Having just returned from a few days at PEX Week 2014, I would like to share a few of my thoughts. This will not be a blow-by-blow recap, but rather an attempt to collect my thoughts into a set of themes and takeaways that I left the conference with.

Visually, I was struck at this conference by how many people were wearing suit and tie, buttoned-down business wear. I know that seems like a shallow impression to lead with, but I think it speaks to how seriously people who are engaged with process excellence take themselves and their craft. I admire the pride, but I can’t help feeling that particular display is getting a bit dated.

There was a tremendous focus from the vendor community on tools and software for the process mapping or process tracking standpoint. As a first time attendee of the conference, I was impressed with the functionality of many of the tools, but as someone who is also interested in usability and user experience, there were some really abhorrent interfaces and design schemes.

I believe that some aspects of the software design reflect a continued undervaluation of the people side of process improvement. While black belt and green belt professionals are the primary architects of process improvement, the vast majority of the users of those processes are blissfully unaware of the intricacies of continuous improvement and the language it uses to describe itself. We must never lose sight that even when we seek automation, the human aspect of change is still our ultimate goal. As Brad Power said in his keynote on the first day of the conference: “Build people first, get results second.”

The truth is that if you don’t build people first, you will still get results; they just won’t be the results you were looking for.

Another theme that I noticed was that technology driven disruptors continue to affect process excellence and improvement. Mobile, Social, Cloud, and Big Data technologies are all causing many to reevaluate some long-held and stable processes. However, it is up to us to look at these disruptors as either threats or opportunities. Some process can still be leveraged through continuous improvement, while others are disrupted to the point where we really should start over.

My primary interest in attending PEX was to network and get a sense of where companies are with process improvement as it relates to people and more specifically, traditional “HR” roles.  As I talked to people, I got a lot of reactions that HR was “really broken” and I saw a lot of light bulbs go off that HR could really use a process improvement touch.

One of the best sessions of the entire conference for me was Christina Gasperino from Cott Beverages, who spoke about HR service Delivery transformation. She’s doing at Cott what I had hoped to see more companies doing—a series of people- and process-centric improvement projects aimed at bettering employee’s experiences with service delivery and reducing cost and waste at the same time.

Process improvement in the HR space is clearly something most companies have a large potential to benefit from. While there weren’t a lot of HR practitioners present, I don’t think the topic should be out of bounds for anyone who is focused on the betterment of their business through process excellence.

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