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Process Excellence Is Dead. Long Live Continuous Innovation!

Brad Power has been championing ‘continuous innovation’ as the best description of the strategic imperative facing most organizations. I’m finding that it’s a convenient shorthand for what clients are now searching for:

– a culture that combines bottom-up continuous improvement with bold, sometimes game-changing, innovation initiatives across products, channels and business models

– the capability to manage relentless change to every aspect of their operations, from daily operational tweaks through to major systems and organizational transformations, and all at pace whilst ensuring compliance and effective risk management.

Brad’s recent FCB webinar with process legend Jim Champy touched on the evolution of process thinking:

“Twenty years ago process professionals drew their inspiration from engineering. The organization was seen as a machine. Twenty years from now there will still be process professionals, but they will draw on science – especially biology – rather than engineering. The organization will be seen and managed as a living entity.”

The Gaia analogy is a good one though we will surely draw just as much on the insights of psychology, sociology and behavioural economics. It’s a human challenge above all: at the highest level, how do we enable and encourage people working in complex and dynamic organizations within a sophisticated knowledge economy to collaborate creatively and effectively, often across organizational boundaries, in ways that accelerate organizational learning?

There’s a neat example of this new thinking in the context of the UK National Health Service (NHS). After a scandal at a failing hospital, the Government appointed an expert outsider, Professor Don Berwick, a Harvard professor and long-time leader of the not-for-profit Institute for Healthcare Improvement based in Cambridge MA, to review patient safety across the NHS. His report was voluminous, magisterial and widely-praised.  It includes as an appendix a ‘Letter to the People of England’, in which he summarises his advice as: “Bet on learning”. If you want the best patient safety – and much else besides – he says, then banish the blame culture and build instead “a system devoted to continual learning and improvement of patient care, top to bottom and end to end”. He could as well have been talking about the challenge facing almost any 21st century organization.

Systems of continual learning, and the capabilities of continuous innovation, require process excellence as an essential foundation.  We may be past the idea that process excellence alone will achieve the strategic goal (and that’s fine). But twenty years from now, it will surely still be the case that, properly done, process provides the universal business language that underpins effective collaboration; and a process management platform provides the collaboration framework that underpins multi-dimensional change at pace, while assuring compliance and managing risk.

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19 Sep 2013     What Process Excellence Looks Like in 2020


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