Category Archives: Leadership

Prioritizing BPM Projects is a Sign of Effective, Experienced Leadership

I received an email from a friend of mine today lamenting the projects he’s had to wave good-bye to. The email read: “That other process improvement stuff is nice, however, right now…revenue generation is the only process that matters. We have to keep the doors open”.  It made me think deeply about my clients and the projects we’re working on. How many of  them have leaders who’ve called emergency meetings in the past 12 months to reconsider and re-prioritize their approach and focus? None. How many of them have since been panicking and flailing? All of them. Most of them have reduced schedules and laid people off lately. Not a single one ever stopped to prioritize and shift attention when they could.

What’s a Priority?

First of all, if you’re still slogging through 4-6 month process improvement projects, you’re braver than I am. Get lean in your approach, folks. Secondly, if you don’t know how to prioritize in this economy and are struggling to choose which of your projects should “rise to the top of the list”, please ask your peers and ask the big boss. Go to the executive team and ask them to help you decide if you need help. But no matter what, show some initiative and demonstrate that you’re thinking like an executive. If not, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Short answer: it’s a priority if it will immediately help us make more money (sales) or save on costs (making us more profitable). Sales are tough now so anything that can reduce costs is a big hit with executives and shareholders. If you’re a non-profit, cost reductions are popular with boards and donors. Toot your horn. If you’re a government entity, you have serious challenges too. You must get costs under control. Government doesn’t often lay people off but I have seen it happen in the past 6 weeks. I have seen it happen where people dragged their heels, hemmed and hawed, went to far too many meetings, and took too many vacation days. They complained and wondered who was in charge. They failed to prioritize and act swiftly and assertively. Now they’re looking for work.

Inventory your projects, identify the revenue generators and cost-efficiency opportunities and move them to the top of your to-do list. Everything else takes a back-seat until your executive team gives you the green light to relax and do something interesting. That may be months from now so get comfortable fighting fires.

It’s Time for Strategic Business Process Management

I am coming off several weeks’ having to reassure clients that they are doing well and that – so long as they stick to their knitting – they’ll be ok a year from now. I have others who have required some serious, adult discussions. They lack a cohesive strategic plan, therefore, they lack in the areas of discipline, direction, commitment and – frankly – workflow IQ. They struggle with change, flexibility and orientation (“where are we?!”)

The disconnect is rampant. Perhaps it’s in the name. Shall we refer to business process management (BPM) as Strategic Process Management (SPM) from now on? You heard it here first, folks.

Strategy+Goals+Objectives+Metrics

I’ve heard others call it Business Motivation Modeling and agree that we need a deeper understanding of critical business drivers. This field and the broader business interests and stakeholders it serves needs to reminded constantly of the “means”, the “ends”, and the “influences”.  By keeping a strict focus on strategic goals (building the business, becoming #1, being fastest, cleanest, safest, whatever) and tactical objectives, business analysts and process engineers ought to be able to produce the outcome they’re looking for and they ought to be measure whether they’ve achieved their goals or not.

Environmental Analysis

However, failing to manage strategy and failing to carefully and comprehensively assess what is happening economically, politically, socially, technologically, competitively and legislatively will absolutely result in painful surprises. I have seen people very proud to have hit sadly meaningless targets lately.

Strategic and Technical Advisory Groups (STAGs)

I am calling for the formation of STAGs in every organization with 25+ employees. This committee will review and evaluate business process and other organizational change from both a technical standpoint and a strategic standpoint. Strict adherence to strategy (bearing in mind that strategy – not values – can and ought to change to reflect the environment) will be their direct responsibility. There will be an executive on each STAG until and unless every organization recruits a Chief Process Officer. Perhaps then, the brilliance of BPM will have been fully activated.

Business Process Re-Engineering: The Enemy of Inertia, Waste and Consensus Complacency

Working with several governmental and non-profit agencies recently, I noticed a pattern emerging that is at once counter-productive and based entirely in fear. What I used to think of as intellectual sloth is giving way to wasteful complacency and what I choose to call a “consensus trance” resulting from fear of losing one’s job and identity. Who would have ever thought the BPM field would awaken so many strange psycho-social bedfellows?

Snap out of it!

I find that the best response to this trance is a tactic long employed by carnival hypnotists: snap people out of it. As an outside consultant, I have a responsibility to identify waste and recommend alternatives and solutions. In order to pull that off in an atmosphere of fear and economic uncertainty, I am resorting to a heightened assertiveness, directness and tough love. I have to point out that it is not simply a matter of process but a matter of organizational dynamics causing my clients pain. Morale is taking a direct hit as it often does when people aren’t performing in ways they know they could (given the opportunity) however, coddling people and enabling even sicker patterns to take root is not the answer.

