Process ownership: Vital for lean management and operational efficiency

by Gregory Craig

Lean management and operational efficiency rely on process ownership. Trust the process.” This phrase is typically echoed by athletes, coaches, and team owners to describe the deliberate and arduous regimen that must be followed in order to ensure success. Pop culture references aside, how can we apply this same phrase in our business dealings? Better yet, how do we transform from just trusting the process to outright owning the process?  

A process owner takes on the role of managing processes within an organization. Most of the time they are already holding a leadership position within the organization; however, that is not to say that the individuals in non-leadership positions are not allowed process ownership responsibilities. A process owner should be:

  1. The subject matter expert of a given process.
  2. Someone who feels the impact of an ineffective process and significantly benefits from the improvement of a process.
  3. A person who can positively influence others to follow or adhere to a process.
  4. Someone who is able to communicate effectively.
  5. An individual who excels at thinking strategically about process improvement.

So why is process ownership important, and why is it so vital to business success? The answer lies in process improvement, and the ability to improve those processes which direct our businesses continuously. Often, in many organizations, you will come across processes that do not seem to fit the purpose and, for the most part, feel like a waste of time, effort, and energy. The truth of the matter is that these processes at one time were absolutely necessary; however, since no individual ever owned the process, its purpose became skewed once the requirements of the business changed. That’s why it is important that when a process is required for the execution of the business, you A: establish a process owner and B: conduct periodic process improvement.  If used properly, processes should standardize and simplify the vital tasks that enable the daily operations of a business. They should enable organizations to undertake complex work, particularly as that organization grows.

Now let us discuss the next role of process ownership, knowing when to eliminate an unnecessary process. In a Boston Consulting Group study of  U.S. and European companies, it was determined that “over the past fifteen years, the number of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed…has increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent” (BCG, 2012). Further, within complex organizations, “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings” (BCG, 2012). In the Lean management approach, over-processing is classified as one of the eight forms of waste. As a process owner, understanding when to eliminate an unnecessary process can be difficult to grasp and comprehend. In order to do this, it requires a shift in thinking evidenced by two concepts:

 1. Look at the process from a high-level strategic view.

Sometimes, we become so ingrained in a process that we fail to see when it has become a hindrance to operations. By taking a step back, looking at the process from a holistic concept, and seeing its inputs and outputs, we can see inconsistencies, bottlenecks, and other problems. Once they have been identified, it becomes easier to eliminate them. However, for a variety of reasons, this may not work, thus leading to the next concept.


2. Pay attention to those responsible for executing the process.

The best way to know whether a process has started causing business issues is to pay attention to the individuals responsible for executing that process. Is morale low? Does the speed to completion slow down? Is the process at fault for this? Asking yourself these simple questions is a surefire way to not only eliminate unnecessary processes but also look out for employees.  

Processes and, by extension, process ownership is a vital piece in running a successful and efficient business, department, or group. Moreover, as an owner, continually improving these processes is where real progress is made and where the benefits of a process start to show.  Although process improvement is key, sometimes the “improvement” to the process is actually eliminating the process altogether. As a process owner, by asking yourself a few questions, you can draw a conclusion as to whether or not a process needs to be removed. In retrospect, always remember to “trust the process,” even if trusting the process means eliminating the process.


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