chickenprocessFrom time to time, we conduct IT capability assessments for our clients.  These typically examine two different kinds of capabilities – those IT capabilities that are largely owned and executed by the IT organization, for example:

  • Manage the IT Infrastructure
  • Deliver Business Solutions
  • Manage the IT Organization

They also (and sometimes, of great significance) assess those IT capabilities that are jointly owned by business and IT, such as:

  • Manage the Business-IT Portfolio
  • Manage Business-IT Relationships
  • Manage Enterprise Architecture

Capability vs. Process

An important element of capability is the concept of processProcesses tell you how work should be done, where inputs come from and outputs go to, what results should look like and how they should be measured and evaluated, how efficient and effective the process is, and how it should be evaluated and improved.  Capabilities bring in the dimensions of people and technology that use processes to get work done.

Some capabilities (typically those whose primary value proposition is Operational Excellence) require rigorous and robust process definitions.  For example, this is the primary domain for frameworks such as ITIL and COBIT.  Other capabilities, where the value proposition is Customer Intimacy or Innovation have a far higher “human content” requiring special competencies and judgment.  In these cases, processes may be less rigorously defined, but they are still important, even if only in the form of a checklist for the major steps, entry and exit criteria, and examples of the deliverables they create or outcomes to which they are intended to lead.

The distinction between capability and process is important for many reasons.  I sometimes find myself in debates with clients along the following lines:

We have assessed that your (fill in the blank) capability is low – not in place or only partially in place.

Which garners the client response:

That’s wrong – we have processes and artifacts to do (fill in the blank) – it’s fully in place, or at least mostly in place!

To which we respond:

You might think you have a process, but the people who’s role it is to deliver the capability associated with that process either don’t know about it, or are ignoring it – the net result is, you don’t have the capability maturity you need for (fill in the blank)!

The Characteristics of Real Process

So, how do you know you really have processes that are driving (or at least, shaping) behavior?

  1. Do you have a process definition that is known by and used by impacted stakeholders?
  2. Is it defined at a level appropriate to its purpose?
  3. Does it provide “best practice’ examples of input criteria, exit criteria and deliverables for each major step?
  4. Does it clearly spell out all roles associated with each given step?
  5. Do those roles call out or point to descriptions of the competencies (knowledge, skills and behaviors) needed to satisfy a given role?
  6. Are there outcome and in-process metrics and are these used to drive continuous improvement?
  7. If a new person, once familiarized with the formal process, stepped into the work mid-flight, would they know what to expect (and would find) what work has been done so far, and what steps need to be performed next?
  8. Do you have approaches to assure that key process steps have been followed (risk management)?

Some Questions to Reflect Upon…

So, think about your major IT capabilities:

  • For which ones do you really have good processes?
  • Where are your biggest gaps?
  • What would you gain if you closed those gaps?
  • Would it help with communications – internal to the organization and with your business partners?
  • Would it help clarify roles, responsibilities and accountabilities?
  • Would it help clarify the ‘rules of engagement’?
  • Would it make work more predictable and more easily repeatable?
  • Would it help identify non-value adding steps and activities, or missing roles?
  • Would it enable process improvement and innovation initiatives?
  • Would it help bring new employees or partners up to speed more quickly – accelerate ‘time to value’?
  • What would that all be worth?
  • What’s standing in the way of doing it?