Think "Business Processes" Not "Departments" - 5 Compelling Reasons

Samuel Okoro

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1. Process Thinking follows the natural flow of the business

A business process is a collection of interrelated work tasks triggered by an event and geared towards providing results or outcomes valued by the “customer". The adoption of process thinking causes an organisation to align its activities and systems with the natural flow of materials and information from the start to the end of the value chain.

Functional thinking creates silos with boundaries across which information and other resource flows are not seamless, leading to the absence of a shared understanding of what the business is about, what factors are critical to the achievement of objectives and how efforts can be coordinated to best attain those objectives.

Carry out an experiment in your organisation. Take any core process: ask five managers in different departments involved in the process the following questions.

  • Describe this process
  • Who are the customers to the process?
  • What valued outcomes do they expect?
  • Who are the suppliers to the process?
  • What inputs do they provide?
  • What is the cycle time for this process?

If yours is a functionally oriented organisation, their answers, where they understand your questions at all, are likely to be all different. Some processes you might consider are order processing, product development, recruitment etc.

2. Business Process Thinking focuses the organisation on customer needs

Because of the insistence on definite identifiable outcomes valued by the customer, process thinking helps the organisation focus on correctly identifying and satisfactorily meeting and exceeding their expectations. Measures of performance are tied to current customer satisfaction levels as well as the enhancement of capacity to satisfy the customer in the future.

Departmental or functional thinking is, on the other hand, focused on internal measures of no value to the customer. Examples of the different kinds of measures are input measures (e. g. items delivered by suppliers), process measures (e. g. cost, time, involvement, efficiency) and output (e. g. timeliness, quality, ease of use, returns on investment) measures. Decisions on appropriate measures must meet the dual requirements of value to the customer and improvability.

3. Business Process Thinking Encourages Focus on Value Addition

Organisations that have adopted a business process mentality constantly strive to ensure that certainly all their processes, and as much as possible, all activities within those processes contribute towards the final outcome paid for by the customer. All non-value adding processes and activities are eliminated or minimised.

Many functionally oriented organisations for example have lengthy approval requirements that serve no purpose. A company drastically collapsed its approval chain after an experiment in which unsuspecting approvers failed to detect that the documents they had just endorsed only had the usual cover sheet followed by a sheaf of blank sheets. This meant they were approving requests without reading the contents! Talk about non-value addition!

Consider also that in many processes the actual contact time between a process document or work piece and the workers or process operators is usually a ridiculously small fraction of the process cycle time. The balance of the time is wasted on such non-value activities as waiting, unnecessary movement, locating misplaced items or documents etc.

4. Business Process Thinking Encourages a Focus on Quality

The bane of good quality products or services in majority of organisations is the variation or inconsistency of process outcomes. Organisations with a process mentality continuously ferret out and eliminate sources of variation to achieve consistent results. This is almost impossible to achieve within functionally oriented organisations as their narrow focus prevents awareness of the causes of problems that span functional boundaries.

While a functional organisation might call for an arbitrary amount of improvement in quality (e. g. 10% reduction in defects) process oriented organisations apply a fact-based understanding of the relationship between results and the processes that drive them. Statistical tools are used to study what factors have the most significant impact and effort is focused on influencing these factors.

5. Business Process Thinking Institutionalises High Performance and Guarantees Execution of Organisational Priorities

A focus on business processes institutionalises high performance in the following ways.

  • Uses measures of performance that are meaningful to the customer and other stakeholders. This is very important in view of the axiom that what gets measured gets done. Rewards are aligned to measures, which in turn support valued customer and organisational outcomes.
  • Standardises processes by minimising waste and variation, drastically reducing defects and improving speed of delivery.

Samuel Okoro is the CEO of Leapfrog Alliance Ltd, a management training and consulting firm that helps organisations located in the African region to improve quality and reduce costs through better business processes. His personal passion is to help move African business to world-class levels. For further details please visit .


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