Escaping SOP Madness

Torque Management - TPSoP Case StudyHats off to Dee Carri, founder of Torque Management and creator of the TPSoP®, a methodology for translating the typical corporate rainforest of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) into visual processes – with sufficient rigour to satisfy the regulatory demands of Life Sciences.

The first case study of TPSoP in action – in a global biotechnology company – is just published (here). It’s a report on a pilot, and the metrics are understandably thin, but it’s the first published proof that the TPSoP methodology can deliver in the real world.

The idea of translating impenetrable thickets of SOPs into useful information that people can engage with is not new. Simplification has been on the strategic agenda for some time – especially in Life Sciences (as I’ve noted before) – and Novartis was making presentations on this theme back in 2011.

What’s different about TPSoP is its rigour. It has built upon the experience of those pioneering projects to create a comprehensive and robust methodology – the results of which we are now seeing proven in practice.

I remember talking with Dee two years ago, when she explained that she’d taken a back seat in the day-to-day operations of her consulting business to create the space to build the foundation for a more complete and watertight approach to ridding the world of SOPs. She’d just emerged, she claimed, from two months in the shed at the end of her garden. Which sounded admirably mad but then most breakthroughs do at first…

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The Global Process Owner’s Dilemma

I just read the best summary I’ve ever seen of the conundrum facing most global process owners.  It’s from Walter Popper of FCB Partners and his advice is so good that I’m just going to quote it in full…

“At FCB we’re often called on to explain how process owners can be held accountable for performance when they have few resources and no power – nothing but the title and their own best intentions. It’s the Process Owner’s Dilemma – influence without authority. And it’s a problem for process leaders and professionals worldwide.

Most people find the role challenging and the learning curve steep, particularly if they’re in the position part time. That’s why we offer entire courses on the topic. But the key to success is no secret. Great process owners follow a few simple guidelines:

  1. Promote the power of process: Continually remind those around you of the process and why it matters: end-end flow and operational excellence to provide a great customer experience at the lowest possible cost
  2. Set a process agenda: Determine your process goal, strategy, and initiatives by engaging key stakeholders early and offering development opportunities for up-and-coming talent
  3. Speak up for the process: In every message, at every meeting, with every position you fill and decision you make, advocate process management as the best way to deal with functional fragmentation
  4. Mobilize allies: Raise awareness and build support among forward-looking decision makers, opinion leaders, and front-line teams; if you get the 20% early adopters onboard, the rest of the organization will follow
  5. Tell the truth about today: Identify appropriate measures – both outcomes and leading indicators – and build the dashboard into everyday management
  6. Take on problems and deliver solutions: Be accountable. Make it a habit to walk around. Ask questions and seek faster, cheaper, better approaches. Find and solve a few critical customer problems. Deliver value every quarter.”

I have no connection with Walter or FCB, by the way, this is just recognizing and sharing something very well put.

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Process Excellence in a Quantum World

ChaosIf, like me, you left yesterday’s FCB webinar on continuous IT delivery – which looked at how companies like Google and Amazon are able to achieve hundreds of software releases every day – you too may have been struck to read the headline that the UK bank RBS has now been hit with a $88m regulatory fine (to add to the $196m in compensation and other costs of clearing up) after a simple IT mistake led to a major failure in its retail banking systems.

It’s a paradox – and I‘m seeing them everywhere at the moment.

I’ve talked this month with two organizations, both undergoing significant transformation programmes and both believing that they take process excellence seriously. But, in both cases, all process modelling is project-based. Neither of them have any kind of enterprise platform for process management; neither of them have a persisting, end-to-end visualization of how everything fits together, let alone a governance framework to support effective collaboration on improvements. Both re-invent the process wheel for every project. And both are recovering from major transformation failures.

