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.

Related Posts

13 Jan 2014   Sustainable Process Excellence? Hire A Showman

24 Sep 2013   The Business Management System App

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

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.

Related Posts

13 Jan 2014   Sustainable Process Excellence? Hire A Showman

16 Sep 2013   Why Process Excellence Is Headed For The Board Room

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