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 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 🙂

Process? Just Don’t Make Me Think

iStock_000016521178LargeThere’s an emerging mindset that’s set to transform ‘business process management’, adding significantly to its value and sustainability.

Right now, adoption is the hidden problem. People put a lot of time and energy into working collaboratively with the stakeholders to build great processes. They link them with documents and metrics and systems. They wrap it all within a governance framework and launch it. Everyone is delighted. But come back a year later and it is, too often, in a slow decline. Creating a sustainable platform for continuous process improvement is surprisingly difficult.

Process tool vendors have responded by developing the user interface (UI) for their tools, adding personalization, collaborative features and neat links to other systems, for instance. Which might be a complete solution – if process users spent most of their time using the process tool. But they don’t of course. Most process users are working within a rich and complex information landscape, often using many systems every day. For them, process-related information is just another drop in the informocean.

The new mindset is process UX design. It’s bringing the ideas of web designers – the philosophy of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think – into the design and delivery of process-related information, recognizing that it may be one small (but vital) part of the user’s world. The objective is to deliver, at the point of need, the right information, in the right context and the right format– in the simplest possible way.

Leaders have always focussed on the voice of the customer; helping the user to find their needle in the haystack with as few clicks as possible.

The difference now is that there’s a growing recognition of the benefits of a more structured approach in developing an optimized UX. And it’s not just about defining typical users and their journeys to and through the content. Gamification and the leveraging of big data to deliver personalized, real-time analytic insights are also driving the development of the process UX.

As Sameer Patel noted recently, the goal is to create a UX that conforms to how *you* want to work:

“The distinction between systems of record, transactions and engagement is over. It’s really one. Going forward, it’s about how we design the experience around each end user’s work patterns.”

The old world of process content being pushed to process users by process mappers on behalf of process owners – all that is gone. The new world is about delivering the right process information, in the right context and format, at the user’s point of need, by:

optimizing the process UX, through smart UIs and intelligent integration with other systems

leveraging gamification, collaboration, analytics and devices (smartphones, tablets and wearables)

prizing simplicity (for the reasons SAP’s Reuven Gorsht summarises neatly here).

… and doing it all in a way that fosters engagement in continuous improvement.

There’s a huge upside to this shift in thinking. ‘Business process management’ becomes far more mainstream, valuable and sustainable. And more fun.  It’s about understanding and responding to the entire needs of the process consumer, and within a much wider collaborative framework.

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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…]

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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