Goobledegook And The Bottom Line

ChaosThere’s a parable for our times over on the FT. It’s a story about the real-life rebellion of a senior director who refused to approve a new IT system because he had “not understood a word” of the presentation to the board. Initially the lone dissenting voice in the room, his fellow board members eventually admitted that they had not really understood the project either, which had been explained in “baffling goobledegook”.

In this particular re-enactment of Twelve Angry Men, no innocent man was saved from the gallows but the board did go on to demand that the CIO come back after translating the plans into plain English. As the author Gillian Tett notes, it’s a story that should challenge us all:

“For when we look back at 2013, one of the big themes was the regularity with which computing systems produced costly glitches.”

There’s been a lot written on IT failures and their impact, which can be devastatingly expensive. The evidence points overwhelmingly to poor communication as the most common root cause. Between all the stakeholders, but most critically between IT and the business. Successful IT project teams, as McKinsey has noted, continually engage with stakeholders – at all levels, internally and externally – within a rigorous governance framework for managing change.

What happens most often of course is that the board blindly nods the project through. But this isn’t just a problem of poor communication at board level.  At every level, there’s often a stilted and meagre dialogue running between IT and the business, increasing risk and undermining business benefits. And it’s mostly hidden in plain sight just because expectations are so low.  Caring too much about clarity and accountability can even be career-limiting.

How then do we fix this? Continue reading

Why 48% Of Cost Reduction Initiatives Fail

Almost half of all cost reduction initiatives fail – and that’s despite enterprises scaling back their cost-cutting ambitions – as Deloitte’s 2013 Cost Improvement Survey reports:

“[Despite lower targets…] executive respondents have reported a higher failure rate for their cost initiatives. In 2008, the failure rate was 14%. In 2010, it was 37%. And in 2012, the failure rate climbed to 48%, meaning that nearly half of all cost initiatives now fail to achieve their goals.”

One root cause – possibly the root cause – must be that most organizations don’t have an enterprise process management platform. So they:

  • don’t have a comprehensive and joined-up perspective on their operations
  • don’t have a framework for effective collaboration on the design and implementation of change
  • can’t fully leverage the power of process visualization to simplify
  • can’t easily break down silos and engage their people in continuous improvement
  • are locked into project-thinking, and so down-playing longer-term sustainability.

It’s a diagnosis that’s borne out by the survey respondents:

“The biggest barriers to effective cost reduction cited by respondents are “lack of understanding” about the need for cost reduction (74%), and “erosion of savings” (73%) resulting from cost improvements that are not feasible or sustainable.

Survey respondents indicated that their companies are attempting to overcome the barriers by focusing more attention on change management (52%), clearly defining goals and objectives (41%), and communication (32%).”

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Process Platforms and Collagen Scaffolds

_66965345_asdWorking this week with the incoming exec team at a recent acquisition on a soup-to-nuts transformation programme to re-focus and   re-structure a financial services business.

Reading on the train beforehand – sounds odd but stick with me – this week’s news on artificial kidney transplants, there’s an interesting parallel.

How do grow a transplant kidney in the lab? You take an old kidney and strip it of its cells, leaving just the honeycomb-like collagen scaffold. You then build the new kidney onto the collagen scaffold using cells taken from the patient.

Which is kind of like building a new, healthier business model by stripping a business back to its essentials and then building a new, more profitable and ambitious business.

The collagen scaffold for the enterprise is the process management platform. The end-to-end business processes that it describes and integrates are the honeycomb-like scaffold upon which, layer upon layer, the business is built, and transformed.

Attempting in the past to find a metaphor to explain what we mean by a process management platform, I’ve suggested parallels with the double helix, with a TV news scheduling system, even with an orchestral score. But the collagen scaffold may be the best analogy yet. Arguably, it fits within the spirit of Gartner’s evolving definition of BPM as well.

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Process Excellence: What’s To Be Done?

The PEX Week Europe survey results, just published, make for surprisingly gloomy reading. There seems to be something badly adrift in the world of Process Excellence.

Almost 1,000 ‘process professionals’ were surveyed last month. The single most worrying chart shows perceptions of process improvement in their organizations:

11.7% said that their process excellence program was either at risk or had already been dismantled (up from 5.7% in 2011)

15% said that process improvement was experiencing declining returns in their organization

17% reported that effort and interest in process improvement has peaked.

Which is surprising. My own take is that continuous improvement is very much part of the zeitgeist in the CxO suite, and that process excellence is becoming more widely understood as the other side of that coin.  So why do ‘process professionals’ seem so downbeat?

