Thought Leadership

Improving Process Improvement
05-Oct-2015 Clayton Capizzi
IT Strategy and Architecture
process improvement, business process improvement, agile, agile methodology

In recent years, Agile has expanded outside of software development to enable incremental delivery of value and task management to traditionally more structured and formal business and technical functions. Application of Agile as a management mindset allows organizations to rapidly adjust to customer needs, create value for customers upfront, and continuously improve delivery. Just as Agile swept through the software development community, so did Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) arena in the 1980s. To this day, LSS is the de facto standard for BPR and process improvement throughout the private and public sectors. In our experience supporting agency BPR efforts, our clients more often than not do not achieve the desired benefits for 6-24 months. So how do we deliver results to clients quicker, while not affecting quality? We innovate!

By applying Agile as a management framework to BPR, we believe our clients are able to avoid typical BPR mistakes that cause cost and schedule overruns that a traditional waterfall-like approach produces, such as process scope creep, no schedule constraints, and lack of a priority management mechanism. The following are our suggestions for clients who want to infuse Agile into their BPR work:

  1. Process Owner (Product Owner): Since the traditional Product Owner role typically found in Agile methodologies like Scrum does not exist for business processes, we apply these responsibilities to the Process Owner. The Process Owner is the individual responsible for developing, maintaining, and executing the end-to-end process, and may be responsible for a single process up to an organization’s Value Stream. The Process Owner is responsible for setting prioritization of the process backlog, and has the right to re-prioritize and dynamically manage the process backlog.
  2. Process Backlog: Traditional BPR or process improvement efforts focus on identifying the core business processes and associated sub-processes, but do not provide a mechanism to prioritize and execute improvement efforts. Through iterative sprint planning sessions with customers to define and prioritize a process backlog, organizations are better positioned to address “pain point” processes up front and dynamically adjust to changing priorities.
  3. Time-Boxed Sprints: Use of time-boxed sprints to reengineer each process provides a streamlined way to more rapidly execution of BPR activities, including process review, validation, analysis, and improvement recommendations. This also avoids the typical pitfall of an open-ended process review, which can often takes weeks or months to fully analyze with traditional methods.
  4. Sprint Reviews & Retrospectives: At the end of each sprint, sprint reviews and retrospectives provide an effective forum to review process analysis, recommendations, , and obtain feedback to facilitate continuous process refinement and improvement.
  5. Agile Performance Metrics: To measure sprint and product increment performance, and facilitate continuous improvement a number of different Agile performance metrics can be utilized, such as burn Up/burn Down charts and sprint predictability.
  6. Lean Six Sigma Techniques and Tools: Use of LSS techniques and tools, such as Ishikawa and Supplier/Input/Process/Output/Customers (SIPOC) diagrams allows an organization to identify root causes, to systematically remove defects and waste.
  7. Kaizen Blitzes: Use of Kaizen Blitzes allows an organization to rapidly identify and develop process improvements.
  8. Executive Sponsorship and Commitment: Just as when an organization transitions to Agile for software development, obtaining and maintaining executive sponsorship and commitment is critical to the success of leading an Agile BPR effort.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Octo leveraged our Agile BPR approach to successfully capture and deliver the Current and Future States for nine core application development and maintenance business processes incrementally over a five-month period. Our Agile approach has facilitated the transition to becoming an IT Center of Excellence, instilling Agile concepts and realizing process efficiencies.

Understanding how Agile’s value proposition has been expanded to meet management of non-software development activities like BPR leads us to believe that Agile is not just a fad; it’s manifest benefits will help it to endure for some time.

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