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.

Related Posts

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02 Oct 2014   Process Excellence Is Dead. Long Live Continuous Innovation!

 

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

How To Buy The Right Process Tool

iStock_000022235512MediumSo, you’re buying a process tool.  Not a workflow or automation system. Just a plain old process tool to serve as an enterprise-wide standard for process capture, design and deployment.

Your functional heads have agreed that cross-silo perspectives matter, and that there’s no sense in everyone using their own tools and standards.  In a corporate ‘Aha!’ moment, it’s now understood that to improve, to innovate, to become more agile – and to manage risk and compliance at pace – the organization needs visibility and ownership of its end-to-end processes, and within an integrated and holistic operating model.

So now it’s time to procure the right tool. How difficult can that be??

In practice, it’s fiendish. Frequently the whole exercise fails. The strategic choice may never get fully or properly implemented. Often the pain of adopting the chosen tool means that the procurement exercise is revisited within two or three years.  And sometimes the decision just gets stalled for years as the stakeholders can’t agree.

It’s easy to get heads nodding at the idea that there’s huge benefits in adopting visual process as the universal business language across an enterprise. And that there’s exponentially more value when process management provides a common operational platform, a backbone for the business, a collaborative space where process owners and stakeholders collaborate on improvement and innovation within a single unified governance framework. [Which needs far more than a tool, of course. It’s about a creating a culture of learning and collaboration at pace. But still, adopting the right tool is a critical part of it…]

Continue reading

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

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

Sustainable Process Excellence? Hire A Showman

iStock_000019789823SmallMichael Fauscette has been setting out why, in the information age, making better decisions will drive the development of new operating models. It’s about moving, he has argued, from “make – sell” to “sense – respond” models which can leverage smart data (right information, right context, right person, right time and in a way that enables them to make the best decision).

Most recently, he’s looked at how you translate these ideas into reality. How would a business actually go about setting up and supporting both the culture and the technology infrastructure to support a “sense – respond” model? His answers (in full here) look at people, culture, process and tools.

As an aside, his observations re-confirm that enabling effective collaboration among all those involved in the design, approval and implementation of change requires a common language (which really has to be process, for reasons outlined here) and a common governance framework (which has to be a process management platform of some kind, for reasons set out here).

This stuff was high value anyway. In a more automated and decentralized world where agility, creativity and innovation are prized, a common language and a common governance framework for managing change are going to be vital. As in survival issues in the long run.

But he talks too – and this is really my point – about the increasingly strategic value of the content manager in a world where ‘information-sharing is power’, within the enterprise at least:

“In the old industrial model knowledge was considered a power base but in today’s connected and information overloaded environment that’s not practical or productive. Sharing information is the new power base. Content curators are essential to keeping the information flowing and helping it get to the right place in the organization.”

Which fits with my experience. Too often those responsible for building and maintaining a corporate process management platform (the ‘Process Center of Excellence Team’) see themselves as archivists and librarians (ie recorders of what should happen) rather than as real-time content curators and publishers (ie architects and advocates of a better way of working).

Now it’s true that many Process Centre of Excellence teams feel forced into a passive role by the low expectations of their peers and leaders. But without ongoing and imaginative promotion of the vision, without a continuing and creative focus on enhancing the user experience, without design thinking, energy levels drop and things go slowly downhill until… all you’re left with is just another rear-view quality system.

We’ve all seen it so many times.  People focus on tools and methodologies but sustainable success in building an enterprise platform for process excellence depends equally on pzazz and subtle showmanship.

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