Operational Innovation

I don’t normally read the Harvard Management Update, so I missed an article back in April by Michael Hammer on operational innovation; however, there’s an excerpt here. In the excerpt, he discusses six steps to operation innovation:

  • process focus
  • process owners
  • full-time design team
  • managerial engagement
  • building buy-in
  • bias for action

I consider the first of these, process focus, to be critical. As Dr. Hammer points out, most companies taking on a business process initiative for the first time start with a smaller departmental or non-critical process. If you think this through, it’s obvious that a number of other problems are going to arise if you’re introducing BPM on a small scale: non-dedicated team members, lack of high-level ownership, lack of buy-in, and a host of other problems that are addressed directly by his second through sixth steps. These latter steps are no different than what we have to address with any IT initiative, but in the case of BPM, you can’t do the remaining steps until you’ve addressed the first step: get a process focus in the organization, and create “an enterprise process model, which describes a business’s operations in terms of a small number of value-creating end-to-end processes”, including performance metrics.

In other words, if you’re not addressing the mission-critical processes and all the participants that define an organization’s ability to succeed, then your efforts have a much lesser chance of measurable (i.e., relevant) success. It doesn’t mean that you have to implement all of these processes on the first go-around, but you’d better be considering them in the scope of what you’re doing. Improving business processes is not about automating every process, it’s about identifying and improving the ones that are critical to the success of the organization: a philosophy that will be familiar to Six Sigma and other quality advocates.

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