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Think First - Mindset then Toolset

Roger Tregear Roger Tregear on May 17, 2017

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From many personal experiences, positive and negative, of encouraging organizations and their teams and people with the idea of process-based management, I offer some thoughts in this article about one very important aspect – it’s a mind game, not tool time.

The achievement of effective, sustained process-based management is 90% mindset and 10% toolset. High levels of BPM maturity can only be achieved and maintained if the correct conceptual framework is in play.

Too often we are focused on the 10%, at the expense of the 90%. The tools and techniques are critically important, but they are not the main game. Having the right IT and other tools is a necessary, but nowhere near sufficient, condition for success.

Making the idea of BPM resonate within an organization requires deep engagement with the key challenges of contemporary management. If you don’t ‘think process’, you won’t ‘do process’. The likelihood that organizations, teams or individuals will adopt process-centric approaches to management depends on what they think will happen if they do.

Process-based management must give positive support to the achievement of organizational objectives if it is to have any value. Success is not measured in the number of models drawn, the cleverness of the process architecture, the number of process measures, the documentation of methodologies, or the sophistication of the automation. Success can only be claimed if organizational performance has been improved, and demonstrably so, as a result of taking a process view.

People will only buy-in to the idea of BPM if they can see that it is likely to solve some clear and present difficulty in a pragmatic, cost-effective, and sustainable way. When pitching the idea of BPM, we need to be thinking about As Is / To Be changes, not in processes, but in mindsets.

About now you might be tempted to suggest “Well, D’oh. Of course! That’s obvious”. Well, we might assert that it should be like that, but the evidence says that we have a long way to go.

In the BPTrends report, The State of Business Process Management 2016[1], it is reported that only 24% of respondents said that “their executives regarded BPM as a major strategic commitment.”[2] Another disturbing survey result says that in 74% of cases, managers were never, or only occasionally, “trained to analyze, design, and manage business processes”[3]. Even more worrying is the analysis showing that 73% of respondents said their process managers never, or only occasionally, “use performance data to manage their processes”[4]. There’s another way of doing that?

This suggests that we are a long way from having an effective process mindset in many organizations.

As always, to be sure we are talking about the same thing, I summarize my understanding of the BPM management philosophy as follows:

Business processes are the collections of cross-functional activities that deliver value to an organization’s external customers and other stakeholders. They are the only way that any organization can deliver such value. 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 between the organization and its customers and other stakeholders.

To achieve this outcome, we must start with the mindset, not the toolset.

It’s all in the mind

Minds are often hard to change, but it can be done. Once changed, minds are likely to stay changed for the same reason. Although the idea of having to do more than an impressive technology demonstration, might be daunting, it can also be reassuring. We have all seen, perhaps given, cool technical demonstrations that were exciting for an hour, and changed very little. Forget about the tools. No business has a problem called “we don’t have enough software”.

“What’s the problem we are trying to fix?” That’s the question, and the answer needs to be framed in terms of a mindset of real strategic, operational or tactical improvements if process-based management is to resonate with the gatekeepers.

Modeling mindsets

Different audiences have different mindsets, and require different messages. To understand the differences we should ‘model’ the mindsets. What are the key players really thinking? What are their current management challenges? Which of the process messages are they most likely to find attractive? What mindsets do they need to have individually and collectively to achieve high(er) levels of BPM maturity?

What do we need to do to close the gap from current to target mindset – a familiar As Is / To Be / To Do cycle.

Getting minds around “continuous”

Everyone signs up for “continuous improvement”. Great idea, why wouldn’t we go for that? Well, we also need to get our minds around the certainty that “continuous improvement” also means continuous measurement, change, challenge, activity and organizational friction.

Well worth doing, but what looks obvious and desirable on the poster, can sometimes prove to be quite difficult to endure in the live workplace. It requires an uncommon openness, a different way of thinking about daily workplace operations, relationships, fears and motivations.

Mind the gap

To improve a process, we need to find a gap between what is and what might be. In theory, we want to find big gaps so we can make big improvements. However, I regularly meet people who worry that openly “admitting” to a significant process improvement will be seen as a past failure rather than an ongoing success. They can see cost-effective ways to improve a process significantly, clearly a good thing to do, but the same mind that approves the change, has to acknowledge the newly discovered, but perhaps long unobserved, problem or opportunity.

What’s the mindset at your place of work? Imagine that a process is found to have been costing, for the last five years, a million dollars a year more than it needed to. Would that be seen to be a sackable offense, or a cause for celebration and congratulation? If you managed large parts of that process, would you be elated or nervous in announcing that bit of continuous improvement?

In Conclusion

We might argue that the mindset/toolset emphasis is 80/20 rather than 90/10, you might even convince me it’s 70/30, but it’s certainly not the reverse of any of those. To create a viral spread of the idea of BPM, tools and techniques alone won’t do it. We also need hearts and minds.


[1] Harmon, Paul. “The State of Business Process Management 2016”. Accessed May 18, 2013. http://www.bptrends.com/bpt/wp-content/uploads/2015-BPT-Survey-Report.pdf
[2] Ibid., p 12
[3] Ibid., p 18
[4] Ibid., p 20

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

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

 

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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, notmodeling.

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 image 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

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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