It could be simply a European problem, but I suspect not.  More likely perhaps is that many organizations hugely over-invested in Lean and Six Sigma programmes that failed to deliver. They failed to some extent, of course, because they were wildly over-sold.  But many of today’s ‘process professionals’ might looking back nostalgically at those heady days.

It is plainly ridiculous that process excellence should be getting such a bad press. So what’s to be done?

At the risk of your groans at this point, here’s some reasons why I see the enterprise process management platform as the missing piece in this jigsaw:

It links process improvement with top level business strategy.  It addresses directly the single biggest process excellence challenge reported in the PEX survey. It provides direct line of sight between the operating model and the operational processes.

It ensures sustainable improvement, the second biggest challenge reported in the survey. An enterprise process management platform allows a pipeline of improvement projects to be identified, analysed, designed and delivered – in collaboration with the business. So there’s engagement and adoption: cost cuts stick and there’s no organizational snapback after change.

It gives meaning to metrics.  A third of survey respondents reported that “My organization measures so many metrics that it’s difficult to know which ones are important”.  Define KPIs as leading indicators of the health of the end-to-end processes and they have context. Even better, when a traffic light goes red, I can see immediately what’s upstream, what’s downstream and who are the stakeholders: I can start to fix it quicker.

And, if that wasn’t enough, it allows risks and controls to be embedded and managed within the context of the operational processes, so compliance and risk management is easier – which will get the attention of the CFO at least and so address another reported challenge: the lack of executive buy-in.

With an enterprise process management platform in place, ‘process professionals’ can do what they do best.  And feel loved again.

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013

Future BPM – The Enterprise Platform

iStock_000023250571SmallI’ve argued previously that sustainable success in complex global enterprises depends upon effective collaboration, and that process is the language that best enables it. I’ve also argued that BPMN is out of the running as a universal business language, and proposed three questions we should ask in assessing alternatives.

The right language is vitally necessary but it’s not sufficient. Traditionally, we say it needs to be supported by a tool. I want to make the case here that the real value comes when it is supported a process management platform.

Tool, platform – what’s the difference?

Here’s ten ways we can know an enterprise process management platform when we see one:

  1. It is the single source of truth. It goes beyond defining what we do and how we do it. It defines as well roles, responsibilities and accountability.
  2. It integrates processes with documents, systems, metrics and training to deliver content that is personalised, intuitive and valuable to every desktop and mobile device.
  3. It makes it easy for users to feed back improvement ideas to process owners and stakeholders, to get engaged in continuous improvement.
  4. It recognizes the need for variants and seamlessly manages them behind the scenes. It allows global processes to be designed and managed in English (for instance) but displayed to the user in their chosen language. It manages the ongoing optimization of the variants to a global process necessary to meet local requirements.
  5. It is the framework for performance management. It integrates processes with metrics and analytics. It overlays processes with metadata, hidden to most users, with analytical features and reporting that allow process stakeholders and Op Ex and Lean Sigma teams to collaborate on change. It underpins every CxO dashboard.
  6. It is the framework for change management. Recognizing that almost every proposed change has ripples, with implications for other groups across and outside of the enterprise, all business change is managed through it.
  7. It bridges the IT:Business divide. It engages business and IT in a rich ongoing dialogue.
  8. It is the enterprise QMS. It enables risks, controls and compliance to be embedded and managed within the end-to-end operational processes.
  9. It provides all this within one unified governance framework that is robust enough to meet every compliance requirement yet also automated and intuitive enough to be easy to use.
  10. It is a chameleon. It can be stand-alone, or it can invisibly and intelligently integrate with other collaboration and social platforms, and any other systems, as required.

An enterprise BPM platform of this kind provides direct line of sight between strategy and reality. It links the operating model directly with the operational processes. It reduces the risk in every business transformation, from acquisition integration to major IT programmes. It embeds a culture of continuous innovation and sustainable improvement. And the Chief Risk Officer sleeps easier at night.

The stakes are high. This is an enormously valuable prize. There’s a race on to deliver it. Exciting times.

Related Posts

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013

A Process Platform, Not A Process Tool

It’s true that ’platform’ sounds like Marketing-speak. But there’s an important distinction between a process tool and a process platform. And it’s not widely appreciated, which is why so many organizations continue to waste so many millions of dollars on process tools that can never deliver what they are looking for: operational excellence and continuous improvement.

