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Roger Tregear

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Establishing the ‘Why’ of Business Process Management

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on May 11, 2017

WhyBpm.pngIf we are evangelists for BPM, if we are advocates for the power of process, what is it that we believe? What are the essential elements of process-based management that we hold to be compelling?

These are not new questions. I have previously written in this blog about the critical need for organizations to determine and document the compelling reasons that are powering their particular BPM journey. These provide the bedrock necessary to sustain commitment during what will inevitably be occasionally difficult times along the way.

For those of us for whom the process view resonates powerfully, we hold these truths to be self-evident. The reality is that for many people, this is simply not true. In their book Made To Stick1, Chip and Dan Heath describe the curse of knowledge as follows:

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create the listeners’ state of mind.”

I have recently read “Start With Why2” by Simon Sinek. The idea is simple but powerful. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Read the book to understand the details of the Why/How/What insights. Suffice to say here that Dr Martin Luther King Jr changed a nation, and the world, by saying “I have a dream”, not “I have a detailed plan and methodology with accompanying PowerPoint”. The detailed plans, the How and the What, were important, but they were not the starting point. They were not what ignited a shared commitment to powerful and long lasting change.

Perhaps too often we try to explain BPM and process-based management by focusing on the How and the What. Simon Sinek and Dr King would advise us to start with Why. Why does the idea of BPM exist? What is its purpose? Modeling, process architectures, improvement methodologies etc are about what we do and how we do it. But why should anyone want to do those things?

Important initiatives like Roger Burlton’s BPM Manifesto and the Process Knowledge Initiative give useful insight for How and What. If people buy, not what we do but why we do it, what is the belief set that gives the Why to BPM?

The BPM Creed

Here is my suggestion for a statement of why, as process professionals, we believe.

We believe in ...

  • unimpeded flow of measurable value between our organization and its customers and other stakeholders
  • uncovering and eliminating wasteful activities
  • a workplace that enables our staff to deliver value
  • eliminating frustration caused by broken processes
  • having more certain control over things that really matter
  • technology supporting business processes, not the reverse
  • continuous improvement and discontinuous innovation.

Let’s tease those out a little more.

Flowing Value

We want unimpeded value flowing between customers, the organization and other stakeholders. It’s a multi-path flow. Not just inside-out or outside-in, but appropriate, measurable and managed value flowing amongst participants. We believe in delivering and receiving value.

Eliminating Waste

In every organization there are many circumstances where time, money and goodwill are wasted. It feels like we are driving with the brakes on, that there is sand in the gears. Waste causes transmission loses in the value flow. We believe in good old fashioned thrift when it comes to value flow.

Enabling Staff

People turn up intending to do a good day’s work. Sometimes our processes disable their good intentions resulting in more value losses and demoralized staff. We believe in our people.

Eliminating Frustration

Have you been inconvenienced recently by another organization’s broken processes? Most of us have. Your customers have probably been frustrated some of your processes as well. Rough edges cause disruption and losses in the flow of value. We believe in creating smooth transactions for our customers.

Achieving Control

What really matters is our ability to optimize the exchange of value amongst customers and stakeholders. This is what we need to understand and track. Everything else is secondary. We believe in thoughtful control of value delivery.

Supporting with Technology

Optimized processes are central to value delivery. Appropriate use of technology is a key element of many, but not all, process improvements. The process view is dominant; automation is but one option for process improvement. We believe in the automation of process execution where that improves delivered value.

Continuously Improving

Most processes can be improved. In a process-centric culture it is everyone’s job, and aspiration, to make frequent process improvement. Process improvement should a habit, not just a project.

We believe in continuously increasing the value we deliver.

Discontinuously Innovating

Continuous improvement has a natural limit. A single process, continuously improved, ultimately reaches a point where there is no cost-benefit in further improvements. A step function change is then required to facilitate first one-off, and then continuous, improvement. We believe in pushing the limits of value delivery.

In Summary

As process professionals we believe in continuous small, and occasional large, improvements in the unimpeded exchange of value with minimal transmission losses from waste and broken processes, in empowering customers and staff to gain maximum value from their interactions, supporting such exchanges with appropriate technology and consciously focusing measurement and management on value delivery.

Do you agree that this is why process professionals believe? Is this the Why of BPM?


