In a recent address at the PMI Global Congress 2010 – North America, this is what Vivek Kundra (the person charged with the strategic direction of IT coordination across the entire federal U.S. government) had to say:

“The government has created a culture where process continues to trump outcomes”

I referred to this issue in previous posts (see “the cost of too much technololgy” and “how much process is too much“).

Think about it!

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  3. There is always process, documented or not; highly specified or ad hoc. The only relevant questions are: is the output of the process predictable; and is the output on-target?

    The idea that process can rump outcome betrays a deep failure to understand the relationship between process and outcome, the basic premise of the PMBOK and the entirety of the PMBOK quality management processes.


    • Hi Tom, thanks for your feedback. I’m just wandering, and would appreciate you thoughts, whether another relevant question might also be ‘is the process relevant’ (i.e. does it add tangible value or can it be left out without causing any grief)?


  4. Shim, that’s an excellent question; you really got me thinking with this one.

    In my opinion, “is the process relevant” is not meaningful, and therefore not relevant. How do you evaluate or measure “relevancy” of a process? A process is a sequence of actions that produce some output (a.k.a. “outcome” or “product”). Their relevancy can only be measured through the output. The meaningful question that we could ask, then, is this: is the outcome of the process relevant? In other words: would the customer pay for this output?

    If the answer is “no,” then stop producing the output; stop doing the process. It makes no sense to follow a process that produces only waste.

    Of the process itself, we should be asking if it is predictable, operating to its full potential and operating on target. If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you improve the process.

    There are a couple of types of process flow diagram that I think are useful for this question. The simplest ones are the SIPOC and the “turtle diagram,” and Value Stream Maps, while having a steeper learning curve, can potentially be a more powerful tool. In each, we explicitly list all of the inputs and suppliers to a process and all of its outputs and customers. Of the outputs, we can ask if the outputs are needed and whether or not the customers want them.

    When people start saying things like “the process is getting in the way,” what they really mean is that they don’t value all of the outputs of the process. This is the time to figure out which outputs are not needed and change the processes to eliminate them.


    • Hi Tom, thanks for the detailed reply.

      I certainly see where you’re coming from. You seem to be right in suggesting that the value of the process can be easily measured by confirming the value of the output. Meaningless output = meaningless process. The next question then is how would we measure the value of the output. After all, in a process chain there would be a number of intermediary outputs, used as input to subsequent processes. Could you suggest a way of determining the value of these outputs without waiting to see whether or not the final output is of value to the customer?


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  6. Shim, it’s fairly simple to do, in concept. In actual application I find that it’s usually difficult.

    Basically, the outputs of each step are an incremental portion of the final output, so you can measure the value of each output based on that increment. In production, the added cost is usually known, so you can use both incremental and cumulative added cost as an approximation of the added value. In other areas of operations it can be more difficult to measure this.

    In projects, you need a deliverables-based work breakdown structure, a baseline approved by the stakeholder (the person releasing funds for the project) and then you measure physical percent complete against the baseline. Some level of Earned Value Management (EVM) implementation is usually appropriate, here. Naturally, change management is also needed, since the baseline will usually need to change as the product matures and market conditions change. What method you use depends on what is appropriate to your project (e.g. a configuration management database or the sprint review and planning of Scrum).

    When designing processes or engaging in process improvement, we can also borrow the concepts of “value added” and “non-value added” from Lean. “Value added” work is that work that the customer is willing to pay for (i.e. we’re adding something to the product or service that the customer wants); “non-value added” work is everything else. There is also “sustaining non-value added,” which is that work that the customer doesn’t want to pay for but that carries a cost for the business if it’s not done. Activities like invoicing and the paperwork required to legally certify hazardous materials for shipment generally fall in the “sustaining” category. To understand the value chain, we can map out all of the processes, including their inputs and outputs, categorize the outputs as value added, non-value added or sustaining value added, and link the outputs of each process to the inputs of the next processes. We then eliminate the process steps that produce non-value added outputs and apply statistical process control and process improvement to the remaining processes.


    • Hi Tom, appreciate your thoughts. Process optimization is an area close to my heart as I see (and hear) process areas that are done for no reason what-so-ever except that ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’.

      Cheers, Shim.


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