is not solely process management;  it is project portfolio management with embedded, surrounding, and supporting processes.

We would prefer to have automation built into the operating system – into the management technology system – that supports the process workflow, not the other way around.

Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN) is an emerging standard, one that extends process design, improvement, and documentation into process management and automation.  It automates and manages process steps through execution language, which involves code writing.  The current version of BPMN (version 2.0) is more open source and supported by OMG;  the common execution languages that it uses are BPEL, XPDL, and XML.  Like IDEF, BPMN uses a hierarchical, parent-child structure of processes and embedded sub-processes.

I rarely plug SAI on the pages of Escape from Averageness®;  this case merits an exception.

SAI Consulting has done more work with business processes, and done it longer, than any consulting firm in the homebuilding industry.  Before the creation of the National Housing Quality (NHQ) Award, we were already assisting Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winners in their efforts to refocus, restructure, and redesign their business operations around their processes.  Before there was any serious interest in the homebuilding industry on the documentation and management of business processes, we were already recognized experts in that field.

SAI’s process toolbox is the best in the industry.  We pioneered the development of many of the tools and techniques we use in this area.  We use one of the most advanced process flowcharting and modeling software applications on the market (iGrafx Flowcharter w/ IDEF0);  we participated in a portion of its development;  we are an iGrafx North American consulting partner.

We are adept at every form of process documentation:  cross-functional flowcharting, value stream mapping, and IDEF0 process modeling;  all of the notation languages, and all of the methodologies (Total Quality Management, Lean-Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Lean/TPS) that act upon them.

We come from the homebuilding industry;  we are process experts;  we speak process in a language homebuilders understand.

We know what we are talking about.

For additional information:

Next:  Deliverables:  Current Reality Assessment