1 Chip & Dan Heath. Made To Stick. Random House, London, 2007.
2 Simon Sinek. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Portfolio, New York, 2009.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

Service and Value Are Delivered by Process

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on May 3, 2017

 

Service_Deliveryed_by_Process.png

I have recently been engaged in several different discussions which have revolved around the term “service”. There is considerable confusion, or if you prefer, a wide range of views, on what a service might be and what we should do about it. Should we model them? Is a “Service Architecture” useful and, if so, does it replace a Business Process Architecture?

Some personal context might be helpful before I explore those questions. My organization management view is process-centric. For me, Business Process Management (BPM) is a management philosophy that can be summarized as follows:

Business processes are not just a series of activities. They are the complete collections of cross-functional activities, rules, and resources that allow the exchange of value between an organization and its external customers and other stakeholders. The only way that any organization can exchange such value is via its business processes. Individual organizational functional areas cannot, by themselves, deliver value to external customers. It follows that an organization executes its strategic intent via its business processes. Business processes are the conduits through which value is exchanged between customers and the organization. Therefore, business processes need to be thoughtfully managed and continuously improved to maintain an unimpeded flow of value in every direction. Business process analysis, improvement and management are about optimizing the value exchanged between an organization and its customers and other stakeholders.

So where do services fit? Are we not here to serve our customers? Don’t they come to us looking for service? Many of us work on a fee-for-service basis. Didn’t you have your car serviced recently? There does seem to be a lot of servicing going on.

Like other quasi-technical terms we have reassigned from their normal role in the English language, “service” retains its original meaning for most users in most circumstances. The hotel, in which I am staying as I write this article, provides services related to accommodation, food, laundry, swimming, valet parking, gymnasium and many others. Indeed, I met the Guest Services Manager. In this plain English use of the term, we have no difficulty understanding what is meant by service. The list of available services is provided in the “user manual” for my room.

We can also easily understand the way "service" is used in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). In that context, service (or originally, web service) is software/technology. No doubt about it and no confusion. I'm no programmer or IT/systems architect, but I suspect that, what we might once have called a subroutine is now a service. The subroutine code likely lived on the same disc drive as the main program and the service might be called from anywhere on the planet and be more sophisticated, but conceptually not much different. Service in this context is an IT capability. Plug and play, mix and match, and you are delivering some desired outcome.

So plain English use of the term “service” and the “service” in Service Oriented Architecture are well enough defined. There is little, if any, confusion between those two usages. Every other use of “service” does seem to add confusion and little insight.

If you agree with my outline of the BPM management philosophy above, then we agree that business processes are the only way that any organization can exchange value with its customers and other stakeholders. The closest I get to making sense of “service” in that, for me dominant context, is that what we deliver to customers is a “service”. The service is the value delivered by the process. When I send my clothes to be cleaned here at the hotel, the “laundry service” does a great job and I get exceptional levels of “service” – cute little paper bow ties on the shirts, which come back on proper hangers. I love it. However, what I am delighted with is the value I receive from the execution of the process Provide Laundry Service. We could find that process in the hotel’s Business Process Architecture. I see no need to invent a new set of concepts around “service architecture”. Do you?

A “service catalogue” is conceptually no different than a product catalogue. It’s a list of the things (values) we can deliver. The service/product catalogue is a list of possible outputs. It does not describe the process that delivers the output. The Amazon catalogue does not describe the process of taking my order and getting the product to me. It defines part of the value that can be provided to me (the other part being speed and convenience of delivery, and perhaps a cost saving). This value, or process output, is one of the six perspectives of a process, the others being inputs, guides, enablers, flow and management.

It is unnecessary to invent a whole new “body of knowledge” about service architectures and related artifacts. If you want to replace the word “process” with “service” and mean the same thing, then I can live with that. Call a process whatever you like, but don’t confuse the meaning. The big problem comes when people get confused between the process (or whatever you want to call it) and the value (output) it delivers. Service delivery is done via processes. For me, “service” is another, and perhaps slightly more specific, term for the abstract concept of “value” that is delivered by a process.

Inevitably, a so called Service Architecture is a quite functional list of services delivered without a coherent hierarchy to describe how the delivery is made in a cross-functional sense. The Service Architectures I’ve seen have been a messy confusion of aspirations, outputs and activities.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

Are You Delivering Process Artifacts Rather Than Customer Value?

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on April 5, 2017

17_artifacts_not_value.pngIt proves to be easy for those closely involved in the theory and practice of process-based management to confuse the delivery of nicely crafted artifacts with delivering real value. We can too easily get wrapped up in the development of the (very necessary) diagrams, models, spreadsheets, presentations, posters, methodologies, information databases, role descriptions, modeling conventions, project plans, and the many other realizations of business process performance and concepts, and lose sight of the real purpose.

