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Which is Tougher? A Harvard “A” or a Process Improvement “A”?


GettyImages-153494898-241893-edited.jpgAccording to the New York Times, “At Harvard a few years ago, a professor complained that the most common grade was an A-. He was quickly corrected: The most common grade at Harvard was an A.”  The Times went on to note, “Across 200 colleges and universities, over 40 percent of grades were in the A realm. At both four-year and two-year schools, more students receive A’s than any other grade — a percentage that has grown over the past three decades.”

Oh, if only things were this easy in the messy real world of process improvement.

As I was reading the brand new AIIM market research report on Business Process Automation in 2017:  Designing an Intelligent Workplace this particular question caught my attention:

In relation to your operational processes, how would you position your organization in resolving the following business process issues?

Here are the percentages evaluating their capabilities as “below average,” only “average,” or “above average.”


“Below Average”

D or F



“Above Average”

A or B

Process failure rates




Sub-optimum routing




Compliance errors




Stuck in-process delays




Process irregularities




We live in an unforgiving world of companies that win, companies that lose, and those that just muddle along. As waves of digital disruption sweep through the economy, the stakes of process inefficiency just keep getting higher and higher.

But where should you start? The AIIM survey offers some hints.

The survey asked, “Which common business processes do you feel are the most likely candidates for improvement in your organization?” and offered a choice of 12 common business processes. The top four answers:

Internal processes like reviews and approvals – 90%

Records and document management – 85%

Internal HR processes – 82%

Finance (AP/AR) – 81% 

Those certainly sound familiar to anyone who has been around the document management space. We hear the same from customers every day.

AIIM offers seven recommendations for how to attack these areas:

  1. Identify a potential business process where paper-based information still exists and manual processes are still heavily in use.
  2. Document where the process slows down, what information is involved, the sources of that information, and who interacts with it.
  3. Identify how and where that process could be improved, like the elimination of a bottleneck or creation of a parallel process.
  4. Capture relevant information as early in the process and as close to the first touch point as possible.
  5. Implement recognition and auto-classification technologies that will identify, store information, and trigger related workflows automatically at the time of capture.
  6. Develop a strategy to leverage captured and analyzed information across multiple departments and for multiple purposes. Embrace the mindset of repurpose not recreate.
  7. Establish a continuous improvement program that will periodically review and refine those changes made now. When a project ends, it should be the beginning of an on-going process improvement practice that looks for ways to improve upon the foundation set and extend those capabilities to other departments within the organization.

I’ve blogged about the importance of simply “getting moving” with a document management and process initiative (Why “Not Now” is the Wrong Document Management Choice) and how a succession of modest process improvement initiatives can spell the difference between organizational success and failure (Which accounts receivable process would you choose -- $11.50 or 71 cents per invoice?).

Grading in the real world of process improvement is a lot more difficult than at Harvard. Get started.

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