Process Improvement Yields Wins, but Not Quick Ones

Ann All

I let out one of my frequent "d'uhs" when reading a recent article. The gist of it: While improvement methodologies like lean and agile can help reduce waste in systems and software development, they won't generate those quick efficiency gains that CIOs (and especially CFOs) want because implementations tend to be lengthy and resource-intensive. Such approaches almost always also necessitate major change management.


Says Alexander Simkin, a senior analyst and process improvement in Ovum's IT Services practice:


If you're starting from a base of traditional processes, these approaches won't provide rapid cost reduction. The efficiency of your processes may even get worse before they get better. CFOs need to know that and it's a CIO's job to educate them.


Similarly, I wrote about some possible pitfalls of agile development last August, citing a article written by a developer who relates how paying lip service to the agile methodology without committing to it can actually create added inefficiency and cost.


CIOs may realize the kind of effort that process improvement programs entail, but other executives may not. If that's the case, now is a really bad time to go along just to get along. It might be wise to wait until budgets bounce back before undertaking a major process improvement push. A caveat: Organizations with mature process improvement programs already in place will generally find it easier and more cost-effective than their peers to implement new approaches, Simkin says.


In the article, Simkin suggests Lean Six Sigma as a good choice for companies not already well versed in process improvement and also mentions the Capability Maturity Model Interactive (CMMI) and the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 20000 as other options that can help illustrate positive results from process improvement.


Some folks I've interviewed previously, such as Mike Harris, owner and president of David Consulting Group and one of three authors of a new book titled "The Business Value of IT: Managing Risks, Optimizing Performance and Measuring Results," have promoted the idea of using multiple process improvement frameworks. Specifically, he believes most organizations will derive value from implementing three popular improvement methodologies: ITIL, COBIT and CMMI. The trick, he said, is to "take the strengths of each one and to apply them in the right way."


Six Sigma can be used to improve IT processes if the organization is using it elsewhere, opined Harris. If the business is already using it, employing the same approach in IT could help reinforce corporate culture and strengthen IT/business relations. However, if the IT organization isn't mature enough, "the focusing effect of Six Sigma may leave too many IT capability gaps," writes Harris in his book.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 29, 2009 4:18 AM Ben Ben  says:

The Graham Process Improvement methodology supported by their detailed mapping method has been helping organizations get fast results for over half a century.  Obviously, not all improvements can be quick, but when your team can focus at the level of individual forms and records that drive the process, some things can be done quickly.  Unnecessary and redundant work becomes apparent and CAN often be eliminated quickly.  Complicated workflows can be often streamlined quickly and controls might be added, removed or placed where they are most effective. 

Jul 29, 2009 9:17 AM marcia e marcia e  says:

Not sure I entirely agree with the idea of hunkering down and not spending on projects now because of the economy. If there's no budget, that's one thing, but those who can swing it and get ahead of the curve while the competition is sidelined by $$ constraints would be well advised to do so, don't you think? 


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