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The Value of Harmonizing Multiple Improvement Technologies: A Process Improvement Professional’s View

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Learn the benefits of a harmonized approach when implementing more than one improvement model, standard, or other technology.
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This article is based on the first whitepaper of a five-part series dedicated to examining problems that organizations encounter when operating in multimodel environments and the current process improvement approaches such organizations need to consider. It addresses the benefits of a harmonized approach when implementing more than one improvement model, standard, or other technology and provides a high-level description and underlying paradigms of a reasoning framework for technology harmonization. The full whitepaper series is available at http://www.sei.cmu.edu/prime. [1]

The Value of Multiple Technologies

Organizational and business process improvement is conducted to support numerous organizational objectives: customer satisfaction, business profitability, market share, product and service quality, cost reduction, and cycle time reduction, to name a few. Numerous reference models, standards, and other improvement technologies are available to support performance improvement. [2] Some of these are discipline-oriented; others are discipline-neutral and serve the overall enterprise. Some describe what to do; others are prescriptive about how to do it. Each offers unique features and addresses particular problems, but they’re not mutually exclusive.

The decision authority for different initiatives rests at different levels in the organization. Adoption decisions about enterprise initiatives such as Six Sigma or Lean may be made by senior executives, or they may be mandated by governmental policy, as is the case with Sarbanes-Oxley and FDA regulations. Functional or business unit–level process improvement groups often are charged with the responsibility of selecting discipline-specific initiatives such as those oriented toward establishing organizational processes; for instance, CMMI in the systems and software engineering field, or ITIL in the IT field. The most tactical of the technologies, such as particular programming methods or requirements management methods for software developers, may be selected by improvement groups or by those responsible for creating products.

Each technology carries an implementation cost, including such things as the following:

  • Providing infrastructure to support the implementation
  • Tailoring each technology to suit the organizational culture
  • Developing training
  • Ensuring compliance
  • Measuring performance results

Seldom is it intentional to implement multiple improvement technologies simultaneously and in an uncoordinated fashion. Technologies typically are adopted one decision at a time, and accumulate over decades from different points within an enterprise and for different reasons. Motivations for each adoption decision vary and may include regulatory compliance, the quest for the next perfect solution, or the need to solve a particular product or process issue. A new technology may be added to the collection already in use, or it may be intended as a replacement for legacy technologies. In either case, the addition often is made without coordination and without considering integration or interoperation with other technologies already existing within the organization.

The result of these uncoordinated efforts is an unplanned multimodel reality in which several improvement initiatives are implemented concurrently at different hierarchical levels and across different organizational functions, each championing those technologies that best address its particular problem space. This multimodel environment leads to perceived (and real) competition between technologies and their associated improvement initiatives within the organization, which is costly.

When you examine the overall improvement initiative landscape within the organization, redundancies as well as unrealized synergies between competing technologies become apparent. For example, organizations that examine risk management will realize that this capability is included in different ways in numerous technologies.

The real consequence of not understanding or managing your organization’s overall improvement landscape is increasing the overall cost—and eroding the benefits—of your investments in improving business performance. However, there is a way to realize the benefits and manage the costs; it involves methodically harmonizing the technologies to create a more intentional multimodel process environment.

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