Cracking Complexity At Novartis

Anne SaletesIn a video just released, Dr Anne Salètes, Head of Training and Continuous Improvement for Global Clinical Operations at Novartis, brings to life the challenges when precision and attention to detail become barriers to collaboration in complex global operations.

At the Nimbus IP11 conference in London in September, Dr Salètes’ presentation told the story of how Novartis adopted Nimbus as its platform for managing processes and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in clinical development.  Novartis is a leader in process-based SOPs: adopting end-to-end process as its business language, transforming content buried in libraries of Word documents into holistic business perspectives.

Dr Salètes’ mainstage interview with Richard Parker on the morning of the conference has now been released as a video. In the course of that discussion, Dr Salètes talks about some of the benefits of a process-based SOP model.

She describes how patient safety and data validity are, of course, the paramount  concerns. But in organizations as large and complex as Novartis, the precision and risk aversion that underpin that safety culture can become significant barriers to cross-silo collaboration.

She notes the value of visualization and simplicity of presentation:  “Our people are extremely precise,” she says, “but it is very difficult to find skilled people who are extremely precise and who can see the big picture. What we are bringing them is a better view of the big picture. ”

By creating an end-to-end representation of Novartis’ clinical operations processes: “We are bringing everyone to the same view.  We are all challenging the same view. We can see how we can improve'”.

The benefits of a process-based approach are not just in performance improvement and Lean programs.

Novartis now has a common view of regulatory jurisdictions globally, which makes it easier to ensure compliance.  Even more significantly perhaps, end-to-end perspectives also discourage silo-based approaches to compliance – the temptation to think: “This is my little area and that’s where I have to be compliant”, as Dr Salètes describes it. It enables each person and team to understand and play their part in end-to-end compliance.

It’s a funny thing that when many people think of process, their first thought is of complexity.  But Novartis is another example that process, when it’s properly conceived, can be the key to cracking complexity and enabling effective collaboration.

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

BPM Visions Of The Future

Adam Deane has set off a discussion on his blog on BPM Visions Of The Future.

My own view is that we are witnessing a revolution in process thinking.  It’s similar to the transformation that took place around 3000BC when humankind moved from hieroglyphs to phonetic writing.  It is that breakthrough which makes possible this blog – and poetry and tax returns.

That transformation – the adoption of phonetic writing – too was driven by business needs.  The emerging societies of that time needed governance. Writing was simply the most efficient way to record and report, to establish the bureaucracy upon which control depended.

Writing Tablet - courtesy of The British MuseumIt was also a global transformation.  Writing seems to have emerged independently in Egypt, China and Central America – but the best evidence we have today comes from Mesopotomia, simply because they used baked clay tablets, which have lasted far better than paper or bamboo. This tablet from Mesopotamia, from the British Museum collection, records the allocation of rations to workers (in the form of beer, an early local currency).

Process is undergoing a parallel transformation. Until recently, process has been about technical symbols, focussed on automation, and intended to be used only by a few.

In the future, process will surely be the universal business language. But it will be holistic, not just focussed on systems. It will be integrated, not just process fragments stored in a common repository. And it will be in the language of the business, so that everyone can understand it – and get involved in continuously improving it.

In short, process will become a polite term. Folks with MBAs won’t feel embarrassed to use it. We’ll no longer have two terms – process and value chain  -for the same thing.  And it will be inclusive, stimulating a richer and ongoing collaborative dialog: the CIO will sit down with the business user.

And the essential enterprise enabler for all this – the 21st century equivalent of the bureacracy perhaps – will be the process management platform:

  • it will integrate process with documents, KPI metrics, risk and controls, quality and compliance,  training and task support.
  • it will provide the collaborative framework and governance that enables process stakeholders, and Lean and Six Sigma teams, to drive performance improvement.
  • and it will deliver all this to the desktops and smartphones of people doing real work – in the form of Storyboards and a personalized intelligent operations manual.

