Are You Prepared to Practice 3-Dimensional Process?

Dick Lee, Principal, High-Yield Methods;

Recently I posed the title question in the BP Group on Linkedin (

The comments from a group of process professionals, largely unknown to each other prior, “struck oil” by drilling down deep and hitting core issues facing process today. But first, the premise behind the question.

Two circumstances are forcing changes in how we practice process. First, business has largely depleted the pool of significant process improvement opportunities in manufacturing. Second, the vast majority of employees in developed economies (over 90% in the U.S.) work outside of manufacturing, most in office and service (O/S) settings. Hence, the rapid rise in the importance of long-neglected O/S process.

For a number of reasons, fully capitalizing on O/S process improvement opportunities requires different skill sets and tools than for manufacturing. One example–O/S settings include many decision-making knowledge-workers, who can’t (and won’t) be saddled with “fixed process” designed to minimize variances rather than support decision-making. Another–process has a much wider scope in the O/S than in manufacturing. Rather than deal with one primary independent dimension, “how” work is performed, O/S process has four: “how,” “what,” “who” and technology design. It’s a huge stretch for manufacturing approaches to touch these additional areas, and it’s but a tangential touch at that.

Bottom line, process professionals can’t just tweak traditional manufacturing process design methods and expect stellar O/S outcomes–a point underscored by both Six Sigma and Lean consistently underperforming in O/S settings. And to paraphrase my question, I was really asking readers: “Are you ready to move beyond Six Sigma and Lean and adopt new, O/S-specific process approaches, which not surprisingly are “outside-in” methods?

The answers are bi-polar.

The discussion thread revealed two discrete factions of process professionals:
1. The “movers,” anxious to explore to explore new O/S process.
2. The “stayers,” zealously protecting the value of their Six Sigma (especially) or Lean training.

This divide reflects what numerous other discussion threads on BP Group reveal. The latter group denies any shortcomings in their traditional approaches for addressing O/S process, responding to challenges by citing this or that add-on feature that makes their method O/S-ready. The harsh reality of so many underperforming or non-performing O/S implementations belies these claims, but some of these folks have their heels dug in deep.

However, the former, “movers” group makes many interesting points favoring moving past Six Sigma and Lean.
• Assessing EA (enterprise architecture) plays a key role in O/S process design
• Increasing employee empowerment is also factors in
• As does reducing managerial involvement (especially at the supervisor level)
• O/S process has to leave companies flexible and agile to quickly respond to customer and market changes
• Both Six Sigma and Lean are “technology challenged”
• Technology is not a “silver bullet,” but it “greases the rails”

This group makes many more points, almost all showing they’re chomping at the bit.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), this and other threads reveal a growing split in the process community between the “movers” and the “stayers”
– enough so that we may soon see a bifurcated process industry. Is that bad? And which way do you lean?

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