Something which struck me several times last week (apart from the usual project headache) was the obsession with continuous improvement and incrementally forcing change on the business ad-nauseum till it becomes almost like a corporate Groundhog Day. We have Deming, Rummler Brache, Six Sigma’s DMAIC, LEAN, they all offer a method and practice of improving the efficiency and quality of processes then loop back in on themselves with the typically generic ‘more of the same’ cycle. The trouble I have with this is that the feedback mechanism is broken and what really happens is that another round of incremental improvements is sought as part of the next project, and the next, and the next. As soon as we implement a rigid cycle as a methodology we lose the ability to continually adapt and change. Sure, the measurement and management information stream of data allows us to monitor and react to the change, but we interpret that information according to the restrictions imposed as part of the methodology.
At no point in these cycles is there a step that says, “stop hacking the process to death and just start over from scratch”. BPM becomes harder to sell and explain the ROI when you reduce the cost efficiencies with each project to the point they become insignificant and the project more costly than the return. But more often than not the business are inclined to walk away and admit defeat (or success, depending on your view of the pint glass) that the process cannot be improved anymore, so it must be optimum.
We need to teach organisations that it’s not bad practice to throw something away entirely in order to achieve the greatest gains. We need to educate the leadership that the retention of a process out of some nostalgic desire and misty eyed belief it works in today’s context is wrong and that it’s ok to say goodbye to a beloved one and make way for a newborn.
What’s more, we as a discipline need to adopt the same approach, that it’s ok to start over and create methods and tools that are context rich for today’s adaptive and social enterprise, not keep hold of the old ways because they remind us of fuzzy and warm times of old.
The process of process improvement is defunct. Roll a 6 and start again.