One more on process vs. innovation

I have just a bit more to say on this process vs. innovation issue, and then I’ll move on. (I have some thoughts on the Intel “comeback” reported by Forbes in their June 4th issue that I will be posting in the next few days.

While most of the Business Week article is very good, it tends to misunderstand the application of process management to business activities. Like many others, the author and maybe even some of the experts quoted are stuck in a paradigm that process management implies rigidity. That is true when it should be, but is not a fundamental tenet of process management. 6-Sigma is based on eliminating variation in processes. If that is what is needed, then 6-Sigma is the right tool. However, all processes do not demand variation minimization as a fundamental goal.

1. Process excellence demands precision, consistency, and repetition. This is flat out not true. Repetitive processes demand those things. Adaptable processes require adaptability. The output of some processes should be precision and consistency. Other processes, the creative process for example, are not looking for precision or consistency, but may desire repeatability. The above statement is an unfortunate example of the misunderstanding of the purpose of using business process to manage activities.

2. The more you hardwire a company to total quality management, the more it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation. Hard to argue with that statement (especially since it was made by a management professor from the Tuck School). However, why do you need to hardwire every functional area within your company to one mindless focus? On what basis would a competent executive decide that a properly managed company should have only one management tool to use to improve performance.

3. Tom Davenport a management professor at Babson College is quoted as saying, “Process management is a good thing but it has to be leavened a bit with a focus on innovation and [customer relationships. Again, we have an example of someone stating that process management implies rigidity, precision, consistency, etc. This is a myopic and incorrect view of what process management done correctly really means.

4. Process management has no place in growing the top line. That requires innovation and/or acquisition. That’s just not true on its face. To continue to believe that innovation, marketing and sales (all of which drive the top line) cannot be improved with appropriate business process improvement methods is short-sided, ignorant, and competitively limiting.


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