I talked with another global organization, which has been trying to build an enterprise-wide process repository for more than five years. There’s plenty of process content in their repository, but none of it is approved. The process leader explained that there have been many iterations of each process, all created by the process excellence team. But without executive sponsorship or a governance framework fit for purpose, process ownership and accountabilities remain unclear; so no process has ever been agreed and signed off. And this organization is about to launch a global ERP upgrade.

I’m seeing it as symptoms of a problematic transition from Newtonian thinking to the quantum world of the next generation enterprise, characterized in part by:

Devolved Responsibility. Across every industry, and often quite rapidly, we are morphing command and control hierarchies into team-based structures with devolved responsibilities.

Experimentation. We are shifting from the classic change management paradigm of ‘unfreeze-change-freeze’ towards team-based experimental approaches at the front line, and in real time.

It’s all good – clockwork certainty only goes so far – but I also think that our standard model will continue to have process management at its core – in the sense of a platform that allows end-to-end process to serve as the universal language for the enterprise, enabling effective collaboration and so delivering agility, innovation and continuous improvement, all within a robust governance framework.

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The Art Of Navigating Cross Currents

There are two completely contradictory currents running in the corporate zeitgeist. And I know that you know that I would say this – but surely their only resolution, the only way in which they can be effectively interwoven, is through an enterprise-wide platform for process excellence.

The strongest stream – let’s summarise it as ‘Smash the barriers to agility and innovation!’ – is represented by a sparkling piece just out Build a Change Platform, Not a Change Program in which Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini set out a manifesto that re-imagines how business transformation and continuous improvement happens.

Noting that business transformation initiatives have a dismal track record, they argue for a fundamentally different approach that is ‘activist-led’ rather than ‘top-down’; ‘organic’ rather than ‘managed’; and leverages “social technologies that make large-scale collaboration easy and effective”:

“What’s needed is a real-time, socially constructed approach to change, so that the leader’s job isn’t to design a change program but to build a change platform—one that allows anyone to initiate change, recruit confederates, suggest solutions, and launch experiments.”

I won’t rehearse it further here. It’s well-argued and, as with almost everything MIX, well worth reading. [Though Lean practitioners may groan as they read it because so much of the authors’ prescription on fostering engagement is what Lean has been saying, and often demonstrating at the gemba, for decades…]

Anyway, this heady and revolutionary tidal stream is running in almost direct conflict with a powerful current flowing from the C Suite, which we might summarise as ‘Risk management matters more than ever!’.

The new COSO risk management framework, just as an example, makes clear that all business risks at all levels need to be appropriately identified, communicated and managed – in real time. And the new SEC guidance on disclosure makes it less routine and more judgemental (ie requiring nuance and context). With reputational risks growing all the time – in CSR and supply chain, and in global tax integrity, for instance – and with the sanctions that executives face when compliance and risk management are deficient, these concerns are non-trivial.

There is a way to reconcile heart and head, to have the best of both. It’s the fundamental enabler – an enterprise-wide process management platform which is intuitive enough to support people doing real work, while at the same time rich enough with metadata and features to support effective collaboration within a robust governance framework.

The MIX is a brilliant generator of new ideas on alternative ways of managing organizations. Leaderless and activist-led organizations are useful experiments in enabling more effective collaboration in a constantly disrupted world. But there’s value too in hierarchy and structure. As Herminia Ibarra points out (in another context) in today’s FT, “Google’s famous experiment in manager-free organisation was not only shortlived, but paved the way for a talent management system designed to rely more on procedure than instinct”. Every organization needs to be constantly learning by doing.

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I A Nicer Mr (anag.)

RACI in ERMI had the rug pulled from under me in a recent workshop – by a Chief Risk Officer. In full flow, and in front of the CRO and his leadership team, I was explaining how we could thread risk management and controls into the operational fabric of the organization by embedding RACI within the core business processes.

“Stop!” said the CRO. “We don’t want RACI. No-one understands it”. He paused. “I don’t!”.

There was a moment’s silence as the room took in what the corporate director for risk management for this global business had just said.

He looked at me, standing at the whiteboard: “Go on then… What’s the difference between Responsible and Accountable?”.

