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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