“Will” the change you want to see in your organization

I am encouraging (if not demanding) that mid-level people and directors seek out more definitive executive sponsorship and greater political will power to enforce change initiatives. Slowly, it’s working. I am documenting decisions like never before so that I can hold people accountable. I am measuring project status at every turn. I am amending contracts wherever possible. None of this is fun but it is all so necessary. If you haven’t already done so, push hard on your Project Charter and Executive Sponsor. Then push even harder on Project Management and then hold people accountable with actual consequences.

Failure is not the end of the world

If your project fails, your process re-engineering efforts produce the wrong outcome, or people on your team fail to meet expectations, act accordingly and appropriately and move on. Dwelling on the fall-out right now will not help anyone. What we need is will, speed, and efficacy.

Let me know what works!

BPM Requires Will & Leadership: Part 2 – The Solution

The Solution: Leadership and Management for the 21st Century

I am suggesting a rather radical approach to the process re-engineering required to pull ourselves and our organizations out of the pits and back into the game. Frankly, it begins with leadership. We have to be led out of the dark places we now inhabit. The problem with leadership is that it is – in business, non-profits and government – totally antithetical to our political system and philosophy. Our democracy is in much better shape than our economy so perhaps there is a lesson in there for us.

Identifying and Appointing Our Leaders

Our business leaders are very rarely elected by virtue of their competence and performance. More often, they are; dictatorships (sole proprietors); family-owned monarchies where the crown is passed to heirs; pseudo meritocracies where high performers are imported by the board from outside the company; or corrupt, criminal gangs that promote the most manipulative con-men from among executive ranks only. I hate to be so cynical but make a list of the organizations you know who hold elections for executive post and share with us. I dare you!

The democratic process is our most cherished accomplishment yet we fail to recognize the irony of its absence in business leadership.

Gary Hamel challenges us in the current issue of Harvard Business Review (February, 2009) to acknowledge and develop 25 modern management practices. It’s a brilliant proposal. Most of the 25 have direct and immediate implications for the future of BPM so I urge you to read the article. Here’s my brief summary for your consideration:

  • Promote interdependence by encouraging the formation of smaller business units that participate in multiple internal as well as external networks
  • Reinvent management at the individual level and provide everyone the data they need (within their small business units) to know how they are performing in real time. Transparency will ensure that only the strong survive. There will be no hiding from the truth when you leverage information.
  • Recast the organization as a social system where leaders are social architects who provide everyone the time, space and resources to collaborate and innovate.
  • Celebrate and harness divergence of ideas and diversity of tactics.
  • Minimize the tendency to recede to the way things have always been done. Recessions are born out of retrenching.
  • Innovation and invention will provide for the variety, selection and deployment required for evolution.
  • Spread the responsibility for strategy and direction throughout the hive, herd or flock. “Buy-in” is a notion that involves a sales job. Aim for participation instead.
  • Democratize information. When leaders hoard information, they are feared instead of trusted.
  • Enable the revolutionaries and measure the number of new ideas people bring to the table. Find your renegades.
  • Promote experimentation and accept small, failed pilots as proof that people are trying to find a new and better way to make your widgets.
  • Include people of all ranks in the engineering of the work they do. Defining one’s work incites a deep sense of ownership and passion.
  • Retrain leaders and managers so they can acquire the tools and practice management in complex ecosystems.

BPM Requires Will and Leadership: Part 1- The Problem

I am writing on board a plane sitting on the tarmac in Denver. I could write a book called “Sitting on the Tarmac in Denver”. On my way East, I was delayed in Denver. On my way back West, I am delayed in Denver. What do the two delays have in common besides Denver? United Airlines. Why is this pertinent to a blog about business process? Failure to learn from the mistakes of our biggest industries dooms our small and mid-sized imitators in the same and other sectors to the same results.

BPM is a practice, discipline and set of tools that will either enhance your organizational health or reinforce your organizational disease. Making mistakes more efficiently is not noble. Automating poor quality is not a virtue.

Assessing your organization’s culture and management mind-set is fundamentally important to the consideration and effect of BPM.

Airlines, with few exceptions, are operating as though it were 1950. Airports are terribly conceived, fleets of planes are aging, personnel are out of touch, their hands tied by draconian policies, and business models are tragically flawed for the 21st century.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the front page today (March 10, 2009) illustrating the state of the airline industry around the world. The US market is clearly suffering. However, any company that fails to fuel a plane, leaving it and its passengers (their customers) to sit on the tarmac for an extra 90 minutes deserves the terrible financial performance it is encountering. I may sound alarmist and overly cynical but I cannot find much good to say about the industry other than the good I find among its innovators. From a business standpoint, the air travel sector is presently rotten to its core and companies like Southwest and Virgin are scrambling to escape the pull of that core by innovating their way out. I sincerely hope they can outrun (out-fly?) the bloated dinosaurs who share the skies with them. Those who are unwilling to move beyond the drag of 9/11 and fuel prices. Those who cannot stir the imagination and desire of their customers.

