Friday, July 19, 2013

Process Improvement vs. Process Innovation: Can you get both?

Improvement + eureka = innovation

BPM is at many organizations’ agenda these days, from sowing the innovation seeds to reaping the low hanging fruit; from process automation to optimization. However, there have been concerns that focus on business process management and process efficiencies may stifle innovation, is it true? Process improvement & process innovation, is it possible to increase both simultaneously?

  • There has to be some degree of coexistence between innovation and incremental improvements. However, the business environment is the decisive factor. In a relatively stable environment, too much process innovation will unnecessarily overthrow established and efficient processes and lead to a "renewal trap". On the other hand, in a highly dynamic environment, too much focus on efficiency and continuous improvements leads to a "competency trap" and the organization lacks responsiveness to changes in the market. And how to manage process improvement and innovation would also depend on the type of industry and regulations etc.  
  • Always embed process management before starting to implement the process innovation. The system of processes must always be stabilized before step changes are made. The results of changing a "chaotic" system are unpredictable and more importantly, you will not get engagement from the people who have to implement the processes. 
  • The organizational culture encourages and defines the mix of process improvement and game-changing innovations. The leadership and culture are a huge part of BPM and basically decide the success or failure of BPM in an organization. While innovation and standardization can sometimes be at odds, if the leadership in a company is such that they are striving to create a culture that constantly looks for ways to improve, then small innovative ideas will be plentiful. The organizations that have an inherent culture of process improvement get BPM right and it becomes a way of life there. On the other hand, some companies did one project in BPM and that was it. There was no further adoption, . for them, BPM was just a new application development platform. 
  • Improvement + eureka = innovation: The mindsets and skill sets required are different.
    Improvement is achieved by in-the-box thinking, innovation is the result of out-of-the-box (or more precisely shaping the new box) thinking. To put in other words, to think innovation you may have to rise up to the top level or even at the business strategy level to make a difference. The improvements in the process, which are often times small changes to lower levels of the process, will improve the process without disrupting it. The two are related and co-exist when innovation is present. 
  • There must be some governance to manage process changes whether they are incremental changes or a significant shift. That governance can define what the ‘stable state’ is; then you can either take the next step towards improvement or decide that you have reached the plateau and need to think out-of-the-box. The process of process management is quite different from the process of process innovation. 
Process improvement should happen at the business’s daily life, while innovations are those aha moments if the organization has a diverse mindset, inclusive leadership team and culture of innovation, with well-set governance discipline,  it may increase both, process improvement and process innovation simultaneously.


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