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

It’s Not A Talent Gap Holding Back Outsourcing

It seems to me that HfS Research and Accenture are drawing the wrong conclusions in urging investment to close ‘a talent gap’ that is preventing outsourcing buyer organizations from driving innovation and getting beyond cost reduction:

“Barely a third of enterprise outsourcing customers believe their current governance talent – the people responsible for managing the service relationship – can drive innovation or define business outcomes.”

HfS’s prescription is training for outsourcing governance teams:

“The majority of governance teams are comprised largely of procurement professionals, contract negotiators and project executives who are not learning the necessary skills to shift their focus from tactical project management to strategic business alignment. Enterprise leaders fail to develop the necessary strategic business skills as their engagements mature and their needs move beyond managing tactical operations.”

What’s really holding things back is that the business is usually at least one stage removed from the outsourcing relationship.

It’s the business alone – the owners and stakeholders for the end-to-end business processes – that has the visibility, understanding and insights that can drive innovation and optimize the blend of outsourced service providers.

And it’s a process management platform that can bring this to life.  It simplifies so that everyone can see the big picture. It provides a framework for effective collaboration within a unified governance wrapper. It enables everyone involved, both in the retained organization – GPOs, IT stakeholders, Lean teams, Risk and Compliance folks – and in the service providers, to work together on the design and implementation of change.  It engages people with process and makes continuous improvement easy.

A current example, to illustrate that this isn’t hot air. A global organization with a major HRO contract that wasn’t working has been able to turn on a sixpence (as we say in Northamptonshire) and re-source at pace by leveraging its process platform and disciplines. It has been able to rapidly capture the As-Is HR processes (without much cooperation from the exiting incumbent); in parallel, to design the To-Be processes; to define and manage all the necessary variants; to orchestrate the necessary ERP re-implementations; and then to execute, in-sourcing some activities while re-outsourcing others.

You need procurement and contracts people to do this.  But without a framework for effective collaboration that engages all the stakeholders and puts the business in the driving seat, it’s always going to be slower, more expensive and more risky.

It seems like bad manners to trash free research. Hats off to HfS for its continued thought leadership in many aspects of this debate.  But on this one, I think the HfS/Accenture diagnosis is wrong.

Related Posts

26 Feb 2013   Shared Services: Search For Missing Benefits Continues

22 Jun 2012   Why Governance Teams Are Not The Answer

BPM And The Language Of Process

iStock_000023250571SmallThere’s a ferment of ideas about the meaning and future – even the very existence – of Business Process Management (BPM).

Side-stepping those impassioned debates, I want to offer what seem to me to be some simple truths.

Every successful organization – every sustainable success – is built upon effective collaboration.  That may sound fluffy. But we can see all around us the failed projects, the waste and the missed opportunities whose root cause is ineffective collaboration.  And its consequences will escalate in a future that is faster-paced, more loosely structured and multisourced, more intricately automated – and more regulated.

Effective collaboration requires many things – vision, teamwork, leadership and so on. But it’s also true that any rich and productive dialogue – any effective collaboration – depends upon a common language. Process is that common language.

It’s the language of process that best enables effective collaboration between all the stakeholders, across functional silos, cultures and organizational boundaries.

But which process language?

The vision of the BPM pioneers was that BPMN could be the universal process language. “Don’t bridge the business-IT divide. Obliterate it!” was the rallying cry. In the long run, it’s the right direction. Re-reading ‘The Third Wave’ ten years on, it’s visionary but still essentially sound.

But BPMN hasn’t worked out in practice. It’s a stretch too far for most business people. For the foreseeable future, there’s no single process language that can fully reconcile the vital need of the business for a common collaborative language with the equally vital IT need for the rigour required to build applications.

BPMN looks set to progress – it’s a valuable standard from the IT perspective – but it has to be a generation at least before it could hope to realize its vision and become the universal process language.

If not BPMN, then what?  It seems to me that are three sets of questions to ask in defining the process language that best enables effective collaboration:

Is it visual and intuitive? Does it fully harness the power of visualization? In a hundredth of a second, we can scan an image and understand what it would have taken a hundred words to communicate.

Does it support real work? Languages die out if they are not useful.  It has to be rich, engaging and valuable. It must enrich understanding at every level, from the operating model down to the factory line or call centre, from Finance to IT and Logistics.

