What Is the People, Process, Technology Framework?
As standalone components, people, process, and technology are necessary for organizational transformation and management. To achieve organizational efficiency, you need to balance the three and maintain good relationships among them.
As a term, people, process, and technology (PPT) refers to the methodology in which the balance of people, process, and technology drives action: People perform a specific type of work for an organization using processes (and often, technology) to streamline and improve these processes. This framework can help you achieve harmony within an organization and is most often used when deciding whether to purchase or implement new technologies. While many organizations use the PPT framework, it often applies to information technology management.
There are many ways to visualize the balance between the three elements. Some people refer to it as the golden triangle, with three equal sides. Others prefer a Venn diagram. In some models, the word tools replaces technology.
You can also think of it as a three-legged stool. If one leg is out of balance, the stool wobbles.
Some project managers use the term triple constraint to explain how the movement of one element impacts the others: If one shifts, the other two must also respond to maintain balance. No matter what you call it or how you visualize it, the key is in the balance of elements.
PPT and Business Intelligence (BI)
It is common for organizations to implement the PPT framework in the world of information security and business intelligence.
Because business intelligence (BI) involves more than just software and technology, it is important for the three elements (people, processes, and technology) to be in alignment. If proper processes are not in place, people can be ineffective and the technology could fail.
Technology is expensive and does not always offer a high return on investment, so it’s important to ensure it runs smoothly. Make sure that employees know how to use the technology you purchase — if they don’t or if the technology doesn’t integrate well with your other processes, your company won’t create value from its original investment in technology.
The History of the People, Process, Technology Framework
The PPT framework has been around since the early 1960s, when business management expert Harold Leavitt came up with his model for creating change in an organization in a paper called “Applied Organization Change in Industry.”
This original diamond model considered four elements — people, structure, tasks, and technology — but not the interactions between them. In Leavitt’s model, people represents the workers, structure represents how a group of people is organized, tasks refer to what those people do, and technology covers the tools that people use.
Since the paper was published, some people have turned the diamond into a triangle, combining structure and tasks to create processes.
The framework went through a renaissance of sorts when computer security and privacy specialist Bruce Schneier helped make people, process, technology a near-mantra of the information security industry in the 1990s. In papers and on his radio show, he discussed the framework and its role within the information and technology field.
Best Practices for the PPT Framework
In order for the PPT framework work effectively, look at it as a guide, find your weaknesses as an organization, and start fixing them.
In an ideal situation, you want three outcomes from any project or initiative: You want to increase speed, increase efficiency, and meet or exceed expectations. Technology often makes it possible for people to do more innovative work at a quicker pace.
If you’ve already implemented the PPT framework and your organization is still not satisfied with the pace of work (or you aren’t seeing results fast enough), the problem might lie in your automation efforts. If efficiency is your problem, you might not be scaling enough with the interaction of people and the processes they complete. If you are not generating enough new value, more innovation might help.
Keep in mind that there are many variations to the people, process, technology framework. Some organizations group people and process as one element, calling it people and process management. Others agree with Morris and say focus on people first, processes second, and technology last in order to ensure you have the appropriate resources in place before implementing technology.
As much as people generally understand that there needs to be a balance between the three elements they often ignore the people part in practice.
“We pay lip service to say it’s important, but on many projects, it’s the first thing that will get cut,” Schnepf explains. “As humans, we are adverse to change. We fear the unknown. It’s important to get people to understand what is expected of them and how they can be successful.”
Breaking Down the People, Process, Technology Framework
In this section, we’ll examine each of the three elements in the PPT framework.
The People Part of the Golden Triangle
The people are those who do the work — some say this is the most important part of the triangle. Without people, nothing can happen.
People are always busy, Morris says, and when working for a new client, he always asks for employee time studies. Many workers will lie on those studies, but those are usually the lowest performing percentage of employees, he explains. Instead, you should focus on the highest performing workers — the people you can’t live without. Once you know their availability, you can proceed to the process portion of the triangle.
“When you’re in a resource war, you can either wait, acquire, or redirect,” Morris says. That means either waiting for a project until the right people are available, hiring new people or consultants to do the work, or redirecting people from other projects. It’s imperative to know which one is a possibility for the project, he explains.
Morris uses an example of working at a company where the CEO came to him with a pet technology project and asked Morris when his team could complete it. Morris gave him a date range in the distant future. The CEO questioned why it would take so long. Morris replied that the people necessary were busy with five other projects, and asked the CEO which of those projects could be sacrificed for the new one. This helped the CEO understand the importance of the people and process components of the framework.
