Integrating new technologies and adapting to rapidly changing markets inevitably means implementing new methodologies. There are four steps to implementing any new methodology within an organization:
1. Select a core framework for the methodology. That is, a set of best practices is chosen as the guiding example for operational success.
2. Modify the framework to fit the specifics of the organization, and devise a concrete implementation.
3. Train the organization to perform using the methodology.
4. Establish a process to review and improve the methodology. The fourth step is process review - a set of activities aimed at implementing a continuous improvement mechanism within an organization with the purpose of maintaining and improving a methodology.
Why Do We Need Process Review?
Throughout the process of implementing the new methodology, the desired outcome is to draw users of the methodology together by standardizing their approaches and techniques. This is normally done by creating a common master process and toolset that are delivered to the target community. Common principles and practices are instituted to ensure adherence to the methodology.
Change and variances from the methodology are inevitable, however. People will experiment with alternatives and deviations, for better or worse. In addition, over time organizations assimilate new people whose training will vary.
Variances will begin to chip away at the uniformity imposed by the common procedures.
“Some of the variances which emerge may improve the methodology if widely adopted. Improvement is always possible and should be encouraged. "
Innovations over time should not be eliminated by a slavish adherence to established procedures. More importantly, people need to feel they are owners of the process, with a personal stake in the methodology.
Some of the variances may wreck the methodology if widely adopted. Not all innovations and variations followed by methodology practitioners are good and beneficial. It is important that such destructive variances not only be contained, but avoided entirely.
Uniformity of practice is the critical characteristic of a methodology. Whether potentially beneficial or potentially harmful, in both cases the common methodology is compromised when the variances are not followed by all. Of course harmful variances must not be allowed to propagate throughout the organization. But variances that have the potential to improve the methodology but are not incorporated into it will ultimately render the methodology obsolete.
Variances compromise the uniformity of the approach and undermine the investment in a common methodology. Process review is needed to take the variances and adjudicate them for their merit, either rejecting them as pernicious threats or incorporating them into an improved methodology.
What Are the Outcomes of Process Review?
When a methodology is implemented, common practices and procedures are established to which members of the organization are expected to adhere. That is, rules are imposed which define the methodology. But as we have already noted, the common tendency of organization members is to innovate and deviate from the methodology, slowly breaking it down over time. The rules thereby define the boundaries of acceptable variances. As organization members tend towards greater variance, challenging the boundaries, the rules serve as an opposing force to maintain the integrity of the methodology. This set of balancing forces preserves the rough outlines of the methodology, but it has some destructive side effects. First, it preserves the status quo. Although in some respects this is exactly the desired effect, it does not account for changes outside of the system and does not permit adaptation to those changes. And there will be changes. Second, it positions the methodology and the organization members as adversaries. Rather than drawing people into the methodology and transforming them into stakeholders with some personal investment in the methodology, they become just another component of the system to be controlled.
As a result of process review, the methodology becomes evergreen as innovations are introduced over time. Change is managed through a rational process, incorporating beneficial change while ferreting out harmful variances. And even more importantly, incremental improvements are recognized and encouraged, thereby transforming organization members into stakeholders in the methodology. When members are encouraged and rewarded for their efforts at incremental improvement, they begin to take ownership of the system and to develop a level of commitment. The principles and practices of the methodology are no longer placing pressures against the tendencies of the organizations members to challenge them. Rather, both are working towards a common goal.
Consider the case of an academic discipline. Scholars gather around a particular field, committing their lives to making incremental advances in the field. In the same way, the outcome of process review should be the creation of a discipline in which organization members feel a sense of commitment to advancing and improving the methodology.
Where Do We Begin?
Process review begins by forming a representative body of organization members who use the methodology. Membership in the body should be revolving to maximize participation, and some basic rules and procedures for reviewing the methodology and for adjudicating proposals for change should be established. The focus of the body should be not simply to protect the integrity of the methodology, but to nurture a community motivated and even dedicated to improving the efficacy of the methodology. Only through the fostering of an ongoing process of incremental improvements and advancement will a truly collegial atmosphere of collaboration be formed. And only through an atmosphere of collaboration will the methodology survive.
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