The most common approach for process improvement that Mary and I have seen during the last 10 years is for an organization to document all processes. We don't know exactly why people do this, but they do.
This approach is amplified when an organization rushes to adopt a sweeping solution such as ISO9001 or the SEI CMM . In the light of a goal stating, "Be SEI CMM Level 3 by December," the approach of documenting all processes is reinforced, and might even appear natural. In the picture above, the lower white line describes this approach. It starts, wanders around and ends, without reaching any specific goal.
An alternative approach.
In the picture, one of the business goals an organization is trying to achieve has been highlighted. Examples might include the delivery of a product, the completion of a software installation, or the upgrade of a database. The goal could also be the desired outcome when a critical problem has been solved. For example, a critical problem might be the inability to hit delivery deadlines, or the fact that 75% of the organization's resources is spent on rework. Related goals might be to meet deadlines 100% of the time, or reduce rework to 25%. The goal-problem approach starts with a business goal and works backward to determine what improvement actions are necessary to achieve that goal. Here is an example.