Have Your PI and Eat It Too

So, you hear the term "process improvement" or "process management" fairly often. What does it really mean? Textbooks say process improvement assists organizations in analyzing their current methods of accomplishing organizational tasks and devising more efficient and effective processes. Development support, planning support and effective information systems design and implementation are all components of process improvement.

That dry definition comes from an ivory tower somewhere and has nothing to do with you out in the trenches--or does it? If you're an IT project manager, then you know why you would embark upon a process improvement effort: to improve your current process of software development.

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But making PI work for you can be tricky. It seems what should be taking a good thing and making it even better often winds up as the beginning of the degeneration of your original processes. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you want PI to work, remember that your objectives drive the implementation of the process model, not the other way around.

Using PI Models
Companies often run into problems when they attempt to adopt outside models for implementing process improvement efforts. Their objectives get lost when rigid adherence to the letter ignores the needs of your process. It takes a lot of effort to stick to the model itself while worrying about checking all the boxes, dotting the I's and crossing the T's. And if you spend your time and energy doing just that--when these measures don't pertain to your particular needs--your PI effort probably won't work . Remember, there are good things about your current process. You want to keep what is good while building out the things you'd like to improve.

Highlight what you are trying to achieve before you apply any model. You'll need a short list of prioritized, measurable objectives to be phased in over time. If you understand, quantify and marry your objectives to the implementation of the models, process improvement will work for you.

The project should never look like the process. That means that you should understand the model and what it's intended to deliver. Only then do you define the implementation project based on the intended outcome of each component of the model.

So, What's It Going to Take to Put You Into This Model Today?
Try to imagine the process infrastructure as a car, where the emphasis placed on car components is dictated by the intended purpose. Whatever car you get for whatever purpose, you'll still need seats, chassis, drive train, steering wheel, tires, brakes, passenger and cargo compartments, safety devices, gas tank, etc. If you care about moving a large number of people back and forth from soccer games, you'll get a minivan with sliding side doors and fold-down seats. Want to take on the back roads of the Sierra Nevada in January? A four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicle with snow tires is what you'll need. Want a two-seat roadster built for speed? Get an expensive sports car. You get the picture.

When evaluating and applying implementation models, keep in mind that models help you focus on the right things so you can make intelligent choices about what to apply, how to apply it and with what degree of rigor. Your circumstances will not match anyone else's. If your most important driver is time to market, for example, skew your model toward the things that are most important to meeting that goal. Don't abandon basic process infrastructure; just be reasonable about the level of process infrastructure required or expedient to meet your goals.

Your process improvement effort can be smooth as long as you remember to follow the three most important rules:

  • Keep what's good and build on the things that need improvement.
    Don't throw out the good with the bad.

  • Highlight what you are trying to achieve.
    Make sure you have a clear view of your needs before following a model.

  • The project should never look like the process.
    Understand your model and its direction before diving in.

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