What is that ‘real purpose’? This might seem like a trivial question, but the answer is important, and too many process practitioners, and the teams in which they work, do not have a clear answer—or if they do, it gets lost in the daily pressures of work.

The only ‘real purpose’ that makes sense is to contribute in meaningful ways to the improvement of organizational performance. If we are not doing that, then we are waste by our own definitions.

The need to meet commitments to deliver various artifacts can easily overwhelm the what should be the clear overall objective, our focus narrows to getting the next document completed, we focus on getting business units to use the methodology properly, or to complete the required report, or turn up to the process review workshop, or to comply with modeling conventions—in short, we lose the cross-functional view that we evangelize to others. Oops! That’s more than a little embarrassing.

This contribution to sustained performance improvement must be proven, not just asserted. As process practitioners, we are part of the cross-functional team that executes the process 'improve performance', and that process must also be measured, managed, and improved in the same way we advocate for all other processes. This process must be the best managed and highest performing process in any organization.

We can’t say we are doing well and increasing our process management maturity, because we have created a thousand artifacts (diagrams, models, charts etc.) We can only claim success if we can demonstrate a return-on-process that is acknowledged by the organization.

Perhaps the real test is that, come budget time, the process group is offered more money because it is seen to be a good investment.

 This is not to say that the artifacts of process management and improvement are not important. Of course, they are, but they must be a means to an end. When we get too close to them we lose the fundamental idea that process-based management must be about management. The M in BPM is for management, not modeling.

For any process, this is the important sequence of analysis questions:

  • What are the critical few measures of process performance?
  • How should the process perform?
  • How is the process performing?
  • Are the process performance gaps worth closing?
  • How could the gaps be closed?
  • What benefits would come from such changes?
  • Did it work? 

Yes, you need the right tools and techniques to do this well, but the most important question is the last one—did it work, can we prove that we have improved organizational performance?

If you work in or near a central process support group, make a list of what they produce. That list will include plenty of the usual process artifacts. Now imagine that each of those artifacts disappeared. How would the organization suffer? Who would notice? This is a tough test, but it must be the one we apply on a regular basis 

It’s tough test that process support groups can pass, but it won’t happen automatically. There must be a clear goal and deliberate action to make a positive difference in proven, accepted business terms. I have suggested previously that process-based management is 90% mindset and 10% toolset. That mindset must be strongest and most developed in a central support group if we are to relentlessly focus on ‘process value’ and avoid being distracted by ‘process things’. It requires a concerted effort to develop, evolve, and maintain process thinking. This is not going to happen without assiduous effort, and it’s not a one-off exercise.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

Are Quick Wins a Fast Track to Process Improvement Failure?

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on March 30, 2017

'Change is changing' (3).png

I get it. When it comes to process performance improvement, everybody wants quick wins. We want impressive improvement with as little effort as possible, and by Thursday of next week. And we’d like to win the lottery as well.

Of course, there are quick wins and we must seize them whenever we can, but, by definition, there won’t be many of them. We get stuck in, sort out the quick wins, and then…and then… then what? That’s it? Job done, everything is perfect and we can get back to business as usual? Seems unlikely.

Every organization needs a systematic approach to genuine continuous and measurable performance improvement based on continuous ‘problem finding’. That’s the first hurdle. Surely every organization would be happy to espouse continuous improvement; perhaps not so happy to continuously find and acknowledge problems. When was the last time you went to an office celebration put on because someone found a new problem?

The ‘continuous’ part of continuous improvement conflicts with the idea of quick wins; one suggests an ongoing effort and the other assumes a short-lived focus on the obvious and easy-to-fix problems.

For many, process improvement doesn’t have a good track record. Frustration with the non-performance, or at least under-performance, of process-improvement projects over many years has understandably led to suggestions for ‘rapid process-improvement’ approaches of various kinds. Strip out the waste from the process of process improvement and get on with delivering real improvements rather than just fancy methodologies and vague promises.

The main thrust of these approaches is to make short, focused projects that will deliver change in a fixed timetable, for example, five or twenty days. Such projects that have minimum costs and maximum return are a welcome change from projects that take a long time, cost a lot, and deliver little.

However, rapid doesn’t necessarily mean continuous. Focused, effective process-improvement projects are a significant improvement, but they are not, alone, the systematic approach that is required to achieve genuine continuous improvement.

A systematic approach where there is an unflagging search for problems, opportunities, improvements, and innovations will deliver a better result than any form of ad hoc project. This is way beyond quick wins.

