The Process Stigma

About 10 years ago, the service industry began embracing process methodologies such as Lean Management and Six Sigma. Since then, these methodologies have been used for many years to bring companies to a state of operational excellence and to produce award winning products. A few process leaders were able to step out of operations, bringing with them the core principles and best practices of Lean and Six Sigma. The core to their success was the understanding that the rest of the world does not operate on standard operating procedures or rigid product specifications of +/- 0.02mm.

This was the next generation for Lean and Six Sigma. Given the lack of a centralized body to certify Lean and Six Sigma designations, many organizations that championed the methodology invested in resources to develop their own training programs. Process Improvement, Business Improvement, and Process Engineering teams popped up in many service industries (e.g., financial services, insurance, retail services, etc.) and began spreading their own adapted versions of Lean, Six Sigma, or the combined Lean Six Sigma. The process frameworks and tools were evolved to bring process principles into the world of services.

Throughout this period of the business world, the word “process” was tossed around countless working meetings, workshops, and boardroom tables. Alongside, there has always been a debate about the effectiveness of process. What is the right level of detail to understand what people do? Process limits creativity, so what can it offer our team? How can you take ideas from manufacturing operations and think it can relate to services? To the disbelievers, from a practitioner: I’d like to provide some answers to your skepticism.

“I’m just not a process person.”

I used to teach Lean and Six Sigma classes and coach candidates to green belt and business process management certifications. After taking one of my introductory classes, I often had one or two people say they were intrigued but that they “just aren’t process people.” What does that even mean?

At its bare minimum, process is a set of sequential steps that tend to be repeated for a specific objective. If you brush your teeth in the morning and at night, I’m sure you have a routine or a way of brushing your teeth. Like me, I imagine that over the years, you have figured out the fastest and easiest way to brush your teeth while avoiding a lengthy awkward visit to the dentist. Surprise! Looks like you do have at least one process – complete with elements of process management such as monitoring effectiveness of brushing through regular check-ups, and root causing/pivoting when a problem is found.

Featured in the MISC 2015 : The Creative Process Issue.

Stephanie Wan is a senior innovation strategist at Idea Couture. She is based in Toronto, Canada.

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Stephanie Wan