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Process Mapping Articles >> Gantthead.com Interview

Interview with Michael Cunningham, President of Harvard Computing by

Dave Garrett, President and CEO of Gantthead.com

Dave Garrett - President and CEO of Gantthead.com Michael J. Cunningham - Established Author and President of the Harvard Computing Group

Mapping Out A Change

From Dave Garrett, CEO of Gantthead.com:

Situation: You think a change might be just what the doctor ordered...

In hard times, industry experts always tell us to focus on process improvements with an eye toward cost reduction and competitive advantage. If you think about it, that approach makes a lot of sense in that it usually involves relatively small financial investments. It also lets you record some of the "know-how" that's all pent up inside of your employees. It's really one of the best ways you can "do more with less". However, many companies that intend to revamp processes end up not doing it. Why is that?

To find out what's happening in the industry, I recently spoke with Mike Cunningham, CEO at Harvard Computing Group, a firm that specializes in process improvement. They interact with large numbers of people and companies who are trying to improve in the same ways you are. We asked him a few questions related to the barriers he sees cropping up during these efforts and how people get past them.

Q. If improving processes is always so high on many "industry pundit" lists, why don't more than a small percentage of companies do anything about it year after year?

A. A great question, the short answer is it is difficult. Resistance to change often delays many change management programs. In general the larger the firm the better organized the resistance. To be honest, senior management has to take the responsibility, as they are the only ones who can really encourage and create change around processes. Look at the US domestic auto industry today. It is a model for how not to deal with process improvement over time. In contrast, the Japanese auto companies have embraced a philosophy of continuous change, resulting in a consistent culture of quality and change. They now lead the industry.

For organizations that are not fainthearted, improving processes will be high on their list and they will commit to getting it done. Others will follow eventually, sometimes kicking and screaming.

Q. These days, what are the most common ways that companies realize they need to change processes to improve results? What's typically the trigger? (has that changed this past year?)

A. The realization often comes from a combination of needs for improved efficiency, quality or governance. In years gone by, these initiatives were often viewed separately, but in the past two years processes are being looked at holistically, with the need for all three to be addressed. Cost cutting is obviously high on the list these days, whether by outsourcing or automating. The bottom line is understanding that all aspects of the new process have to be dealt with simultaneously.

Today the main triggers in business operations are:

  • Cost and quality control which are bigger drivers in the large firms;
  • Growth and operational efficiency which tend to drive the faster growing smaller businesses.

Q. How does one go about getting support for process change efforts within their organization?

A. Rather like learning Project Management, we are certainly not born with the skills or frameworks to make this happen. However, they are out there. There are three things you need:

  1. Support from Executive Management. This will be the channel to get goals and objectives set, budget approval and resources assigned. Get yourself a sponsor who wants you and the project to be successful.
  2. A tried and true framework for running the process change project. Unless everyone is on the same page to achieve results, projects can go round in ever decreasing circles.
  3. Focus on the process change that has enterprise benefits. Most of the big dollars are not in small improvement in departments or silos, but cross functional improvements that dramatically alter the characteristics of the business operations. This is why many organizations focus on ERP, CRM and enterprise communications activities.

Q. Meaningful process improvements often involve significant changes in the way people work. What are the top three keys to creating change that works for everyone involved?


  1. Focus on the goals or results that the organization needs to achieve. It is often difficult to separate the "current state" from the individuals involved. Kepping the center of attention on how to achieve new goals will help depersonalize the project and make it easier for everyone to concentrate on the common good desired from the project.
  2. Ensure you have all the right people involved at the various stages of the program. This will include line management, subject matter experts, IT, QA and other business analysts and project managers affected by the areas of change. It's a lot easier to change things with the right people in the room, and much more difficult if they are excluded from the process.
  3. Document the existing process. Many want to side step this activity. Sometimes for good reasons like:
    • We know our existing process isn't that good, so let's just document what we want the new one to be
    • Why not focus on best practices and then adapt them to our needs

While these are valid reasons not to dwell on existing processes, it also causes the project to not have a good set of business rules and requirements. A recent study from IAG Consulting shows a shocking 68% failure rate amongst certain IT projects, primarily due to poor discovery practices.

Q. Once you've begun a process improvement effort, what are the barriers to seeing that effort through?

A. A few pointers can help avoid a heap of trouble.

  1. Looking out for trouble and change. Every process change project is by its nature a moving target. Usually, looking for areas where automation, reduced timeframes, and increased throughput requires monitoring how the new process(es) work together. Inevitably, things will change, so be on the lookout for opportunities that will assist or slow down the project.
  2. Communicate. Communicate, Communicate. If you are the lead on the change management project, do not assume that everyone is up to speed. Continuous effective communication will keep your team on the same page, and make it easier to avoid those "I didn't realize we were going to do that" moments. If the organization's communications standards are not as rigorous as you need, err on the side of overcommunicating with the team. Use multiple channels to ensure the message and details from each stage are understood by everyone.
  3. Educate the team in key areas of change. If you are looking to change something in the process that involves new practices or procedures the team will not be familiar with, then educate them first, before you try and force-feed the change. e.g. ITIL Best Practices for Service Management, self-service applications, web 2.0 developments …

Q. What's different about the ways that you work with your clients? (what are you particularly mindful of or focused on)

A. In the past 5 years, there has been a huge change in the way we work with clients. The biggest change is having clients do much of the process change work themselves. This has meant building products that allow the clients to document their own processes and only employing change management and project consultants for the real valuable part- Facilitating the change in their organization.

In today's economic climate, organizations are trying to take the mystery out of process-based technology so they can control their own processes directly. They also want to do this at the lowest possible cost to their organization.
Our focus has been to create simple to use products that integrate with desktop and web technologies. The TaskMap product line has been very successful in that regard, and we will be furthering the accessibility goal with a new version of the product called TaskMap Lite that is royalty free and has a 10-minute learning curve. The product will be released on a Microsoft CD in early February or...

As of April 2011 TaskMap Lite will no longer be available for download

Our clients are voracious about demanding simple to use technology they can deploy quickly for their projects. I think the same will happen in the Project Management market over time.