The objective needs to be, not just rapid projects, but an unrelenting cycle of efficient and effective projects based on a constant, proactive search for process-improvement opportunities. These opportunities are not only about measured under-performance, but should also include ideas triggered by innovation thinking, and organizational and market change requirements. Just because nobody is complaining about a process doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. This needs to be a common part of business-as-usual thinking and practice; it needs to be embedded in the organizational culture.

When we focus on quick wins we unnecessarily set an end point to process improvement. The number of low-hanging fruit is finite and process improvement becomes a short-term project rather than a way of life.

Organizations need to replace ad hoc process improvement activities, these seemingly random acts of management, with a practical system whose intent and effect is to enable evidence-based decisions about effective, continuous process improvement.

That’s not as hard to do as you might think. Here are the six basic steps:

  1. Identify the key processes, starting at the highest level
  2. Make it someone’s job (part-time role) to worry about the cross-functional processes
  3. Decide the critical few measures of performance for those processes
  4. Collect current performance data and assess against the target levels
  5. Intervene as required to correct or prevent a problem, or to realize an opportunity
  6. Repeat, continuously.

This takes some persistent effort, but it’s not particularly hard to achieve. You aren’t trying to change the world overnight. In the medium-longer term process-based management will change the way work is managed and executed, but the steps outlined above are not disruptive to daily operations.

A calm, controlled pivot to process-based management will deliver all of the benefits of the quick wins, and then go on to find and deliver additional benefits. 

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

How Developing a Process Mindset Can Help You Avoid BPM Failure

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on February 7, 2017

'Change is changing'.png Too many BPM initiatives fail. We’ve got to do better. 

Process-based management is not achieved and sustained by having the right software and methods, indeed you can probably make it work well with the wrong software and methods. Done properly, process-based management is a systemic approach to the relentless pursuit of organizational performance improvement. It’s largely a mind game. Put simply, to ‘do process’, an organization, its people, and their teams need to ‘think process’. 

In a process-centric organization, all employees are conscious that their roles are to participate in executing a range of processes. They think beyond the activities described in their own job descriptions to see their roles in the bigger picture of creating, accumulating, and delivering value to customers and other stakeholders via cross-functional processes. Yes, that is a big change.

The unrelenting emphasis is on conscious, cross-functional collaboration—and that is often challenging for individuals and functional units in an organization.

Achievement of effective, sustained, process-based management is ninety per cent mindset and ten per cent toolset. Too often, the focus is on the ten per cent at the expense of the ninety per cent. Tools, including software, systems, methods, and techniques, are critically important—the full one hundred per cent is needed—but the tools are not the main game.

Having the right tools is necessary but nowhere near sufficient for success. It might be argued that the mindset/toolset emphasis is 80/20, or perhaps even 70/30, rather than 90/10, but it’s certainly not the reverse of any of those. Tools and techniques alone won’t create a viral spread of the idea of process-based management. Hearts and minds are also needed.

To have any value, process-based management must support achievement of organizational objectives.

Success is not measured by the number of models drawn, the cleverness of a process architecture, the number of process measures identified, or the sophistication of automation. Success can only be claimed if organizational performance has been demonstrably improved as a result of taking a process view. The process mindset must be about achieving those consequences of effective process management and improvement; that is, it must be about improving organizational performance.

Having the process-based management idea resonate throughout an organization provides a shared mindset with which to build its practices.

The likelihood that organizations, teams, or individuals will adopt process-centric management approaches depends on what they think will happen if they do. When everyone is conscious of their contribution to the cross-functional processes that are delivering value, the result is process management excellence. The process mindset is not about attracting devotees to a theory, but about creating and sustaining change in the way work is designed, undertaken, and managed across the organization. 

The practical application of process-based management needs to take systemic form. It may not be enough to declare a commitment to ‘operational excellence’, since that might just imply working harder to keep poorly designed processes operational. ‘Excellence’ needs to be found in a ubiquitous desire to continually find ways to improve performance—not just in a continuous, heroic struggle to correct for process flaws.

Ironically, at the highest levels of BPM maturity, the practices of process-based management are so embedded in the culture, and so ubiquitous in practice, that they are virtually unseen. At the lowest levels of maturity, the idea of process does not even arise. As maturity develops, driven by the development of all seven enablers, individuals, and then teams, start to think about cross-functional processes.

Eventually those thoughts result in practical activities to shape and nurture process thinking. Over time, the application of process-based management becomes automatic and the classic definition of organizational culture, ‘the way we do things around here’, once more proves accurate.

