Penguins, Guillemots and Swimlanes

istock_000020691496small - editIn a workshop with a Life Sciences organization looking for a process platform to transform its approach to knowledge management, and the inevitable question comes up:  “We use swimlanes sometimes anyway – so what’s wrong with BPMN?”.

We gave, I think, a convincing response. Next time though I’m going to try drawing an analogy with wings.

Both penguins and guillemots have wings. But only guillemots fly.  According to a recent study, it’s an example of an evolutionary trade-off. A wing can’t be efficient for both flying and swimming.  Optimising wings for diving leads to unsustainably high energy costs for flight.

So penguins evolved wings that leave them waddling across land but can take them to depths of 1,800 feet in search of food; whereas guillemots fly but can dive only to 300 feet. Their wings serve different purposes.

It’s the same of course with the language of process.

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a process language optimized for automation.  It is high value from an IT perspective. With BPMN swimlanes, pools, complexity and precision, an organization can dive very deep.

Universal Process Notation (UPN) is optimized for operational excellence. It’s a process language designed to enable effective collaboration across the enterprise on innovation, transformation and continuous improvement. It’s UPN’s simplicity – from the user’s perspective – that enables an organization to fly.

The organization running this workshop wants to shift from a document-based to a process-based approach in search of agility and efficiency. They want a new way of working that will better support their front-line people, engage them in continuous improvement, enable stakeholders to automate and outsource where appropriate, and deliver a new customer experience.  That is flying not diving.

Once they have identified automation opportunities, BPMN can come into play – for the IT team at least – in the design and implementation of systems that are scoped to support the end-to-end business processes (that are defined and maintained using UPN).

Related Posts

15 Mar 2013   Future BPM: The Enterprise Platform

11 Dec 2012    Process Management and Google Maps

Process Management And Google Maps

Would you rely on Google Maps if you knew it was incomplete, in different formats, languages and UIs – and that much of it was out-of-date? I don’t think so.

But ask the same question in an enterprise context and the answer would often be ‘Yes’.  An extraordinary number of businesses rely upon enterprise process maps that are incomplete, in different formats, languages and UIs – and seriously out-of-date.

Google of course saw the potential in location-based services in a mobile world and continues to invest heavily. But as Google’s Mr Maps, Brian McClendon, noted in an interview at the weekend, everything depends upon having a solid map base:

“You need to have the basic structure of the world so you can place the relevant information on top of it. If you don’t have an accurate map, everything else is inaccurate”.

So Google provides MapMaker and other tools so that its users can get engaged: in providing feedback, even in real-time editing and extension of its coverage. That user engagement helps to drive high levels of accuracy in Google maps.

Imagine an enterprise process map by Google Maps: a visualization of how the peaks of the operating model link to the valleys of everyday operational reality. With this basic structure of the business accurately mapped, it becomes possible to do much more:

  • orchestrate business transformation
  • underpin Lean Sigma and continuous improvement
  • connect risk and compliance management with business reality
  • ensure IT alignment and enable business-led systems implementations
  • support front-line people doing real work.

But to do this, an enterprise process map too has to be accurate. It is the base map of the enterprise – the foundation upon which everything else is built. So it has to be properly developed and managed. It has to be comprehensive and integrated, and within a robust governance framework. Critically, it has to be in the language of the business because engagement is the key to its sustainability.

Adopt the language of IT – swimlanes, BPMN symbols – and it’s a fatal obstacle to engagement with process stakeholders and users. Engagement requires the language of the business – which is why the adoption of Universal Process Notation (UPN) by virtually every Nimbus client may seem arcane but actually it’s very significant.

There’s another significant parallel here: the importance of personalization. Users don’t want Google Maps as a replacement atlas to browse on their smartphones. They want Google Maps to present them with content that is about their preferences, their location and their time of day.

It’s exactly the same with enterprise process maps.  Users want to be presented with content that is about their role, their KPIs and in their language – that helps them to do their job.  But how many organizations simply create an enterprise atlas and then post it on the corporate intranet?

