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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, 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

'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

Creating a Process Mindset Using Everyday Process Thinking

Lucienne Van Hilten Lucienne Van Hilten on March 7, 2017

17_Think_Process.png

Many of our customers find the implementation of a Process Mindset one of the most challenging parts of operationalising BPM. The whole organization  should ‘think and breathe’ the process in all they do. It can be daunting to both know where to start and how to achieve a Process Mindset within the organization.

Think Process

There are many strategies that can be used to develop this ‘think process’ approach. A few of these are:

  • Regular ‘community of interest’ meetings
  • Process improvement project discussion groups
  • Process innovation jams
  • Idea submission schemes

Where to start?

When the organisation starts the BPM journey, what do you discuss in the first sessions? How do you make sure the whole organisation sets off in the direction of ‘think process’ with the same mindset? How do you ensure that people are not scared by the concept of ‘think process’?

Everyday process

It is helpful to emphasise that ‘think process’ is a normal part of daily life. Everything we do in life is a process, but we don’t think about it consciously because that would make day-to-day life tiresome. However, when we deconstruct our lives ‘behind the scenes’, it is processes that run the show and drive us from moment to moment.

Take buying a house as an example. The process starts with the thinking and dreaming about buying a house and ends when a house is purchased, or perhaps a decision is made not to purchase, i.e. the process may terminate early. The process steps might look something like this:

  1. Start thinking/dreaming about buying a house
  2. Talk to your partner about the options.
  3. Dream about type of house
  4. Dream about location of house
  5. Arrange bank mortgage
  6. Decide type of house
  7. Decide location of house
  8. Visit open houses
  9. Visit auctions
  10. Buy house at auction
  11. Finalise mortgage
  12. Finalise paper work

The following process steps are also possible:

  1. Start thinking/dreaming about buying a house
  2. Talk to your partner about the options
  3. Decide not to buy a house but travel

Other variations are possible. If you have no partner, that step might alternatively be talking to your friends or family. Maybe you are a very practical person and instead of dreaming and consulting with someone, you go straight to the bank to get a mortgage because you know what you want and just need the money. This example shows a daily life process. Think about other processes that you might have in your life:

  • Getting yourself ready to go to work
  • Your everyday commute
  • Preparation and celebration of family holidays
  • Decision process on buying a new car
  • Loading and unloading the dishwasher

By using everyday examples in the first process mindset sessions, it is easy to see that ‘think process’ is something that we all do on a day-to-day basis. Connecting the everyday is crucial to developing a process mindset and a good start tooperationalising BPM in the organisation.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management