Morris says it is often necessary to stand up to leadership and question projects and deadlines. Otherwise, the top people in an organization will burn out from too much work.
Finding people with the right experience, qualifications, and attitude is a necessary step in implementing any kind of change. If you want change, tell your people what you expect and get their buy-in. Without their buy-in, it might be impossible to make an impact. Also, make sure the information flows between the right people.
“If we don’t get buy-in along the journey and we don’t consider [people’s] needs or their fears for change, you won’t get the ROI you expected,” Schnepf says. He adds that people need to see and understand how the changes will make their life easier.
If you have the right people in place, you should be able to trust them to make the right decisions for themselves and their work while following guiding principles of your company.
The Process Part of the Golden Triangle
A process is a series of actions or steps that need to happen in order to achieve a particular goal. People are ineffective without processes in place to support their decisions.
Some steps to take when you implement processes:
- Make sure people know how they fit into the workflow.
- Identify the key steps.
- Make sure the people doing the work receive proper training on the new processes.
- Provide proper instructions.
- Have a system for review in place before beginning any new process.
- Consider how you will measure the success of a process.
“What most companies don’t do when they implement a new technology is look at processes that could go away,” Morris says. Most of his clients run at about 30-40 percent waste, and eliminating unnecessary processes can reduce that percentage and therefore, increase efficiency. “In order to create a new process, we need to find two processes that can go away.”
Automation can increase consistency, but someone still needs to oversee the effort.
Morris says that arbitrary deadlines can negatively impact processes and cause people to panic about an impending deadline rather than concentrating on the work that needs to be accomplished. Often, managers pick deadlines randomly, without knowing how long processes will take. Morris says that when he asks managers why they picked certain deadlines, they often say they simply picked a date on the calendar, such as the end of a month, quarter, or budget term. That can be a mistake and put unnecessary stress on workers.
To help managers understand the value of a deadline range, Morris uses an example of a commute to work. He asked a manager how long it took him to get to work, and the answer was about 20 minutes. Morris asked if it takes exactly 20 minutes every time. The manager said the time could vary, and the shortest it ever takes is 15 minutes, while the longest about two hours because of an accident.
Morris then asked how far into the commute the manager knew what to expect for the day. The manger said he knew when he was about halfway into the drive. That’s when the manager understood that you don’t actually know how much time you’ll need until you have an understanding of all the contributing factors.
The Technology Part of the Golden Triangle
Despite its abilities, technology alone does not solve problems. Technology will not make existing problems go away without the people and processes around to support it.
Too often, companies make an investment in technology and try to retrofit the people and processes, but that is backward logic.
“I’ve seen a lot of companies spend a lot of money on technology, and then don’t use it or don’t use it correctly,” Schnepf says. She notes that when that happens, there is little or no ROI for the technology.
It’s easy to become enamored with the latest and greatest technology and the vendors who sell it, only to discover too late it does not fit your organization’s changing needs. The real value in any technology is getting the buy-in and backing to make the most of it.
Schnepf says that “technology people” need to explain how the technology will work and improve the process. “Some company cultures are better at supporting change than others,” she says. “If you make a drastic change to the technology, think of what it means to the process and the people.”
Also, don’t overcomplicate the technology. Get the systems you need up and running, and then expand from there. Doing too much at a time can overwhelm people and compromise the technology’s utility.
How to Transform Your Organization with People, Process, Technology
Many business transformation strategies concentrate on technology and processes, while almost ignoring the people involved. This is not a good strategy if you want to implement real change.
Get the buy-in you need by involving people outside of management in the decision-making processes and working toward continuous improvement. Many change efforts do not sustain themselves because they focus on short-term change instead of longer-term impacts.
Take a look both at the framework and what you need to change, and then ask yourself what is your organization’s biggest problem. Below are some examples:
- If you are not completing tasks quickly enough: Pay attention to the interaction of process and technology, and attempt to automate more.
- If you are not efficient enough: Look at the interaction of people and processes, and see what you might be failing to scale.
- If you are not creating new value: See where people and technology interact, and find out where you are failing to innovate.
Also, take a critical look at the technology you already have and make sure you are using it to its fullest potential. You might discover that your existing solutions provide utility that you haven’t even tapped into yet.
And, don’t forget your company’s culture. Take a critical look at how you communicate decisions and changes within your organization. If training is necessary, train people to be successful and to communicate.
