Management Articles


Process Management Pathways and Pitfalls
Part ONE of TWO

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

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"A process is only as strong as its weakest think."
  • Call it the Principle of Bumbling Bureaucracy when left on their own, processes naturally turn inward to serve management and departmental needs rather than the organization's key customers and partners. Improve processes from the outside in. Draw a customer-partner chain to get very clear about just who the process should really be serving (customers and partners, not bureaucrats or management) and what the desired outcome is. Next determine the customers' most important measures of the process and how well it's performing. Use this performance gap data to establish breakthrough goals and/or continuous improvement targets.

  • The broader and more comprehensive the process you're attempting to improve, the more senior management needs to be directly involved. Strategic processes (those few core or macro processes that span your organization) need a hands-on executive owner. He or she is the champion of that process and accountable to improving it across its many vertical or functional chimneys. Major reengineering efforts demand huge blocks of key senior managers' time and attention.

  • Give lots of time and attention to the diagnosis stage of process management. There's a huge amount of learning to be done here. If a process has never been diagrammed or "blueprinted", no one really knows who and what's all involved. The bigger (and ironically more important) the process, the truer that is.

  • Most of these cross-functional processes were never designed in the first place (how can you reengineer something that was never engineered to begin with?) Rather, they're a haphazard collection of personal steps, old habits, cultural holdovers, and local procedures. Most of the pieces exist in somebody's head and have never been mapped out and standardized. That's why there's so much variation, unpredictability, misunderstanding, errors and rework as one group hands off their part of the process to the next group.

  • Make sure everyone involved in outlining, managing, diagnosing, and improving the process are well trained. Managers and improvement teams need to know how to collect, analyze, and act on data so that decision making is based on facts and an accurate picture of what's really going on. Ensure that team leaders and members have strong interpersonal skills. These include facilitating successful meetings, managing conflict, confronting issues, team leadership, being a team player, and so on.

  • Make sure that managers and improvement teams involved in process management are operating in a data rich environment. Process management depends heavily on data and analysis to gather reliable information about the scope of a process, how it's performing (measurement), and what customers/partners expect of it. This data should be highly visual (lots of diagrams, charts, and graphs) and broadly available so everyone can see the big picture. Data-based tools and techniques include Cause-and-Effect Diagrams, Flowcharts, Check Sheets, Pareto Charts, Histograms, Scatter Diagrams, Affinity Charts, Tree Diagrams, and the like.

  • Most managers underestimate how much time, attention, and support process improvement teams need. Unguided process improvement teams can be detrimental to your organization's performance. They busily set about improving things that don't matter, make changes that unknowingly make things worse somewhere else in the organization, or just squander precious organization time and resources. If your management team can't give improvement teams the support they need, reduce their numbers to a level that you can support. If you're not sure what that level of support is, ask.

  • Choose processes you're going to radically reengineer very carefully. The changes will be highly disruptive and tie up huge amounts of time and resources. Make sure you're leveraging those major investments in processes that will have a significant, strategic impact on your organization's performance.

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