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Three Es of
Process Excellence

David Straker


What makes a good process? When a process operates, how do you determine whether it is successful or not? Processes seem simple, yet seem to cause so many problems and the very word 'process' can strike fear into the hearts of many people.

The two standard Es

You can measure inputs and outputs and everything in between in processes, but most measures boil down to two E’s: Efficiency and Effectiveness. Ask anyone who has been around processes for a while and these two words will surely appear.

Efficiency is about saving time, costs and otherwise removing waste. This is a traditional focus for quality professionals, and its history can be traced back to the days of Work Study, stopwatches and clipboards.

Effectiveness means delivering what is wanted, effectively meeting stated and implied needs. In the traditional definition of quality, it is 'conformance to requirements'.


The third E

So what is the third E? This can be discovered by first considering who the first two Es are for. By taking a stakeholder view of the organisation (see What is Quality?) we can find the deeper purpose of what we are aiming to achieve with our processes.

We aim to be Efficient primarily for our managers and the company, which really means the shareholders, although time and cost savings can, of course, always be passed on to customers.

Effectiveness is primarily for customers, meeting their stated and implied needs such that they are satisfied with our products and services and consequently remain loyal, become less price-sensitive and so on.

Customers and shareholders are two major stakeholder groups, but who is missing? Why employees, of course. And what do they want of a process (that is, their work)? They want work that is interesting, challenging and fun: in short, Enjoyable (which gives us the third E).

Unfortunately, in our hurry to reengineer for business excellence, we often forget this third E, creating processes which are Effective and Efficient, but not very Enjoyable. History fuels this drive in the way that our sin- and guilt-based religions, our Victorian work ethics and Taylorist management theories, all say that fun is bad and definitely unprofitable.

The cost of no third E

Consider the impact of processes that are not enjoyable on the business results. The most obvious negative impact is that if the work is boring or painful, your people will not be happy, which is the thin end of the wedge that drives straight into the other result areas. Feelings are highly infectious, and if your people are unhappy, they will spread their misery to your customers, which will, shortly afterwards, ripple on to depress your business results. You will even lose out in social responsibility, as unhappy people will be less inclined to be good citizens (especially on your behalf).


No one E is an island. We can create processes that are Efficient at the expense of Effectiveness and vice versa. Similarly, we can have fun processes that are neither very Effective nor Efficient. The challenge, then, is to find the balance that leads to optimal scores in all of your Results sections. This will be the point of maximum synergy, where Efficiency gains remove the boring parts, giving people a more interesting challenge, where Effectiveness leads to satisfied customers which feeds back to employee satisfaction, and where Enjoyable processes lead to happy people who work sincerely towards improving the other two Es.



If your people are really your greatest assets, then design the pleasure of working for you into your processes. Add challenge, respect, care. And even fun. And you will be rewarded by results that move upwards in all areas.

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