TIBCO Nimbus is a process platform. Others will no doubt catch up, but it remains the leader. It creates an integrated business management platform that underpins quality and compliance. It enables collaboration on performance improvement within a robust governance framework. It orchestrates every aspect of business transformation. It delivers the content that supports real work, to every desktop and mobile, and it engages people across the enterprise in continuous improvement. And to achieve this, to create this platform for operational excellence, it uses the language and rigor of end-to-end business process.

A tool is for a particular and more limited purpose. A process tool tends to be focussed on the needs of a project, and to be discarded afterwards, its content filed away. Whereas a process platform assumes re-use and longevity, a mindset of sustainable excellence

Process tools can be essential – in software package configuration or other automation projects, for instance. But, at best, they can only provide a complete view of the enterprise from the perspective of what’s automated. Whereas a process platform aspires to create a joined-up and holistic view of the enterprise.

Process tools have dominated up to now. And they are a big reason why process thinking has taken so long to penetrate the C-Suite. Execs can see that, by and large, process tools offer only IT perspectives on the enterprise. Even worse, they are usually also incomplete and ungoverned, and describe process in the language of IT.

Process platforms are the future. There’s still C-Level resistance in some organizations – mostly because both process tools and process platforms start with a visualization of process as boxes and lines. So, at first glance, they are both ‘just process drawing tools’. Yawn…

But how process is visualized matters enormously. Organizations that choose the language of a process tool, such as BPMN or EPC, which are focussed on automation and the needs of an IT audience, will get very different results from organizations choosing to adopt the language of a process platform, such as Nimbus UPN, which sets out to describe end-to-end processes in a way that everyone can understand.

And, anyway, a process platform is about boxes and lines as much as Shakespeare is about words and sentences.

Reduced to basics, it’s true to say that the Bard just wrote words and formed sentences like every other playwright and poet. ”To be or not to be? That is the question.” It’s words in a sentence. But Hamlet is a tragedy that has moved audiences for over four hundred years. It has meaning and value far beyond the words from which it is composed.

Less dramatically, a process platform too has meaning and value to the enterprise far beyond the activity boxes, lines and diagrams from which it is composed. I’m not exactly confident that it’s going to be around in four hundred years – but, for the foreseeable future, the process platform is the essential enabler for operational excellence and continuous improvement.

Selling Process Excellence To The Boss

PEXGreat animation What Is Process Excellence? just published by the Process Excellence Network (PEX). The story behind the video is interesting as well.

It’s good because it de-mystifies process. Too many people think that process is the domain of the IT crowd or the Quality manager or some elite strategy unit. This video challenges all that.

It spells out how process is just another way of describing the work we do. Its message is that process is about how organizations create and deliver value to their customers. It’s process that enables organizations to get aligned for success. So it’s on point.

But here’s the really interesting thing about this video. It’s intended to help PEX members – overwhelmingly Lean, Six Sigma and PI people – to sell their Process Improvement programs to their C-Level execs.

But hang on, I hear you say, why on earth do execs need to be sold on Process Improvement programs? Surely they welcome them with open arms? Aren’t the PEX community received as heroes in the C-level suite?

Strangely, no. In many organizations, the Lean Sigma and PI crowd operate at surprisingly low levels, and even feel vulnerable. And there is some serious evidence that supports C-Level skeptics.

So many PI teams are now looking at new approaches, and tools to support them. Thought leaders here want to get beyond PI projects. They want to focus instead on programs to build organizational process maturity. They aspire to CMMI Level 5 capabilities – they are searching for process excellence as standard, and a culture of continuous improvement.

This new approach to PI demands different tools. Process fragments in Visio or on brown paper, or in the technical language of IT, just can’t deliver this.

Actually, it’s not even a tool that’s required any more. Sustainability demands a business management platform. A platform that:

  • provides an integrated and holistic process model of the enterprise, linking the enterprise value chain, or target operating model, directly with the operational reality
  • visualizes end-to-end processes in a way that is intuitive, and in the language of the business
  • overlays processes with performance metrics, business controls, quality and compliance
  • provides a governance framework that enables all process stakeholders to collaborate on the analysis, design and implementation of change
  • blends process with documents, metrics and training – and delivers it to every desktop and mobile device as a personalized ‘intelligent operations manual’, connecting process with getting real work done, and making it easy to engage in continuous improvement.

With this kind of platform in place, the insights and expertise of the Lean Sigma and PI community can be fully leveraged. OK, maybe not conquering heroes – but properly valued.