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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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

When Does A Tool Become A Platform?

What’s the difference between a process tool and a process platform?  And does it matter? I think so, and here’s why.

Let’s define a ‘process tool’ broadly, as a means of describing work, of ensuring it is undertaken efficiently and effectively, and of enabling improvement and change.

Many organizations have quite a list of process tools they use: procedural documents in Word or pdf formats; flowcharts in Powerpoint, Excel or Visio; fishbone diagrams and Value Streams created by a Lean Sigma team; detailed BPMN process diagrams, and business requirements capture tools, for IT purposes; and capability diagrams in enterprise architecture applications. And, to add to that Tower of Babel feeling, the process tools adopted will often vary by functional silo and by business unit. In short, if the purpose of process is to enable effective collaboration, it’s a mess.

Vendors these days tend to describe their offerings as ‘process platforms’, capable of providing a platform for effective collaboration and continuous improvement across the enterprise. It’s clearly the future. But what makes a platform?

For me, there are two essential capabilities for any sustainable process excellence platform: Continue reading

The Noble Profession Of Process Excellence

th3LS50DQUFlourishing is a remarkable book, and rather heartwarming for those toiling in the vineyard of process excellence.

Remarkable because it’s a radical critique of sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility programmes – and, more widely, of 21st century capitalism – co-authored by two US business school professors and published by Stanford University.

The book is a set of interviews around eight papers by John Ehrenfeld, former Director of the MIT Program on Technology, Business and Environment and still, in retirement, a Senior Research Scholar at Yale. The interviewer is Andrew Hoffmann, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan.

In essence, Dr Ehrenfeld believes that our current understanding of sustainability, and its promise of a sustainable future, is a delusion:

“Hybrid cars, LED light bulbs, wind farms and green buildings, these are all just the trappings that convince us that we are doing something when in fact we are fooling ourselves, and making things worse….Reducing unsustainability, although critical, will not create sustainability.”

He proposes instead a wider, richer definition: “Sustainability-as-flourishing”. “Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”  It’s a definition that includes issues of justice, inequality, wellbeing and social cohesion – with implications for the individual and the community, for every organization and institution.

His analysis is uncompromising: “Growthism is our religion and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is our god”. We neglect human well-being and focus overwhelmingly on material goals – “Our metrics of success are now principally measured in material terms” – so that “in making ourselves rich, we are making ourselves existentially and psychologically poor”.  He asks heretical questions about the value of corporate sustainability measures:

“Sustainability is a systems property. You don’t measure sustainability; it’s only a possibility. You strive to attain it. No single company is going to be able to measure their specific contribution to sustainability. What’s important is whether they are promoting a culture of flourishing or not. Are they structuring their company to promote fairness, wellness, equality, ecosystem health and community cohesion?”

His conclusions are surprising. Sustainability-as-flourishing, he says, requires the re-conceptualization of our lives around two big ideas. We need to shift our dominant mindsets from Having to Being, from Needing to Caring.  We need to shift from a dominant materialistic mindset to spirituality and love: “Sustainability-as-flourishing without love is not possible”.

Continue reading

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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