Process Improvement Programs - When Are You in Need of One?

We all have encountered various process improvement efforts in the organizations we’ve been engaged in: starting with simple analysis of key processes and trying to make them more efficient to implementing more complex process improvement models like Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), Six Sigma or others. One way or the other, process improvement has been the news for IT organizations for over a decade now - and you might wonder - do we really need it? Why should we do it?

In this article I will try to kick off the discussion by quickly reviewing what is generally meant by process improvement and then going through a few possible problems which might trigger organizations to start considering process improvement efforts.

Process improvement is - simply put - taking a particular course of action intended to achieve a result to its next level: in efficiency, speed, cost savings or any relevant Key Performance Indicator (KPI). An important distinction to be made here is between processes - which are repeated actions towards the same end-result - and projects - which are temporary endeavors, having a defined beginning and end, undertaken to meet unique objectives.

Yep...this measurement looks about right

Process improvement techniques started to appear first in the manufacturing area, with methodologies like Six Sigma. With time, they have been adapted to work in many other areas including IT and today we have lots models to choose from.

How To Identify if an Organization Needs Process Improvement

Before starting any process improvement efforts, it is best to evaluate if the organization really needs them. In the end, we don’t want to change things only for the sake of change, right?

To keep things easy, lets share a few simple questions you can use for evaluating the current state of your organization:

  1. Are different parts of the organization using different project management tools and/or templates?
  2. The actual results of your projects - are they different from the initial estimates with more than 100%?
  3. Does the organization find it hard to commit deliverables and deadlines to its customers?
  4. Do customers have a hard time believing your organization’s estimations and commitments?
  5. The organization finds it hard to talk to vendors – as if they’re speaking a completely different language?
  6. Do people in the organization feel like the current set of measures being reported does not reflect reality?
  7. Is there a continuous fight between the project managers delivering new applications and services and or changes to existing ones and the people managing the operations of those applications or services?
  8. Has the organization changed project managers multiple times for at least one of the big projects being currently executed?

If the answer is Yes to more than one of these questions then, most probably, you have at least a process issue which needs to eliminated. One way to solve it, is to go for a process improvement effort, be it formal and complex or a simple and less formal effort.

What’s Next?

Now you know that the organization you are working with suffers from process issues. What’s next?

Well... there are many ways you can approach process improvement efforts: raging from simple and fast to truly complex and time-consuming. To learn more about possible next steps, stay tuned for future articles. Some of the areas I intend to cover are: choosing the best process improvement framework for solving your organization’s process issues, the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and my personal lessons learned from implementing it, process improvement measures, etc. I hope I’ve managed to capture your interest with this brief article of introduction. If you have any questions by the time I publish the next episode, don’t hesitate to use the comment form below.

Related content:

Process Improvement Programs - What Methodology to Choose
Measuring Projects and Change Outcomes
4 Project Management Lessons Learned from Lean and Six Sigma


I like the list of 8 things to identify when process improvement is needed. However, there seem to be a nonth'th (IMHO).

9. The product has many problems (software bugs, for example).

If the product is bad, then it's very likely the organozation and the organization's processes are also bad.

I definitely think that process improvement programs are needed in companies, especially IT companies. They seem to have proven themselves to work well and make a company or organization more efficient. Would you suggest getting a Business Continuity Management software such as coop systems to help the process improvement programs? Thank you for your personal lessons you have learned from implementing it, process improvement measures, etc...

- nice2 - sales1