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It’s in the news: Air bags don’t work, cellphone batteries catch fire, a customer's outrage goes viral on social media, profitability is down, increasing employees' unrest, lawsuits, and regulatory issues. What are the reactions to these headlines? "Lucky it wasn’t us." "It’s the cost of doing business." "How can we get those comments off the website?" "Investigate what caused the problem." "Make required changes." "Fire those to blame."

As the process guy, I have to ask, "Were the above issues preventable?" The answer is in how an organization is structured, governed, documented, automated, measured, and its ability to change. Is a chief process officer (CPO) the answer?

What is a CPO?
According to Wikipedia, "A CPO is an executive responsible for business process management at the highest level of an organization. CPOs usually report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) or board of directors. They oversee business process activities and are responsible for defining rules, policies, and guidelines to ensure that the main objectives follow the company strategy as well as establishing control mechanisms."

Working with the organization, the CPO defines the process management strategy and related objectives for the company, develops, documents, and introduces the process model, and monitors process compliance.

Why can’t the other chiefs handle this role?
Traditional chief financial officers', chief technology officers', chief marketing officers', chief administrative officers', and other chief executives' roles, responsibilities, and compensation are focused on their area of the organization. Although they may have been trained on process improvement method(s), this training is typically at a high level and does not equip them to support CPO responsibilities. They may also lack the visibility, or the support required from other chiefs, to tackle difficult enterprise and multiple department-wide processes.

Didn’t that LEAN event take care of this? Many internally supported process improvement initiatives lack sustainability and fall apart when self-directed teams try to tackle difficult process issues. Simply put: Line-of-business staff do not have the time to become process experts; they are busy handling their own day-to-day responsibilities. Today, we find that less than 20% of most organizations' processes are documented and up to date. If a process is not properly defined and measured, how can it be improved?

What should be in the “tool box” of a CPO?
Number one answer is procedural changes. I find when working to resolve difficult organizational issues, procedural changes (changing the way people work both individually and together) can resolve many organizational problems. Revolutionary tools include technologies such as workflow and electronic content management. Properly deployed, these paperless technologies provide independent process measurements and break down organizational silos.

A CPO can provide an independent voice to help ensure enterprise goals are met, process improvement is continuous, and compliance is measured.

George Dunn is the founder and president of CRE8 Independent Consultants and is a worldwide recognized consultant, speaker, instructor, contributing editor and author on business process innovation and improvement, paperless technologies and complex computer system replacement planning. He has over 25 years of experience in the advanced technology and process improvement industry. Follow him on Twitter @CRE8consultants or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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