Scaling Up Excellence, The Toyota Way

Scaling Up Excellence The Toyota WaySo – if Scaling Up Excellence is a manual about how to create a ‘relentless restlessness’ that drives customer-centric innovation, where does that leave The Toyota Way? Do Sutton and Rao’s prescriptions ‘supercede’ The Toyota Way? What does Sutton and Rao’s analysis tell us about the continued validity of what has become effectively the gold standard in operational excellence?

There are clearly differences in scope. The Toyota Way is a complete philosophical system. It is structured, prescriptive and sometimes rigid; but its impact in engaging people, in nurturing their creativity and commitment to deliver continuous customer-centric innovation, has been awesome. Organizations the world over are proudly attempting to replicate it.

Scaling Up Excellence, on the other hand, does not attempt to define any kind of closed-loop system.  It is a distillation of the evidence about how best to promote operational excellence in the real world, shaped into a set of tools, tricks and mantras for ‘fighting the ground war’ that is the pursuit of continuous improvement. And it has a broader canvas too, taking in education, anti-bullying initiatives, creative industries and start-ups, for instance.

But there is a huge overlap. Much of the evidence presented in Scaling Up Excellence can be seen as a ringing endorsement for The Toyota Way. Both Stanford academics, Sutton and Rao pursued their quest with open minds, spoke to a lot of people and were led by the evidence. But their conclusions about how best to scale excellence closely mirror The Toyota Way: Continue reading

BPM-D Launch

Value-Driven BPMThe European launch of the latest version of Peter Franz and Mathias Kirchmer’s BPM-D framework in London yesterday had an intriguing warm-up before the jazz and canapes: a client executive workshop. Compressed from two days to an afternoon, it was pretty intense but well received. You have to wish them well because they are trying to do something important: to “change the conversation about Business Process Management (BPM)”.

Their start point, their mantra, is value-driven BPM. So everyone involved should be able to articulate how any BPM initiative links to the value drivers of the organization.  Which sounds blindingly obvious but, as we all know, it’s often not the case.  As a Big 4 consultant in the workshop put it: “So many times organizations say: ‘OK, so we’ve built our process repository. Now what?'”.

Peter’s example at this point – it’s in the book he co-authored with Mathias while they were both senior execs at Accenture – was a consumer goods company which created 600 high-quality process models describing its entire business. But only one person had accessed it in a month. It’s far from unusual. The most jaw-dropping I ever heard was a Telco process leader’s remark at a BPM conference that the enterprise repository which his 40-strong team had created was known internally as ‘the world’s largest write-only repository’.

So BPM-D provides coaching for BPM practitioners on how they can make their work far more valuable to their organization. Not just by focussing on adding strategic value but also in the way which they work more effectively with sponsors and stakeholders.  The D in BPM-D (it stands for Discipline) translates this into tools and techniques to make it happen step-by-step, from high-level BPM Capability Assessment exercises, through methods for surfacing the issues and ensuring alignment in the trade-offs over process variants, to assessment criteria for a BPM Centre of Excellence.

The BPM-D thesis is that value-driven BPM will emerge as a pillar in creating the Next Generation Enterprise. BPM, done properly, they are arguing, is headed for the C-Suite. It’s the capability ‘to move good ideas into action faster and at lower risk’.  I think they’re on the right track – and yesterday’s PEX interview with the newly-appointed Chief Process Officer at Xerox is surely a straw in the wind.

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Scaling Up Excellence

How’s your process excellence initiative going? Frustration and confusion everywhere, pummelled by unpredictable and unpleasant events, the stench of failure in the air?  So far so good, then. That’s according to Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, Stanford professors whose research convinces them that ‘organizations that scale well are filled with people who talk and act as if they are in the middle of a manageable mess’.

Scaling is fraught with risks and uncertainties. Even the best leaders and teams recognise that muddling through can be inevitable, sometimes for months, while searching for the best way forward. Scaling stars have grit. ‘It’s not simply a marathon. It’s like running a long race where you don’t know the right path, often what seems like the right path turns out to be the wrong one, and you don’t know how long the race will last, where or how it will end, or where the finish line is located’.

It’s refreshingly candid advice, and Scaling Up Excellence is full of it.  On a seven year journey that started with a Stanford management education program on ‘Customer-Focused Innovation’, Sutton and Rao set out to explore The Problem of More:

“Executives could always point to pockets in their organizations where people were doing a great job of uncovering and meeting customer needs. There was always some excellence – there just wasn’t enough of it. What drove them crazy, kept them up at night, and devoured their weekdays was the difficulty of spreading that excellence to more people and more places. They also emphasized that the Problem of More (which they often called “scaling” or “scaling up”) wasn’t limited to building customer-focused organizations; it was a barrier to spreading excellence of every stripe.”

Scaling Up Excellence is a thoughtful, easy-to-read and intensely practical book about successful business transformation and innovation: how to start it, lead it, nurture it and sustain it. Continue reading