Timing is everything. An organization must be ready to start, and continue, a journey to process-based management, a change that is as much about organizational culture as it is about the logistics of process management and improvement.

Passively waiting for the happy day when everyone is ready is clearly not a winning strategy. Neither is the development of a process mindset a Jedi mind trick, something that just requires the exercise of a greater and more powerful will.

A deliberate, well-designed plan is required to develop an organization’s process mindset, that is, its cultural readiness for process-based management. The ongoing results of such a plan need to be measurable.

Defining the process mindset

Minds are often hard to change, but it can be done. Once changed, minds are likely to stay changed for the same reason.

A process-aware organizational mindset will have a particular, and sometimes challenging, set of characteristics. It will be: 

  • measurement-friendly
  • community-focused
  • quality-motivated
  • change-welcoming
  • challenge-addicted
  • action-oriented.

Each of these is important.

The most challenging of the organizational characteristics might be an openness to performance measurement. One of the most significant roadblocks to robust and sustainable process improvement and management can be the absence of a measurement-friendly culture.

Where measurement is about finding someone to blame, catching people doing the ‘wrong thing’, then nobody will be pleased about the idea of additional measures. Acceptance of measurement as an exciting pathway to performance improvement must evolve for process-based management to succeed.

People and their teams who work with a highly-developed process mindset are constantly aware of the community effort involved in the creation, accumulation, and delivery of value to customers and other stakeholders. It’s not just about ‘my job’; it’s about ‘our job’ and how all involved collaborate to do the right work well.

A relentless drive to improve and produce quality outcomes is a key attribute of the process mindset. The search to find ‘better ways’ is never-ending, and the motivation to continuously improve quality is deeply embedded in the organizational culture.

Continuous process improvement means continuous change and, from time to time, significant change that poses challenges for the organization, its people, and their teams. The process mindset is uncomfortable in a static environment. 

Process improvement is not about making recommendations; it’s about making change. Well-designed, controlled action is required to realize the benefits.

In an organization with a well-developed process mindset, the following comments would be unremarkable:

  • It’s OK to make mistakes; we welcome the opportunity to learn and improve.
  • All questions are welcome and the organization is open to new ideas; we are willing to experiment.
  • People at all levels are listened to, and we have open discussions about new and contentious ideas; we welcome dissent.
  • We have a strong collaborative ethos without silos and turf wars; we strive for excellence by being collegiate and customer-focused. 

The absence of a process mindset at the organizational level is the difference between ad hoc attempts at process improvement, and the sustained operation of a systematic approach that deliberately and continuously discovers opportunities for process improvement, an approach that is embedded in the organizational culture. 

At the level of the individual, creating a process mindset is not necessarily about correcting some defect in staff motivation. The fact that poorly designed and/or managed processes work at all might be because of very high levels of motivation. 

In many cases, staff need to be highly motivated to find the work-arounds and put in the extra effort required to make processes work. So, to say that an organization needs to develop the process mindset of its staff is not to be critical of them. It means that the way work is described, measured, and managed needs to change, and that staff need to be made aware of, and fully included in, the collaboration that creates value. Staff need to receive the training and experiences that will allow them to work effectively in an organization with a well-developed process mindset.

Changing minds

Many practical strategies can be employed to develop the ‘process mindset’. Some of these include:

  • regular ‘community of interest’ meetings
  • process-improvement project discussion groups
  • library of process information
  • process innovation jams
  • documented success stories
  • open discussion of process performance results
  • idea submission schemes
  • recognition of individual and team excellence 

Training will also be necessary in topics such as: 

  • effective communication
  • lateral thinking
  • dealing with difficult people
  • teamwork
  • conflict resolution
  • system thinking

A process-aware organizational culture and mindset can evolve through active leadership and development plans, paving the way for successful and sustained process-based management. 

The target is to employ such development strategies to achieve a tipping point beyond which process thinking is the norm, to trigger the viral spread of the process idea, shaped and made relevant to the organization.

How does this Process-based management idea help to make life a little, or a lot, simpler and easier in day-to-day work? Those messages must be tailored to resonate with the different stakeholder groups. Everybody needs to see for themselves the practical meaning and purpose in the theory and practice of process-based management.

Changing minds is not a one-off project, nor a single series of time-limited activities. Continuous reinforcement is required to remind everyone why process thinking is important, and to validate the assertion that genuine and worthwhile benefits are accumulating.

If we are to improve our hit rate in achieving and sustaining effective process-based management, process thinking needs to be actively nurtured.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management