How Improving Your Business Process Can Stagnate Innovation & Growth

 In Innovation, Musings

The business world is all abuzz about business process improvement and re-engineering (BPR). The quest for more and more accurate business process analysis tools and methodologies is leading businesses in all phases of development growth to focus on process solutions. But one has to stop and ask: When does process trump purpose?

The economic downturn precipitated a maniacal emphasis on business process improvement and Six Sigma objectives. Without increasing revenue opportunities and new product development, American management turned to “verifiable” work strategies that would yield reliable margin improvement. Gone were the business developers; gone were the product managers; and gone were the strategists who asked the tough questions of “Who cares?”.

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As Middle America would say “the chicken has come home to roost”. We are suffocating in Process and documentation. The necessity for a business process regardless of the result of the process has become the new objective. The short-term, rapidimplementation of a process, especially one which has the attention “du-jour” and imagination of management (e.g., Marketing Management Systems, Funnel Management, etc.) is more important than the agile, adaptive approach to Achieving The Goal. Following a process without asking the question of whether it efficiently contributes to the goal is tantamount to belonging to a cult. Follow and don’t ask what it is for!
This leaves very little room for innovation.

Of course a business process is extremely important. No more so than in businesses that have entered a growth phase of maturity. But I submit that process can kill a start-up prematurely. process can interfere with customer learning and adaptation. Process can depress critical questioning necessary to produce market insight. And process can disassociate those closest to the customer from seeing and feeling the important clues to creating a lasting value proposition. Think of the times you have watched service people at your car dealership or the local DMV or airline baggage claim “implement” the process to the exclusion of solving the problem. Or for that matter, take the time to listen to your perspective.

Flexibility and adaptation breeds early success. Process streamlines the growth of that success. Knowing when to limit the “business process engineers” is as equally important as knowing when to limit the “big idea” strategists. Both are critical and both must “stay in their lane”.

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