2016 can safely be described as a year of disruption.

The Brexit vote and the U.S. election resulted in volatility in stock markets around the world. Sharp rises and falls in stocks and commodities have become routine. 

All facets of the business world are also experiencing widespread disruption, with companies now required to achieve new levels of agility and innovation just to survive.  

The world of process management itself is being disrupted as part of this. The old ways of operating have proven unsuccessful and are being challenged. 2017 will be a time for fundamental process change.

Outdated Approaches in a Time of Change

The disruption to process management didn't happen overnight — it’s been brewing for years. Over time, more organizations have realized that their approach to managing critical processes is failing to provide the level of agility required to keep up with today’s pace of change. 

Rather than supporting growth and encouraging innovation, processes are proving a drag on efficiency and productivity.

For example, relying on a quality manual to provide internal process guidance is no longer — and perhaps has never been — the best approach. Such prescriptive definitions and rules can’t possibly keep up with the rapid changes that are now commonplace for most businesses.   

The updated ISO 9001:2015 quality standards are another example of the changing approach. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) designed the updated standard to provide a new framework for process management. Its goal is for organizations to establish processes which are rigid enough to drive consistency, but flexible enough to deal with changes as they occur and, most importantly, be accessible to the business. 

Yet many organizations continue to rely on outdated approaches to manage their critical process information, still storing it in formats that are neither accessible to teams across the business, nor easily updated. Issues of process ownership, engagement and change management abound

Recent history has proven that if the old ways are not working, the masses will rise. In this case, the masses won’t be voters, but the organization’s customers. Discontented with annoying, cumbersome processes, they will shift their business and their loyalty to a competitor who has mastered the process management challenge. 

2017 Process Essentials

So where does this leave those with responsibility for process management? What changes should teams be making now or early in the new year to prepare for whatever an uncertain world may throw at them in 2017?

Here are three process essentials that all organizations should strive to have in place in 2017 to ensure they are ready for the challenges that may lie ahead: 

1. Ensure process ownership discipline

Make process ownership real by establishing process owners and experts. Process owners should have the power and responsibility for the effective operation of their processes. Experts are those people who work with a process every day and know it intimately.   

Empowering process owners enables them to proactively improve their processes as opportunities arise. The people who are directly creating, selling or delivering products to customers are often in the best position to spot problems or solutions, or make improvement suggestions.  

Learning Opportunities

Ideally, the person who identifies the problem should have the authority to fix it. Not only will this help lift team engagement, it will also enhance the chances and speed of a successful resolution. 

2. Create and sustain real engagement

Once you've created teams of owners and experts, you need to support them with tools that make managing their processes easy. Ideally, make process information available where and when teams require it by embedding it into the tools they already use every day.  

Help teams get things right, learn new processes and drive consistency with engaging, useful information. If process guidance is easy to understand and easy to use, teams will go back to it again and again. This will enable ongoing engagement and improvement.  

If process documentation is considered difficult to use by teams, it may as well not exist. It will remain unused. 

To ensure process improvement remains a day-to-day priority, it’s also important to set up a governance structure and schedule. Visible support from the leadership team and sustained communication are also vital to keep people involved and engaged, driving change.

3. Establish effective change management

As we’ve seen in 2016, the business environment is far from static for most organizations.

All businesses — no matter the industry — must find an easy way to update processes as changes occur and to quickly communicate those changes to impacted teams. At best, an out-of-date process can be annoying or ineffective, at worst, it can be dangerous. Not only should you notify impacted teams and roles of process changes, but also maintain an auditable, historical record of those changes.   

A Time of Disruption, A Time of Opportunity

While I think 2017 will be the year of process disruption, it could also be the year in which organizations finally master process management. It’s a New Year’s resolution that will pay big dividends for your business. 

Rather than focusing solely on tools and methodologies, effective process management requires a shift in attention towards empowering engaged teams to improve and succeed. 2017 is the year to help well-intentioned teams with clear process ownership, effective change management and process information in formats that teams across the business will actually use.

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