Unlike a project, which has a defined start and end date, a process has only an effective start date. But you can't "set it and forget it." Here's how to manage your processes effectively across their lifecycles.

by Pierre Bernard
Date Published December 14, 2023 - Last Updated December 12, 2023

This article isn't about process design or creation or deployment. It's about managing a process after it's been launched.

Unlike a project which has a finite start and end date, a process only has an effective or start date. It has no end date. To be truthful, processes do have a finite shelf life. However, the process may go though various iterations, fine-tuning before it's retired. This means we must manage our processes like any service, system, application, database, or piece of equipment. We cannot simply throw a process into so-called "production," setting it and then forgetting about it.

So, what method or approach can we use to effectively manage processes? Most use a simplified version of the Deming Plan-Do-Study-Act model. Let's break it down.

Premise: The process is “live.” Unlike a project that has both start and end dates, a process may eventually have an end date, but that is many years into the future. Is it time for a health check yet? Where do we start?

Deming emphasized the PDSA cycle, not the PDCA cycle, with a third step emphasis on Study (S), not Check (C). Deming found that focusing on Check was more about the implementation of a change, regardless of success or failure. His focus was on predicting the results of an improvement effort, studying the actual results, and comparing them to possibly revise the approach. He stressed that the need to develop new knowledge, from learning, is always guided by a theory. By comparison, the Check phase of the PDCA cycle focuses on the success or failure of a Plan, followed by needed corrections to the Plan in the event of failure.

You can’t simply let a process run on its own without supervision. During the process design phase, hopefully you included the process management activities. If not, it's not too late. What do process management activities include? Here are a few examples.

  • Reporting: Define success metrics, gather data, process data, analyze data, present data, take corrective action based on the data.
  • Governance: Governance has many definitions. My research shows it involves the answers to three key questions:
    • How are decisions made?
    • Who has a voice in making these decisions?
    • Ultimately, who is accountable?
  • Compliance: In business, this is the act of adhering to a set of rules, such as (quality) standards, codes (of ethics), and (process) policies.
  • Education: The acquisition of knowledge – A foundation-level course
  • Training: The practical application of the acquired knowledge – how to use an application as part of your role
  • Reviews: Reviewing the reporting for relevance.
    • You don’t want to keep reporting on the same metrics. Once the metric has stabilized and the cost/benefit of improving it proves too exorbitant, then start focusing on other metrics. Still keep an eye on the older metrics to ensure they are still stable.
    • Review the process policies, activities, procedures, documentation. Are they relevant and up to date?
    • Review the governance. Are we too strict or not strict enough? Are people complying with the processes the way with want them to?

Once you're all caught up, if you needed to catch up, you can start planning for process management.

In the Plan step, you investigate the current situation in order to fully understand the nature of current situation, (where are we now) versus the desired situation (where do we want to be). This is where we develop a plan and a framework to work from and specify the desired outcomes and results (how do we get there).

  • Planning governance: This is where we identify the three answers to the three governance questions above.
  • Planning compliance: This is where we define our process policies, standards, codes of conduct.
  • Planning training: This is the ongoing or remedial education and training for existing employees. We often forget to do this after a process has been updated. It should include process education and training in the onboarding of new employees.
  • Planning reviews: What type of assessments will we conduct, who will conduct them (us or external consultants).

The Do step is where we execute the process over time. This is where we regularly monitor for compliance. Recognize compliance and address noncompliance in a timely manner. This is where we conduct regularly schedule and ad hoc education and training sessions, properly onboard new employees. This is where we continue to communicate governance goals, objectives, and targets.

Next comes the Study step, where actual outcomes are monitored against the goals, objectives, and targets to test the validity of the process plan for signs of progress and success, or to identify problematic areas for improvement. This is where we ask what's going well (keep doing it) and what's not going so well (address it).

The Act step closes the cycle. This is where we perform a gap analysis between the desired and achieved outcomes and the identified items that are not doing so well. We than asks ourselves, what can we do to improve, defining and using SMART metrics of course. There are four major areas to cover, people (skills, knowledge, compliance, aptitudes, attitudes), process itself (policies, procedures, documentation), technologies (the tools supporting the process) and our partners (are our contract and their targets aligned with our desired outcomes.).

Next come up with an improvement plan prioritizing both quick wins and major high-impact desired outcomes. Once your plan is reviewed and approved, then Implement your solutions and recommendations.

Repeat these four steps over and over again (and again and again) until they become standardized and part of your process culture. One more thing: remember that this applies to every process you have across your entire organization.

Tag(s): supportworld, leadership, continual service improvement, ITSM, IT service management, practices and processes, process management, process-improvement


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