And of course, at this point, as the room turned for my fluent and authoritative response, it all went squidgy. I blathered something plausible, which he rightly pounced on: “See! And we’re supposed to be the experts. What hope is there for everyone else?”.

It was an eye-opening moment. I’d always assumed – no-one I’d ever met had questioned it – that RACI was universally understood and useful.

I’ve come to see though that he’s right, or at least on to something important.

For a start, there’s no single definition of RACI. Wikipedia lists two competing RACI definitions – that’s aside from the traditional definition of Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed – as well as a long list of similar responsibility assignment matrices (RASCI, RASI, PASCI, CAIRO and others).

Friends too confirm the confusion that they’ve seen. One – ex Big 4, now a Finance Transformation director – argued that most people find RACI confusing:

“It’s almost always isolated from everything else as well, so it becomes a theoretical exercise instead of a project driver. I doubt whether many RACIs are ever updated after the first approved version.”

As it happens, my tormentor CRO did agree in the end to adopt RACI embedded within the core business processes – but against a promise that it would deployed in a way that provided easy clarification for users at the point-of-use.

Which seems to me to be the happy ending. Good governance demands clarity. The widely-adopted COSO framework for risk management, for example, stresses that it is vital at all levels of an organization, and highlights embedding in operational reality as one of its seven keys to success in risk management:

“A key to success is linking or embedding the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) process into the core business processes and structures of the organization.”

My take-away is that RACI, or some variant of it, may be incredibly useful in making clear roles and responsibilities, especially when it’s live because it’s embedded within a common enterprise-wide process management platform. But I’ll never again assume that it’s understood. It always has to be explained – simply and at the point of use.

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PS it’s an anagram of ‘RACI in ERM’. I’m slowing learning how to do the Times crossword🙂

Robotic Process Automation: The A-Z of RPA

Cartoon Character TECHOHats off to Barbara Hodge and SSON for two useful webinars yesterday on RPA.

I’ve been trying to ignore RPA for months – but clients, partners and colleagues keep bringing it up. My take was that RPA was a marketing-driven fad and not worth spending any time researching. It was surely just a mash up of a business rules engine with some case management and real-time analytics bundled in, to create something like a BPMS but with the agility of a ‘low code’ platform.

Anyway, after hearing recently of some serious RPA projects on the horizon, I was sufficiently intrigued to tune in yesterday. The Telefonica UK case study claims some very impressive ROI – not just in opex and capex but also in improved customer experience.   RPA is now an established part of Telefonica’s improvement tool kit, alongside standard PI, Process Elimination and old school automation using a BPMS.

RPA has opened up new capabilities:

Continue reading

Process Excellence Is Dead. Long Live Continuous Innovation!

Brad Power has been championing ‘continuous innovation’ as the best description of the strategic imperative facing most organizations. I’m finding that it’s a convenient shorthand for what clients are now searching for:

– a culture that combines bottom-up continuous improvement with bold, sometimes game-changing, innovation initiatives across products, channels and business models

– the capability to manage relentless change to every aspect of their operations, from daily operational tweaks through to major systems and organizational transformations, and all at pace whilst ensuring compliance and effective risk management.

Brad’s recent FCB webinar with process legend Jim Champy touched on the evolution of process thinking:

“Twenty years ago process professionals drew their inspiration from engineering. The organization was seen as a machine. Twenty years from now there will still be process professionals, but they will draw on science – especially biology – rather than engineering. The organization will be seen and managed as a living entity.”

The Gaia analogy is a good one though we will surely draw just as much on the insights of psychology, sociology and behavioural economics. It’s a human challenge above all: at the highest level, how do we enable and encourage people working in complex and dynamic organizations within a sophisticated knowledge economy to collaborate creatively and effectively, often across organizational boundaries, in ways that accelerate organizational learning?

There’s a neat example of this new thinking in the context of the UK National Health Service (NHS). Continue reading