Your Guideline to Improving Process Management – Who’s on First?

Mark Frasco - President


Three members of our executive team and I just completed a two-day conference, the 17th Annual Quest for Success Conference, sanctioned by The Partnership for Excellence (TPE). TPE administers state level awards for performance excellence using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Early in my career, I became a student of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. It is hard to imagine, but after years of producing sub-par quality products and services, the United States was losing its competitive edge. In 1987, congress put into law the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act, named after the former Secretary of Commerce who focused his career on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government. This framework has served as one of the pillars of my belief system and has helped build a career focused on continuous improvement and performance excellence.

I’ve learned that whenever I find myself on the cusp of embarking on something important in my life, it helps to tell my friends. For me, it converts a dream into a pursuit. And so my friends, COACT now formally begins its journey to pursue Baldrige recognition. COACT is a good company, with talented people who care deeply about producing meaningful results for our clients. As good as that is, we are now committed to the long journey of reaching our full potential.  We will be recognized as the preeminent, full-service business growth agency, helping us to become trusted partners with and establish hope in businesses around the world by positively disrupting their mindset about growth possibilities.

Over the recent past, I’ve worked with a number of clients on a topic that was a common theme at this year’s conference, process management. On the topic of process management, determining process ownership is paramount to any well-functioning delivery system.

Now and again, many of us find ourselves attempting to deepen our understanding about the disconnects in our processes. I’ve found that the majority of these disconnects occur in the space that exists between functions of an organization, sales to production, or accounting to operations, as examples. It is in this “white space” between functions where a lack of specificity and communication failures cause errors or waste. Additionally, these white spaces are even further exaggerated in those gaps between partners or suppliers and customers.

A tool we use at COACT and one that I help clients install is the Responsibility Matrix (and/or Communication Matrix – see an example here). A well-thought-out Responsibility Matrix helps clarify the core processes and key functions in an organization, but more importantly, it identifies process owners and those involved, as well as their level of involvement.

Here is a guideline on how to build your own:

  1. Think about customers first, then internal customers. What are the deliverables or planned outcomes required by each?
  2. To produce those deliverables or planned outcomes, what macro-processes must be in place? (E.g., strategy, proposal, onboarding, etc.)
  3. Inside each macro-process, what are the steps or micro-processes? (E.g., issue proposal, build target list)
  4. Deeper than identifying the various functions such as marketing or production, identify the various roles in the organization. I typically use titles, such as Director of Operations or Manager of Administration. This level of specificity clarifies exactly “who” is the owner or party involved.
  5. Develop a key that will help describe the various roles (e.g. Owner, Support, Coordinate, etc). Also, include the type of action in the key (e.g., Deliverable, Communication, Administrative, etc.).
  6. With the right people in the room, go through each step of your process, and using the key, determine the various owners, stakeholders and the type of action required for each. If no action or involvement, leave blank.

In March of 1938, Abbott and Costello first performed “Who’s on First?” to a national radio audience. In this classic comedic skit, Abbott and Costello have us laughing through what for us in business consider to be no laughing matter.

So, as you go about the task of improving your process management, ask your team who’s on first. I’m hoping the answer isn’t “Naturally.”

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at