Does it enable sustainable innovation? Is it easy for users to feed back improvement ideas to process owners? Is it easy for process owners and stakeholders to collaborate on the design and implementation of change?

Note that IT is not left out in the cold here. IT may use BPMN for systems development but a universal process language that delivers in these three ways has huge benefits to IT as well.  It’s the business engagement that every CIO craves and the perfect framework for requirements capture.

Effective collaboration matters, and it requires a rich common language. Process is that language. Its force multiplier is something I’ll have to pick up next time.

Related Posts

25 Feb 2013    The Hidden Costs Of ‘Normal’ Process Management

28 Aug 2012    The ROI On Process Visualization

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

The Universal Business Language: Process

When Noah Webster produced the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language in April 1828, he insisted that: “As an independent nation, our honor [sic] requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”  And so, by the fall of that year, as the view from the railroad caboose showed leaves in a blaze of color, American English had moved center stage…

Seriously though, Webster’s use of language to create a new ‘superior’ identity for his ‘tribe’ is an interesting example of how languages diverge. As evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel points out in a fascinating essay in New Scientist this week, linguistic diversity is rooted in the desire to assert the identity of a ‘tribe’, most often against a backdrop of conflict over territory and resources:  “There really has been a war of words going on”.

One of the many extraordinary phenomena of our time is the speed with which a truly global language is emerging.  The result, says Pagel, is “a mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth’s past”.

One in six of us on the planet may speak Mandarin but humanity is rapidly converging upon English as its auxiliary language. Vastly more people learn English as a second language than any other. Global corporations may be headquartered in Germany, France, China or Spain but English is almost invariably their adopted global language.

But in the world of work, and especially in the world of global business, English only goes so far.  Work is increasingly complex. Most often, it requires collaboration between many people, in different regions and organizational units, with different motivations and with different roles and responsibilities – and all enabled and automated by IT systems.

To even describe work in this context is challenging.  To collaborate effectively, to exploit new opportunities in an increasingly interconnected and cumulatively more complex world, demands a language above and beyond English.

In the same way that, through no plan or expressed intent, simply for the benefits it brings, English is becoming the world’s favourite auxiliary language, so too with process, which, by a similar evolutionary path, has emerged as the global business language essential for effective collaboration. Procure to Pay, Value Chains, Operating Models, Lean Manufacturing, Hire to Retire, Order to Cash, Supply Chains – these terms have emerged as part of the everyday vocabulary of process.

This new world calls for a new conception of process.  To be fit for use, it can no longer be the preserve of a corporate elite – in IT or Quality or the Six Sigma team – it has to be universal.  It needs to connect with people doing real work: to support them and to enable them to contribute to improving the way things are done. And so it has, above all, to be engaging: visual, intuitive and personalised.

No surprise then that a process management platform is coming to be seen as the beating heart of the 21st century enterprise, the essential infrastructure that enables effective collaboration on innovation and continuous improvement.

Noah Webster was a revolutionary and idealist so I think he would probably approve of the way global languages are bringing humanity closer. Either way, he must be tickled pink that a Brit is writing this in American English.


Related Posts

19 Nov 2012    No Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly

28 Aug 2012    The ROI On Process Visualization 

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

Process Improvement And Packing The Dishwasher

I love this picture.  I saw this hearfelt and passionate plea in a kitchen area on the campus of a leading Life Sciences company.

The complete and total frustration, nay depair, of the author is evident. And the scrawled response “or you will be sent to bed” just makes it more hilarious.

What’s interesting, though, is that this is one of the most organised and diligent organisations I’ve ever worked with. And everyone I’ve ever met there is bright, switched on and seemingly hard-wired for collaboration. This is the last place you’d expect to see freeloaders and a societal breakdown.

I took another picture on that same campus that day.  I was knocked out by  an official corporate comms poster on a restroom wall.  [Don’t worry – if I ever come to your workplace, I do know how to behave…] 

It was an outstanding poster on the theme of collaboration, and, in particular, on the value of simplicity in allowing everyone to get engaged and work more efficiently. I can’t show the whole poster without revealing the organization (and probably infringing copyright) but here’s part of it.

