Pin Me

Why A Process Focus Makes Sense

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 3/25/2013

All work is process-based, but too often we fail to think about our businesses in terms of processes. Six Sigma initiatives require that we alter our mindset and focus primarily on processes when seeking to understand problems and find solutions.

  • slide 1 of 1

    Focusing on Processes

    Focus on processes. Image by Peter Sørensen: Six Sigma takes the position that the work that people do can only be as good as the tools and processes they have to work with. Thus when problems occur, we should seek to understand what is wrong with the process, and not to lay blame on individuals for poor performance.

    Addressing problems in terms of business processes leads to clarification of underlying issues and to sustainable improvement. In contrast, the usual method of seeking causes in terms of a lack of will or skill among employees leads to defensiveness, poor morale, and a decreased ability to determine what is actually happening that affects performance.

    Focusing on processes also leads to increased involvement of those actually doing the work in improvement efforts. You will see greater compliance when employees are part of the process of identifying problems and implementing solutions. A process focus takes the fear out of discussions of “what went wrong” and “why is this happening” by encouraging people to seek real improvement and constructive understanding rather than aiming to place blame.

    Understanding process performance is also a prerequisite to the ability to standardize it and thus meet customer needs consistently. What if every McDonald’s franchise suddenly started doing things any way the owners wanted? Would customers continue to patronize McDonald’s as frequently as they do now? Or would the lack of standardization and predictability leave them frustrated? Think of your repeat customers or clients and their expectation of reliable, consistent products and services. Variation in a process increases the likelihood of defects and creates a poor customer experience.

    Consider also that thinking in terms of processes will help you to understand what affects performance, as you clarify the process inputs and suppliers of those inputs. And by clarifying process outputs and the customers of those outputs you can better anticipate how changes will impact others. This promotes a more holistic systems-thinking approach to a business as opposed to viewing each operation independently and ignoring interdependencies.

    Keep your process focus in mind when considering changes to employee performance measures. Lose the tendency to address all problems by implementing incentives or penalties for workers, which generally put too much focus on a single aspect of performance at the expense of other factors. For example, if a compensation program is set up so that employees are penalized for spending too much time on each task, the likely result is a decrease in task times with a corresponding increase in errors or decrease in customer satisfaction. When we focus instead on understanding and improving a process, we can find ways to reduce inefficiencies so that cycle times are reduced without sacrificing quality.