Keep in mind how the three components of PPT interact: The people do the work; technology often helps them innovate. Strong processes can help people increase efficiency; technology can help automate these processes.
Schnepf uses an example of requesting time off at a company. If employees (people) simply messaged their bosses requesting time off and their bosses approved it, that is a process. Technology could improve and automate this process, for instance, if you invest in software that takes a leave request from an employee, checks it against current schedules and available leave balance, and automatically approves it. You can further innovate on the process by tweaking the technology to add any approved leave requests to a master employee calendar.
Some people make the mistake of concentrating too much on the processes and ignoring the people. One person using strong processes can be as effective as a dozen people using bad and inefficient processes.
“If we focus on just the process, for example, we may end up with a really good theoretical process without the people or the technology to support it,” Schnepf says.
Changes in the People, Process, Technology Framework
The people, process, technology framework has been around since the mid-1960s, but some people think this approach to organizational change is no longer useful. The digital age and the rise in the importance of technology in our lives seems to be tipping the triangle.
“It’s something I have always done, but it definitely has to be coupled with more in-depth and detailed components,” Friedenberg says. For the people portion, she uses the Prosci ADKAR (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement) model. For processes, Friedenberg utilizes Lean Six Sigma, and for technology, her go-to is Agile.
As PPT has evolved over time, people are reconsidering the interactions between — and balance of — people, process, and technology. The sweet spot may no longer be an equal balance between the three.
“I don’t think it’s dead. I think it is very evergreen. No matter what else you do, you always come back to having people, process, and technology,” Schnepf says. “I think it is still relevant as a framework. It would be really hard for anyone running a successful business to not think about those three elements.”
Some suggest the PPT triangle can be a diamond once again by adding data to the mix. Data can help you determine what steps to take and how you define success or failure.
Television and online personality and billionaire business owner Marcus Lemonis has his own variation of the framework for business success. He calls it the 3 Ps; people product, and process. Sometimes he includes a fourth P: passion.
“[People, process, technology] still fits. It just doesn’t have the depth you need to truly implement a project or change; it can’t stand alone,” Friedenberg explains.
When doing a Google search for “models for organizational change” and “frameworks for organizational change,” PPT does not even rank in the top six as a standalone model, but the components of the framework are still important. To learn more about change management, read “8 Elements of an Effective Change Management Process.”
“People, process, technology is a mindset to think through,” Morris says. He adds that it is a basis for implementing other organizational change models to projects.
How People, Process, Technology Relates to ITIL AND ITSM
Since the beginnings of Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Information Technology Service Management (ISTM), people, process, technology has been a mantra.
The framework is very important in information security, mostly thanks to Bruce Schneier, who began talking about it in the late 1990s and continues to do so in his blog, Schneier on Security. His thoughts have changed a bit. For information security, he now says we should focus more on technology since people and processes are often unreliable.
Below is some advice about how to utilize people, process, technology in a security organization:
- Make the framework a part of your company culture.
- Train everyone on the importance of data security as it relates to their job description. This will help keep the people motivated.
- Keep information flowing throughout your organization to increase process efficiency.
- Automate security alerts to best utilize technology.
People, Process, Technology in Knowledge Management
Knowledge management is the efficient handling of information and resources within an organization. You can apply the people, process, technology framework to it.
Schnepf says PPT is very relevant to successful knowledge management. “We need the technology to ‘manage the knowledge,’ we need the people to actually use the technology [and] proactively [use] it to store and access knowledge, and we need the processes that can enable it.”
When building your knowledge management program, keep the PPT components in mind. People hold the knowledge, and they need to share it with others, especially those who make decisions. Processes should include a step document the knowledge and record information, and the technology can help store and disseminate that knowledge.
Accomplishing those pieces can create a synergy and help you find best practices that work for your organization.
How Does People Process Technology Compare to the Six Sigma 3P Approach to Quality?
Six Sigma is a bit different from the people, process, technology framework in that it emphasizes people, process, and product — the finished product takes precedence. However, Six Sigma is similar to PPT in that both emphasize the importance of training and education for every employee. In both methods, it’s also important to pick the right people.
The process part of Six Sigma calls for more intensive monitoring using a set of managerial methods that are mostly empirical and statistical. Typically, Six Sigma-certified experts within an organization implement the framework.
In the Six Sigma approach, the third pillar (product) can be a service or a manufactured good. As a general concept, Six Sigma strives toward continuous improvement in the production of products or services. Ultimately, Six Sigma aims to reduce errors in business processes by identifying the causes of these errors and creating methods to eliminate them.
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