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March 2011
Process Excellence: A Competitive Advantage, Not a “Threat”
By Patrick Sullivan

     Process excellence concerns itself with efficiency and effectiveness in processes. To quote the late management guru Peter F. Drucker, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things."

     You can have success with Process Excellence! It doesn’t happen overnight and you might need to reach out for help. Just don’t fall into the dreaded “black hole” of Process Excellence despair so many companies have followed.

     So many times companies feel the need to implement a Process Excellence program and use it as a “threat.” They threaten staff with “career death” if they are not successful in the latest Lean/Six Sigma training program. Staff are openly chastised for not reaching a cost savings goal utilizing the statistical analysis program that “we paid so much for.”

     How about the enterprise-wide initiative that is going to “revolutionize how we do business” by using the latest in cutting edge Process Excellence techniques, that ends up running off the high performers within the organization and alienating those that are left? Why do we see it over and over again?

     It has gotten to a point where in a lot of companies you can’t even mention the words Lean or Six Sigma—like the tools themselves have caused the rift that lies within the failed initiatives. But wait a minute! There are some companies that utilize the Process Excellence toolsets and are wildly successful. They use the tools in thousands of applications a day and could not be happier with them. How can this be?

     They must have a different set of Process Excellence tools. Well, not really. Like the old saying goes, “A good craftsman doesn’t blame his tools.” They have learned the secret of making Process Excellence a competitive advantage and not a “threat.”

     To understand what frequently goes wrong, we have to go back to the roots of most Process Excellence enterprise programs and see if they were established with a true “understanding” of what Process Excellence is or its capabilities. Such programs usually start with huge fanfare, touted as the cure all for all things that need improved, and huge amounts of resources are allocated to their success.

     Several of these programs gain some initial traction and show some great improvements and benefits to the bottom line. The leadership approach at this point is that, “If a little bit is good, then a lot would be great.” Everybody should be trained in this and they should be held accountable for the deliverables. It doesn’t matter if some people don’t like it, are not change leaders or have so much else going on that they don’t have the time, “They will all use it or they can leave!”

     This may sound extreme, but it does happen. The typical result in this situation is that some people leave, but the ones that embrace and excel at Process Excellence discover success, resulting in increased job satisfaction and career growth. The top performers in other specialties leave because they aren’t Process Excellence people. This is not where their passion lies.

     Not everyone has passion around Process Excellence. Not everyone thinks about the risk priority number associated with the prioritization of action items they need to take in their daily lives. We all don’t live to watch control charts looking for a series of three anomalies to take action. But some do. Some of us are truly passionate about Process Excellence. We have thousands of instances where a Process Excellence tool has helped us be successful.

     The companies that are truly successful in their Process Excellence journey recognize the value of engaging Process Excellence professionals and work to provide fertile ground to apply the tools. Companies that have yet to identify those passionate people will sometimes invite Process Excellence-passionate people into their organization to share the benefits of a robust Process Excellence program staffed with process improvement professionals.

     Process Excellence professionals can act as a mentor to your people and impart passion within the ranks. Once people understand and see that Process Excellence is not scary, but rather a proven approach with measurable benefits, they too will have passion. Then and only then, will your company realize the competitive advantage that is Process Excellence.


To summarize:

1.  Process Excellence does not have to be a “threat”;

2.  Some companies are wildly successful at Process Excellence;

3.  Process Excellence can be a competitive advantage;

4.  Not everyone has passion around Process Excellence;

5.  Allow people to follow their passions to be successful; and

6.  Sometimes you need to reach out for help.


     Hopefully this has shed light on a beneficial approach to Process Excellence and, for those of you out there that are following your Process Excellence passion, know that you are not alone.

     Content contributed by NouvEON, a management consulting firm. For more information, visit To contact NouvEON’s Process Excellence expert, e-mail him at or follow on Twitter@NouvEON.

Patrick Sullivan is Managing Consultant and Process Excellence Knowledge Domain in U.S. Consulting Division of hiSoft Technology International Limited
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