Which is why I count myself thankful to work in such an exciting area.  Phonetic writing gave rise to enormous creativity. You couldn’t be reading that blockbuster on your Kindle without it.  As enterprises become more virtual, more outsourced, more socially responsible, more complex and with ever more global supply chains, we will need ever more creativity in the workplace.  And business process management will be a crucial enabler.

credit: inspired by A History Of The World In 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor.

Related Posts

10 Nov 2011   Value Chain or Process? The Costs Of Confusion

10 Oct 2011    The BPM Story Line: Tragedy or Comedy?

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

Value Chain Or Process? The Costs Of Confusion

iStock_000012210065SmallHere’s a conundrum. Listening to Paul Harmon of BP Trends on Becoming A Process-Centric Organization yesterday, I fell to wondering…

How can it be that process maturity is good (which CEO wouldn’t want flawless execution and a culture of continuous improvement?) – and yet, by whichever scale we choose, most organizations are pitifully low-scoring, and only a handful of the Fortune 2000 are at, say, CMMI Level 5?

One of the biggest barriers to higher levels of process literacy – and to wider C-Level engagement – must be confusion.  The false distinction between value chain and process perfectly illustrates this.

Let me make a claim which some will consider heretical.   Value chains (and value streams) are the same thing as end-to-end processes. They have a different provenance, and vocabulary, but their purpose is identical: they provide a framework for collaboration on performance improvement.

I see nothing in Wikipedia’s description of value chains that Nimbus clients are not already doing in their business process management programs.  Paul Harmon used the two terms interchangeably in his hour-long discussion – as indeed many others do.

It’s not just that we have two ways for describing the same thing.  If you call it eggplant and I call it aubergine, then it’s confusing, and does nothing to help us collaborate in the kitchen, but as long as we are both aware that they are exactly the same thing, there’s no harm done.

But we’re well beyond simple confusion because all sorts of folks have created ‘competing’ methodologies and vocabularies. There are Value Chain and Value Stream frameworks and methodologies, with Lean and Six Sigma variants, that seem to be quite separate from everyday process improvement.  Whereas, to all intents and purposes, they are all doing the same thing.

This confusion matters. It’s a fruitless distinction in a world which is often already ridiculously complex. At the C-Level, it sounds like a cacophany of voices competing for mindshare.  Whereas the truth is that all of them are about building capability to manage the enterprise in a new dimension: end-to-end process, or value chain, or value stream – call it what you will.

Tim Leach, Director of Competitive Excellence at Northrop Grumman, speaking at IP11, described the reality for many organizations when he said (of the situation at Northrop Grumman before adopting Nimbus) :

“How could it be that we have 7,000 people trained in Six Sigma and Lean yielding so little in terms of sustainable cost reductions and service improvement?”

If we want wider process literacy, and wider C-Level leadership in building process maturity, we have to fuse the existing disparate and apparently ‘competing’ approaches.  The start point must be to standardize our vocabulary.

I doubt that the UN or the US Supreme Court is going to take this up and make a definite pronouncement, so it’s up to us.  Value chains have a proud heritage – but in reality they are about understanding and optimizing end-to-end processes.  Simplicity demands that we choose one or the other.

No disrespect to Michael Porter, but I favor the wider adoption of process over value chain, and here’s some reasons why.

End-to-end business process…

dovetails with compliance. Risks and controls, quality and compliance, can all be integrated within the business process management platform

can be integrated with real-time performance metrics, so process improvement opportunities can be more immediately identified

is the language of outsourcing and shared services, which are rapidly transforming the back-office of every organization

bridges the IT divide and enables business-led systems implementation

can be integrated with documents, systems and training – and delivered as a personalized intelligent operations manual to every desktop and mobile device.

Process literacy is growing. The idea of process excellence is gaining currency.  Process maturity models such as CMMI are gaining ground, and even becoming mandatory in some public sector procurement. Let’s go with process and get far wider engagement, at C-Level and across the enterprise, in performance improvement.  Let’s embrace the Global Process Owner role now found in some visionary organizations – and expect that it will increasingly be recognized as a senior management leadership role.

© Text Michael Gammage 2013