Process improvement essentials

You picked the short straw. Now, what?


Book review Process improvement, in the guise of the ‘big three’ frameworks of ISO 9001, CMMI and Six Sigma on the face of it would seem to have much in common and all aim to produce the same end result – improved quality through established and proven processes. With compliance to one or other of these frameworks increasingly being sought by governments and corporations, it’s no surprise that there’s a rush of interest in them now.

Unfortunately, reading about ISO 9001, CMMI and Six Sigma is often like wading through mud, only not as interesting. For those tasked with finding out about them, or worse still those being asked to select which one to go for there’s somewhere to turn to in the form of James Persse’s ‘Process Improvement Essentials’, published by O’Reilly.

The aim of the book is both to provide an understanding of the motivations behind, and the benefits of adopting, a process improvement policy. In many ways the benefits, (and the costs of achieving those benefits), are independent of which of these frameworks (or indeed of competing frameworks). To this end, the first part of the book looks at putting the case for process improvement, marshalling the arguments which apply generically in terms of improved planning, control and execution of projects and products. It discusses in some detail the process of establishing the process, pointing out both the pit-falls of ‘flavour of the month’ solutions hoisted on unwilling developers and also the need for executive sponsorship and a high degree of corporate commitment.

The second part of the book then moves on to the specifics of each of the frameworks. It puts each into context, providing the historical background, evolution and current status of each. Issues of ownership are high-lighted as well, pointing out the difference between ISO 9001, which is centrally ‘owned’ by the ISO, and CMMI and Six Sigma which are closer to open source in terms of ownership, usage and community input. Of course, the core of this section of the book is in describing in some detail the contents of the frameworks, allowing the reader to get a detailed over-view of what makes them different, where the emphasis lies for each of them and where they are most appropriately used.

The book is leavened with war stories, anecdotes, quotes from the great and the good from different industries and so on. But even with the war stories and the personal asides from the author, this is a book that you’re still unlikely to read for the hell of it. It’s a better source than some, and there’s no disputing that the book gets the material across to the reader, but there’s still a certain dryness of tone that seems to go with the territory.

However, if you look like you’re going to be ‘processed improved’ or you want to institute one or other of these frameworks than this is a good place to start. The author makes the point a number of times that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For those wanting to pick and chose from the different approaches, or who are interested as much in cannibalising existing best practices this is also a great place to start.

Process Improvement Essentials

Verdict: A somewhat dry read, but if “process improvement” is going to be done unto you, this may also be a compelling read. It’s more accessible than many books on the subject.

Author: James R. Persse.

Publisher: O’Reilly.

ISBN: 0596102178

Media: Book

List Price: £31.99

Current Reg price: £22.71 inc. VAT (discount 29%)

Buy this book at Register Books at Reg Developer's special discounted price (subject to change)!


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