Key Techniques in Performance Improvement From Process to Business Model

Key Techniques in Performance Improvement

Most process and control engineers often marvel at the technical complexity and sheer size of the processes found in the process industries. Indeed it is often the fascinating technological challenges that drew them into a career with the industry in the first place. But, it should never be forgotten that these processes are business processes operating in a competitive global marketplace. A process will remain operational within a commercial enterprise so long as its performance is economically competitive and is contributing to the financial health of the company.

It is thought that process and control engineers still have much to learn from the business process literature and so our wonder is:  What is the business process viewpoint for performance monitoring, performance assessment and performance improvement?

Approach to Performance Assessment

Processes whether commercial, industrial, service or institutional can all be modeled by the simple input, process, and output activity sequence as shown in a block diagram:

However, this simple process representation is lifted into a whole new realm of utility if an anthropomorphic interpretation is added to the process components. The process can then be interpreted as a business process and it is possible to consider variables and factors representing the performance and interests of the suppliers, the process owners and the customers.

Some of the techniques to be used for approaching a performance assessment are quite familiar to process and control engineers, however, the business process model has a "peoples" aspect added to the dimension of what is considered in a conventional process.

A key property of universal significance in any branch of systems engineering is performance. Consequently, business performance, service performance, quality performance and process performance are of special interest in Business Model studies.

Key Techniques in Performance Improvement

The view that performance improvement is part of the systems engineering paradigm is a useful way to categorizing the steps and tools used. This also links the categories to equivalent steps prevalent in conventional process and control engineering methods and highlights the differences too.

The performance improvement exercise within Business Model usually begins by rigorously defining the process to be investigated and determining the precise specification of the performance targets to be achieved. The middle stages involve collecting performance data, analyzing the performance reached, and uncovering the problems that are preventing the attainment of the desired performance levels. Once the causes of poor performance have been uncovered, the final stages will instigate a programme of curative actions and possibly install mechanisms to continue to monitor subsequent performance, for example, a quality control committee or a process operations committee. This grouping of the techniques and activities is shown in Figure 1.

It is useful to summarise each of the activity steps and the tools used within these steps as follows.

People Input Tools - The extensive range of processes that can be treated for performance assessment and improvements often require input from a wide range of company/organisation personnel. Special tools and techniques can be used to elicit the necessary information efficiently. This is especially true when the process is an ‘action’ sequence rather than an industrial process.

Process Modelling - from the business and organization field often look very different to those of the process industries. However, tools are still needed to rigorously define the process under investigation.

Performance Specification - This is the activity of deciding which process variables can be considered to capture the specification of desired performance and then defining the appropriate performance measures and metrics.

Performance Measurement - These are techniques for collecting and displaying measured performance data. The monitoring of performance measures is included in this category.

Performance Problem Analysis - A most difficult task is to identify the actual cause of barriers to ultimate performance achievement. Some tools to assist with this task are given in this step.

Performance Improvement Tools - This class of tools divides into two groups. One group of tools for performance improvement are simple and almost heuristic. A second group are new philosophical approaches to the whole problem of performance improvement; one is Business Process Re-Engineering [Hammer and Champy, 1993] and a second is Business Process Benchmarking [Andersen and Pettersen, 1996].

People Output and Continuity Tools These are people-based mechanisms for implementing the outcomes of the performance assessment exercise, for continuing the monitoring of performance, and for disseminating the outcomes to a wider audience.

The surprising power of the business process model comes from its wide applicability and can be applied on the level of process section, process unit or the whole corporation.


A.W. Ordys, D. Uduehi, M.a. Johnson: Process Control Performance Assessment: From Theory to Implementation