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.

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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

Review: The Process Improvement Handbook

Don’t be misled by the modest title. In ‘The Process Improvement Handbook’, Tristan Boutros and Tim Purdie  are attempting something very ambitious. They want to found the Process Improvement discipline.

From their Process Improvement manifesto to the detail of their Process Improvement methodology, they attempt to rise above the ideological fray, to transcend the conflicting orthodoxies and to propose a new framework and an ‘all-encompassing guide’ for Process Improvement professionals.

Lamenting the manifold ways in which Process Improvement typically underperforms, or outright fails, they set out to re-cast Process Improvement so that it is ‘an enabler and not a hindrance’:

“With the huge growth in spending on Process Improvement by enterprises and the strong evidence that significant investment in this domain can lead to costs savings and better business decision-making, the time has come to make the Process Improvement discipline professional.”

You might ask whether the world needs another Process Improvement (PI) methodology. Continue reading

Hello Checklists, Goodbye Process?

The Checklist ManifestoMy little world wobbled as I read Atul Gawande’s bestseller The Checklist Manifesto.

It seemed to challenge head-on my conviction that process matters most because it provides the language that enables effective collaboration amidst complexity.

It’s superbly well written (Dr Gawande is an eminent surgeon but he’s also a staff writer on the New Yorker). It was ravishingly reviewed in the FT, the NY Times and The Economist, whose reviewer described it as ‘a meditation on the growing complexity of the world, and how to cope with it’.

The book sets out the evidence on the value of the humble checklist in saving lives (and much else – injuries, time and costs) in even the most highly complex activities – in the operating theater, on skyscraper construction sites, and on the flight deck. It is utterly compelling.

Why do checklists work? Firstly, because ‘they get people talking’, suggests Dr Gawande. They break down hierarchical barriers and encourage the teamwork that can ensure the best possible outcomes – in surgical teams, among construction engineers, even in due diligence teams working for private equity investors.

Checklists also encourage discipline. They recognize that, in a fast-paced world, we can all too easily forget the obvious. Kitchens in top restaurants use them. Checklists can ‘force reflection’ says Dr Gawande, even in complex and dire situations like the loss of an aircraft engine.

As I read the book, I feared I was hearing the distant rumble of a paradigm shift. It seemed entirely plausible that my approach had been turned upside down, that process had been a wasteful diversion – and that checklists were the new process.

The truth though seems to be more subtle and interesting. Checklists and process may overlap but they are essential, and complementary, in enabling us to deal with our enormously complex world.

Both enable collaboration and ensure compliance. ‘Checklists are not comprehensive how-to guides’, says Dr Gawande, ‘they are quick and simple tools to buttress the skills of expert professionals’. Sometimes a checklist could be easily substituted by an end-to-end process and a Storyboard. In other circumstances, only one of them will work. What’s appropriate will depend entirely upon the context.

Context is one of the exciting themes of the book. The best checklists work because their creators are painstaking in understanding the context in which they will be used. They care about the tiniest details because they know that it matters in effective communication. Those who have advocated ‘publishing’ business processes that are static, generic and described in technical gobbledeegook might want to read and ponder these sections.

It’s also, in an odd way, heartening to read of the widespread resistance to checklists, despite clear evidence of their value. Organizations and individuals, across all industries, often applaud the idea of checklists – but have some reason why they are ‘special’ and should be exempt. They have to be won over – even if they subsequently emerge as the strongest champions of the idea. Inviting us to re-think how we define heroism, Dr Gawande reflects on this inertia:

“…We don’t like checklists. They can be painstaking. They’re not much fun. But I don’t think the issue here is mere laziness. There’s something deeper, more visceral going on when people walk away not only from saving lives but from making money. It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be – handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocol and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.” [p.173]

Replace ‘checklist’ with ‘process’ and it’s the journey of most organizations towards process thinking, and towards a recognition of the process platform as an essential enabler for sustainable operational excellence.

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013