Deliverables: Business Process Improvement

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.

There is a reason for our focus on business processes.

The most basic, most fundamental proposition in all of business is this: 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 the work you perform . . . in processes. From a business standpoint, processes are critically, centrally important; they exist, whether enterprises are intentional about them or not.

GE Capital has the process mandate right:



Process mapping involves far more than documenting the current workflow; it also includes redesigning 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 an improvement methodology, 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 performance measures – to existing performance and targeted performance – builders can start to understand the requirements and necessary conditions that have to exist 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; management only knows how a process is supposed 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; it made comparisons between previous and redesigned states of a process more insightful;  it made the difference between AS-IS and 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 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 just use a different methodology.


IDEF0 Diagram


The advantage of IDEF0 lies in the ability of its hierarchical structure of graphic diagrams and supporting text diagrams to gradually and infinitely reveal greater 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 create 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 than in industries that have high-transaction volumes and high-IT components.  Moreover, the true nature of workflow in homebuilding is not pure process management;  it is project portfolio management with embedded 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 the emerging standard 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 (2.0) BPMN 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 this weblog; I will make an exception.

SAI has done more work with processes, and done it longer, than anyone 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 and operating processes, we were already recognized experts in that field.

Our 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 Process);  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, including cross-functional flowcharting, value stream mapping, and IDEF0 process modeling, all of the notation languages, as well as the methodologies – Total Quality Management, Lean-Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and 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.

Next:  Deliverables:  Current Reality Assessment

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