The discipline of operations management is all about processes. Every textbook in operations, it seems, starts out with the transformation of inputs into outputs. Unfortunately little is subsequently done with this process model to explain Operations concepts. This is a grave omission, in our view, as in that simple phrase lies a treasure chest of insights into exactly how those inputs (what they are, what they cost, where they come from, how they got to us) are processed (by which technologies, by whom, with what quality, in what timeframe, with what economy) into those outputs (of what variety and quality, at what cost, how they get to the customer). The choices involved are myriad. And they are important, as these very decisions determine the quality, cost and delivery of the product or service provided. The discipline of Operations Management can tell us how we should think about all of those choices. Some ways of thinking are more fruitful than others. This is where the "habit of mind" and the "lens" we can hold make a real difference.
We know a lot about processes as a body of knowledge, even though we hardly ever express it coherently. We can explain a lot about how they work as they do, and why. We can classify them. We have the tools by which to examine them. We know their strengths and weaknesses. We know which ones are most appropriate in all sorts of circumstances, and we can predict how they will fare. We know how they should be measured and how they should not be measured. We know what it takes to improve them. We know that when they work well, the rewards can be tremendous. And, when they work poorly, companies are at risk of collapse. Moreover, we know that companies are awash in processes and that they often do not realise how dependent on processes, both good ones and bad ones, they are. Importantly, they may not know what to do to improve those processes. Appealing to technology is not, in itself, the path to process improvement. Many cases have shown that having the technology to make something or to deliver a service is only part of the story. Mastering technology does not give you much insight into how to make money from it nor how society can benefit the most from it. Here is where management - and operations management, in particular - can help.
We are currently developing a book on processes in Operations Management. Please contact Dr Matthias Holweg to find out more.