Quite simply put, processes are a series of actions, changes, or functions that bring about a desired result. Processes are the way we work. No matter what we do--whether we serve as superintendents, principals, technology directors, or teachers--we are all involved in processes, from recruiting teachers to upgrading the technology infrastructure.
Yet few in education think in these terms. Instead, educators tend to describe their work in terms of functions, like maintaining the online teacher application system, or outcomes, like positive test results. Still fewer map their processes, and when they do, these maps often chart within function, not across functions.
For example, look at the diagram on p. 29. For centuries, we have used the left side of the diagram to seek ways to improve. We wanted and asked for more and more inputs--in the form of teachers, administrators, facilities, supplies, and, of course, money.
Then along came No Child Left Behind, which dramatically shifted the focus to the right side of the diagram--outcomes. As a result, we've neglected the middle column. But outcomes cannot be changed unless we also change the way we deal with processes.
Managing processes means paying attention to five key elements.
Process maps are graphical representations of the flow of work or sequence of events needed to achieve an outcome, such as a product or service.
Process measures quantitatively represent the effectiveness of a process against a stated goal or objective, such as the average time to resolve a service disruption or the number of unscheduled network outages per month.
Process comparison compares process measures internally over time or externally with other districts.
Process Improvement refers to increasing the effectiveness of a process incrementally--improvement is done on an ongoing basis through small changes to the components of the process, including adding or deleting a process activity or measure.
Process innovation is the dramatic or radical redesign of a process to increase process effectiveness and/or efficiency, including remapping the entire work flow, adding new process owners, and developing new measurements or goals.
The Process Management Advantage
Process management offers many opportunities for educators to improve and innovate. Done correctly, process management has the potential to:
* enable educators concerned about NCLB to change the processes that influence the outcomes, moving away from one-time fixes toward a continuous process of improvement;
* get at the root cause of current performance and drive a culture of measurement and performance, as well as facilitate integration of instruction and administration because of the systems-wide focus on student achievement;
* lead to fewer dropouts and higher graduation rates because of the focus on prevention at the front end rather than inspection and blame at the back end;
* enable real data-driven improvement rather than "I think" or "I believe" or "we've always done it this way" justifications;
* allow participants to make benchmark comparisons;
* provide data to school boards, states, and the federal government about efficiency and effectiveness of processes, not just responses to typical requests for input;
* enable fiscal accountability as well as academic accountability.
Ultimately, process management can help districts make transformative changes. What's more, it may be the only way to reach NCLB proficiency goals by 2014.
How does process management work in practice? In 2005, an organization I chair called the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) designed a study called Process Improvement and Implementation in Education (PILE) to examine what could happen if districts began using process maps, measures, and comparisons to assess their own performance and compare it to others. …