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Tuning Processes is a Waste of Time!

Most Process Improvement Projects Fail

Around the world businesses spend vast amounts of time and money trying to tune their existing processes and procedures in order to make their businesses more efficient.

Sadly, in far too many instances their efforts result in no improvement at all or, worse still, in an actual degradation of performance – and always in a huge bill.

Process Tuning Paradox

Why is it that, in spite of having tuned their procedures over and over in the past, businesses need to tune them yet again?

The most common excuses given for this are things like, “the constantly changing business world” or “our on-going commitment to improvement”.  But these are excuses not reasons.

In most businesses the “constantly changing business world” is a false reality created by the fact that they never get it right and constantly need to change.

Businesses who are genuinely committed to improvement are not perpetually in a state chaotic change, instead they get it right first time.

Can Tuning Really Reduce Performance?

Sadly, yes.  Badly structured tuning projects cost businesses dearly in four main ways:

  1. The projects consume a great deal of time and (consequently) money.  They consume not just time and expense for the project team carrying out the exercise also, and more so, the time of the employees involved in the processes and procedures being “improved”
  2. Because they are fundamentally flawed in their approach they are unlikely to, and seldom ever, achieve what they were supposed to achieve.
  3. Because they fail to deliver the promised improvements, those people carrying out the operations in question, become disillusioned and de-motivated, resulting in a slump in performance.
  4. In order to avoid the failures of all past tuning exercises, management or IT suggest purchasing some “magic” (and very expensive) piece of software that will, without anyone having to know anything about business modelling, completely model and document all processes in the business from end-to-end. Honest, the salesman said so!

Now the costs of all of the above has now to be recouped by a business that may be performing less effectively than it was before the project started – this proves to be an impossible task.

Then, to make up for this failure, the business will begin the same thing all over again!

Does this sound like insanity?  It should do – it is!

You Can’t Tune Wrong to Right!

There is an old programming adage that says, “Before you spend time making sure that the code is right, make sure that it is the right code!”

Quite simply, this means that if the code that you have written is doing the wrong thing, then tuning it to make it more efficient will never make it do the right thing.

This is also true for business processes and procedures.  If they are the wrong processes and procedures, then tuning them will never make them right.  It will simply change them from what they are to something else.


So what is the solution?

Get senior management to define exactly WHAT it is that the business OUGHT to be doing and from this create a Function Model for the business.

The Function Model is the most powerful business model there is and is the basis of all other business models, whether they are activity of data based.

Without a Function Model defining WHAT the business OUGHT to be doing it will never be possible to tune processes or procedures effectively.  It will also never be possible to build any effective databases, but that is a discussion for another day.

It is only when you have this definition of WHAT the business OUGHT to be doing that you can start building:

  • Processes (the order in which the WHAT needs to be done)
  • Procedures (HOW the Processes need to be carried out)


Logic Chasm

A common misunderstanding that plagues the business modelling community is the belief that you can derive exactly WHAT it is that the business OUGHT to be doing by analysing existing processes and procedures.

So very, very wrong.

This is no more possible than looking at a piece of computer code and trying to determine what it is that it ought to be doing.


  • Most process and procedure tuning projects fail.
  • Processes and procedures cannot be tuned without the business having first defined WHAT OUGHT to be done – that is, built the a Function Model for the business.
  • The Function Model enables all processes and procedures to be correctly tuned to do what they OUGHT to do.

Useful links:

Read more on Function Modelling
Preview/Buy Function Modelling eBook

What do you think?  Please leave a comment below.


2 Responses to “Tuning Processes is a Waste of Time!”

  1. Wes Baird April 29, 2010 2:28 am #

    I agree with the statement of having senior management define what the company ought to be doing but think that it quickly devolves into a HOW to extract that from middle management who are tasked with executing the vision. I believe that this group of people need to be plumbed for their working business knowledge. And if they don’t have it, get the senior analysts to tell HOW the business runs and move it into the ‘how it should run’.

    • John Owens April 29, 2010 11:32 pm #

      Thanks Wes

      You have pinpointed the problem. When analysts start talking to middle management they nearly always make the mistake of talking to them about what is currently being done and how it is currently being done. They have fallen into the logic chasm of trying to determine what a business OUGHT to be doing from what a business is currently doing and how it currently does it.

      They are trying to make the code right before they have made sure that it is the right code. This approach has always failed and always will.

      If a large proportion of people in in business analysis / BPM/ BPR follow take a flawed approach, it is still a flawed approach.


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