Is the Process Profession Relevant in the CRM Space?


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While one has to be careful about criticizing peers, the process profession’s performance outside manufacturing has barely improved in the 15 years since CRM took root, and I’m beginning to suspect it never will. Few process professionals want to go wandering around in the “process slums.” They might catch something contagious—like office process. I hear their moaning non-stop. “If you give them (office workers, especially front office) well-designed process, they won’t follow it.” “If you give them sophisticated technology, they won’t use it correctly.” And we’ve all heard, “How do you herd cats?” Not to mention, “What’s at stake—why bother?”

Well, I suppose they have a point. We’re only talking about majority of the workforce, which is now less than 10% manufacturing, working inefficiently and ineffectively. So how much could be at stake, right? And so what if office-bloat creates corporate bureaucracies that drive customers nuts—and straight out the door into the waiting arms of competitors. Hey, customers are fickle, anyway, right? Talk about needing an attitude adjustment.

But why doesn’t self-interest trump these bad attitudes? Process professionals could be making a bundle showing companies how to save oodles of money—and even some lives—in their office workplaces. You’d expect them to be swarming all over this opportunity. But they’re not—despite some office environments so desperate for process support that they’ve hired drum and bugle corps to get attention. It’s getting loud out there.

Unfortunately, the process profession can hear the drums, but it can’t answer the call. No surprise. From the time process became a discrete business discipline, “business process” has been synonymous with “manufacturing process.” Process professionals are manufacturing process professionals. Look in their toolboxes and you’ll see only manufacturing process tools. Six Sigma, Lean, Theory-of-Constraints (TOC). Nothing designed for office work. Nothing designed for governing cross-functional work, so necessary in the office. Nothing designed to marry process and technology—including identifying requirements for application software. Which explains why we continue seeing so many software face-plants.

And on the rare occasions process folks do wheel out their manufacturing approaches and roll them into the office, they wind trying to wrestle office workers into straightjacket work rules—rules designed for fixed, highly repetitive production work. The results aren’t pretty. Office work requires a significant level of decision-making—very substantial decision-making as you move up the hierarchy. And decision-making causes variability, often extreme variability, which in turn lowers repetition, often down to very minimal levels.

This explains why most attempts to apply Six Sigma in variable office environments fail miserably. Motorola, which initially developed the approach, created Six Sigma for statistically analyzing repetitive production work with the goal of minimizing variances. How does that work in inherently variable work settings? Hey, you can squash out almost all the variability if you like, but what does that get you?

And Lean Manufacturing doesn’t do much better. However, if manufacturing process design tools are all we have, we’re going to apply them in the office regardless. In Abraham Maslow’s pithy words:
If the only tool you have is a hammer, then all the world tends to look like a nail.

Unfortunately, about the only present alternative to using the wrong tools is continuing to turn a blind eye to improving office process, no matter how many people work there. Between options 1 and 2 here, I’d choose option 3—developing office process tools and training office process tool users.

Did you catch the “training office process tool users?” Yup, that means business owners finally acknowledging that the process profession is less than useful to them and taking the bull by the horns—and process design along with.

Welcome to your new role, folks.


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