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Define it

At the end of a three day training program on Business Process Improvements the participants were asked, “What is the one thing that you can immediately implement?” One of the participants answered, “I will work with stakeholders to develop definitions.”

Definitions help us to clarify and simplify meaning so that we are all on the same page, since we walk into an experience with all the things that we have heard and done. According to the breadth and depth of our experiences we will attach different meanings and levels of significance to any word. When stakeholders are involved in creating the definition they share their perspectives and learn from those of others. In the end everyone has a 360 view of the word and understands what it means to other people. This way we can determine what the word means in the particular context, how we will limit its interpretation and how we will use it (the word) in the presence of others.

For example, the word safe is common enough for all of us to understand and appreciate the feeling that comes with it. Yet, when we open the discussion to stakeholders the word can refer to Health, Security, Safety, and Environmental issues. It may mean zero tolerance of violence in thought, word or deed. It can refer to gender and sexual issues, or the creation of a non-judgmental, neutral space by a coach or a facilitator. Stakeholders will need to come to consensus about the word and what it means in the context for which they want to use it, so that when the word is used in the particular context, all involved know what is meant. . This does not deny the other meanings of the word; it just means that for the purpose in front of us, we define the word in a way that bars all other definitions. So safe has one meaning for the Security function and another for the Human Resources function. It is acceptable for the word to have different meanings according to where in the organization it resides; once the meaning is contextually shared by the stakeholders and consistently used the definitions remain distinct.
Process Improvement for me starts with the definition of the process. What is the process? What is the purpose of the process? What is the process input? What is the process output? Where does the process end? Where does the process begin? Who owns the process? Who is in control of the process?

These questions generate conversations and important discussions, that allow stakeholders to bare their thinking, exchange ideas and develop a shared understanding of what the process means to each of them. After this, they can come to consensus about how the process is defined for the purpose of the business improvement.

Defining the process and its characteristics– purpose, boundaries, the persons involved, inputs and outputs- are critical first steps in business process improvement. This definition will impact on and determine the decisions made for the project as it unfurls. It is only when all players agree on the fundamental definition of the process and are talking the same language as they refer to the characteristics that the process improvement can start. The onus is on the persons conducting the process improvement to work with the stakeholders to define the process.

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About Maxine Attong

Maxine Attong is passionate about writing, facilitation and coaching. Her personal Vision is to "enhance the lives of the people and organizations that she comes into contact with". This Vision is supported by her personal beliefs that all humans are innately intelligent and creative with a desire to do better. Maxine is a graduate of…