Related Posts

10 Dec 2012    Sustainable Improvement And Packing The Dishwasher

17 Dec 2010    The Tube Map: Process Made Easy 

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

Why Process Improvement Projects Fail

Interesting times.  There’s an emerging consensus that Lean, Six Sigma and other process improvement programs are failing, and a myriad explanations why.  And yet – I just saw a(nother) Nimbus client video on a remarkable success in sustainable process excellence.

There’s no shortage of doomsayers.  In a PEX Network podcast just released, Nigel Clements, who will keynote at the Process Excellence conference in London in April, estimates that up to 70% of process improvement projects fail.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Sakya Chakravorty estimated that 60% of Six Sigma projects fail. And the PEX Network poll launched last week on ‘the biggest barriers to continuous improvement’ has already attracted 500 voters.

But why? That’s where the divergences start.  There may be common agreement on the symptoms, but there are many different diagnoses of the underlying condition.

Nigel Clements, for instance, points to Deming’s ‘five deadly diseases’ as the root causes: lack of constancy of purpose; emphasis on the short term; compensation that distorts incentives; over-mobility of management; and only using visible figures.

Professor Chakravorty suggests the need for Six Sigma ‘experts’ to be retained on projects for longer; for smaller project teams; and for tying in performance appraisals to adoption of change.

Both though agree on what must be the single over-arching truth here: that success in continuous improvement (CI) is about creating an enterprise-wide culture of engagement and collaboration.  And that it is impossible without leadership from the top.

Even Nimbus is not, dare I say it, an essential for success in sustainable process excellence.  It hugely increases the chances of success in setting up and maintaining any CI program. But, ultimately, it is simply an enabler.  Without executive vision and commitment, nothing sustainable can succeed.

The client case study I just saw is on the launch of a global CI program in a Fortune 100 organization. It brings new levels of creativity in how it leverages Nimbus. There’s huge attention to graphic design as one of the keys to users engagement.  It has real-time metrics that look beyond process performance to cover as well process adherence and popularity. It also extends the standard RACI model in a way that brings a new clarity and productivity in compliance. And subtly, and throughout, it reinforces this organization’s values.

What made it possible? Executive energy plus the adoption of Nimbus as the process platform, and UPN as the process language.  But it was also the Nimbus methodology: the creativity inherent in live workshops in the discovery phase, facilitated by an experienced Nimbus consultant, to map out new ways of working.

It’s confidential right now – for obvious competitive reasons – but hopefully might make it into the public domain in due course. It’s a sparkling glimpse of the future in a world of CI gloom and angst. And exactly the kind of story that can fire up C-Level imagination and commitment.

The Power of Visualization: How Five Boxes Can Be A Good Day’s Work

My colleague Craig Willis has an interesting post today on the power of process visualization in enabling collaboration. In process discovery especially, a well-run workshop forces the process actors to let go lazy intuition and really understand what’s happening:

“The act of talking through and visualizing a process can often, in my experience, actually improve the effectiveness of that process without any attempt to change it.”

I’ve believed it ever since I saw it with my own eyes, many years ago, soon after I joined Nimbus. In a day-long workshop with the stakeholders on a core process for a major utility client, we established that the three functional silos involved each had a slightly different take on the process. These subtle differences meant that this organization employed 250 staff to deal with the (largely avoidable) process exceptions.

All process visualization tools are not the same of course. It’s quite possible (and still amazingly common) to create visualizations that are simply process fragments, often written in an arcane technical language, and with the complexity of a wiring diagram.

At the end of that extraordinary day with the utility client, that group of senior people had, as a group, drawn just five boxes on the screen. But it was the nuances in the top level of that core process that were the root cause of the process exceptions and the resulting costs. As ever, simplicity forced clarity, and that – together with a joined-up end-to-end perspective – is where the value so often lies.

Interestingly, the process visualization tool itself is only part of the answer. The methodology matters hugely. Nimbus is a superb process management platform – but it’s the simplicity and rigor of the Nimbus UPN methodology which enables it to deliver results like this.