Even organizations such this – an organization that installs in its restrooms high quality artwork promoting process as an enabler for more effective collaboration – even such an organization can still fall apart when it comes to packing the dishwasher.

There’s a lesson here. If process is to fulfil its potential as the language of the enterprise, then it absolutely has to be simple – capable of being understood by everyone. And if process management is to be the platform that enables effective collaboration across the enterprise, then it absolutely has to be robust but also intuitive and engaging. Otherwise it’s about as sustainable as a kitchen rota.

Related Posts

19 Nov 2012    No Other Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly

05 Sep 2012    Translating An Operating Model Into Real Work

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

Effective Collaboration And Outsourcing Success

One slide (below) from an HfS Research webinar yesterday highlighted how effective collaboration is at the heart of outsourcing success.  Coming from HfS – at the center of the industry, with no particular ax to grind – it’s significant.










The market has moved beyond cost savings. Buyers are looking for outsourcers who can deliver innovation and continuous improvement:  “Most clients want to work in a collaborative relationship”, said Phil Fersht, HfS Founder and CEO.  Yesterday’s case study featuring Syngenta Business Services and Capgemini provided a superb example of effective collaboration in practice.

Effective collaboration demands the right people, the right structures and the right incentives. Providing the underpinning framework – rich, robust and intuituve – that enables this complex, dynamic and multi-layered collaboration is the strategic opportunity facing the process management platform vendors.

Related Posts

15 Nov 2012    Outsourcing’s Secret Sauce

23 Oct 2012    Mapping The Stakeholders in GBS Success

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

IT Project Failure: How Did We End Up Here?

McKinsey’s report last week, drawn from an analysis of 5,400 IT projects, deserves reflection. It makes sober reading:

“Our research, conducted in collaboration with the University of Oxford, suggests that half of all large IT projects massively blow their budgets. On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. Software projects run the highest risk of cost and schedule overruns.”

Conspiracy theorists and crime fiction fans will likely read it and claim skullduggery amongst the SI consulting firms invariably associated with large IT projects.  Resisting the inner detective, let’s just stay analytical and ask: how did we end up here?

At the heart of McKinsey’s prescription for delivering IT success is “helping IT and the business to join forces” – the need for effective collaboration.

Successful IT project teams, says McKinsey, continually engage with stakeholders – at all levels, internally and externally – within a rigorous governance framework for managing change.

IT program teams use email, Sharepoint, shared desktops, conference calls and social media.  They typically have budgets to allow substantial groups to convene for months of workshops in airport hotels. And the people involved, by and large, want to do a good job and to be associated with a successful project.

So, with all these resources: If effective collaboration is the key to success, and the costs of failure are so enormous, why do large IT projects so often fail?

In my experience, the two biggest barriers to effective collaboration between IT and the business are that:

#1 They don’t speak the same language. Theoretically, their lingua franca is ‘business process’.  But, most often, the IT program team adopts a technical language and systems mindset. So the business is forced to adopt swimlanes and other IT constructs. Without the business properly engaged in discussions of the current operational reality and the target operating model, the project is immediately vulnerable to what McKinsey identifies as a common pitfall: ‘teams focus disproportionately on technology issues and targets’.

#2 Holistic perspectives are lost or ignored. Most often, the IT systems mindset comes to dominate: if it’s not automated, it’s secondary. And so the business stakeholders come to focus only on the process fragments linked to system transactions, which limits creative thinking about transformation possibilities and hampers change management.  Far too few of those involved, if any, can see the whole. What starts out as a business transformation project enabled by IT slowly degrades to become an IT project with business consequences.

Which is how, most often, business stakeholders find themselves forced to approve enormous documents (400 pages is the biggest I’ve seen, others claim to have seen 600+ page documents), with each process fragment annotated with technical flowchart diagrams and multi-column tables of requirements extending over many pages. It might as well be in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Even worse, that document becomes simply a project milestone, the end of a requirements capture stage. It totally undermines the idea of the rich ongoing collaboration between IT and the business that defines successful projects.

That document is the smoking gun at the heart of IT project failure.

Related Posts

26 Oct 2012    Avoiding IT Failure (and Bankruptcy)

28 Aug 2012    The ROI on Process Visualization

© Text Michael Gammage 2012