The process-oriented problems I have encountered today have included: a plane that couldn’t get to its gate due to another blocking its way while it waited for a paper printout (30 minutes); a gate change of 25 gates’ distance (once I managed to get in the airport) 10 minutes prior to boarding; and a plane that sat unnoticed “all morning” without fuel and – once full of passengers – had to wait an additional 90 minutes for fuel. I also witnessed a flight attendant treat a Spanish-speaking customer in the most condescending manner imaginable. She should have been fired on the spot.

This is in contrast to the personable service I got from Yellow Cab in Kansas City (thanks Mohamed and the kind lady on the other end of the phone who took care of me at 1:00am) and the delightful – make that incredible – service I received in the Embassy Suites hotel in Kansas City at 1:30am (why so late? Ask United Airlines and the Denver airport).

I believe firmly that “necessity is the mother of invention” and some people understand that while others do not. Anyone watching the news knows that we are in the midst of an economic crisis of galactic proportions. How could anyone accept sub-par performance from themselves and their peers while all of this is unfolding? I am stupefied. Several questions plague me (and all of them have BPM implications):

  • What prevents a company or an organization of any stripe from understanding something as basic as their survival?
  • How can a company become so oblivious and self-centered as to NOT notice they are going down the drain (especially those who have gobs of performance data)?
  • Do they notice and just fail to act?
  • Is greed the only explanation? I don’t think so.
  • Is it stupidity? I don’t think it’s that either.
  • What would you have to have on your mind – consuming you, distracting you and deluding you – in order to fail in every aspect of critical change management or innovation?
  • What kind of dynamics have to be in place in order for complacency to set in for decades, retarding giant organizations to the extent that they can no longer be viable business interests?
  • Does it all boil down to consumer confidence, sentiment and lay-offs? I don’t buy that. This industry has been in trouble for a long time.
  • How can some organizations provide such obvious examples of innovation, profitability and customer service – in such plain sight to facilitate emulation – while others remain ignorant or thoroughly resistant to change?

I am picking on United today but it could just as easily be the banks who have taken us “over the cliff” with them, the US automakers who resisted change for 30 years (remember, the first energy crisis was in the early 1970s), and the health maintenance organizations (HMOs) who are now panicking because the President is locking up their Medicare cash-cow. The same can be said of our school systems and our healthcare institutions.

Mismanagement

Decades of stagnant management and something akin to the “collective unconscious” are wreaking havoc on us. While white-collar criminals are running our brightest and most successful companies and institutions into the ground, their shareholders, board members, suppliers, partners, employees and customers are all gleefully applauding the nose-dive, complicit in the disaster about to drop on to our own heads.

Perhaps this is the painful death of the old and the excruciating birth of the new. I hope so. I pray we’ve hit bottom. Watching the likes of Bank of America and AIG burn through billions is a lot like watching a heroin addict shoot up until he “hits bottom”.  Are we all part of the problem?

Economy Prods Business To Recognize Necessity Is Mother Of Invention And BPM Is Her First Born

There are some fabulous examples of companies who get it. “It” is the urgent and important need to do things differently. It’s so simple, in fact, that it trips otherwise smart people up and is sending more businesses of all shapes and sizes to the brink. Simplicity is so elusive.  We crave complexity – particularly in our work – so we can show off our unique skills and maintain our competitive advantage as individuals. That lust for complexity, individual notoriety and competition among our own ranks is what is killing us off, my friends. Striving for simple and cooperative when conditions are such as they are is what saves us. Your competition is out there, not in here. Your customer wants your product, not you. Your price comes down and your quality goes up when you get simple. You get simple when you learn to manage your business process with the right intentions, motivations and vision.

Learn From Example

The very best example I have seen this year is that of Hyundai. Not only are they making a far better product than in the past, they have applied process innovation to their marketing and sales strategy at a time when every other major car manufacturer is bailing out. The adage that you can leverage economic crisis to your advantage with marketing and sales is true. They have stepped up sales to rental agencies, launched a new advertising campaign and re-engineered their financing allowing customers to return financed cars they can no longer afford without any penalties and without any credit score blemish. I was floored when I read about it in Business Week magazine (February 23, 2009).

What If?

What Hyundai has done – and what many other companies out there are doing – is successfully asked “what if?” The rules are changing in very big ways and you need to change and innovate just as quickly (if not faster). Hanging on to old notions of how things are done (the very essence of BPM’s mission is to slay that kind of thinking) is what will drag you down. Your business cannot outlast transformed environmental conditions. These economic conditions, this climate is having the same chilling effect on Circuit City (RIP) as the last ice age had on the sabre-toothed tiger. A once feared creature that refuses to adapt will soon die. Look around and ask “what if” until you find an adaptation you can build consensus around. Then overcome your fears and resistance and act. Take the bold step Hyundai took with their financing terms. Do something “unheard of”.

BPM Must Align with the Business Model

I have witnessed several very strong process-related projects fall  flat in the wake of our economic conditions. That’s not surprising given the spate of lay-offs and bankruptcies. What is surprising is the lack of fundamental integration I bear witness to. BPM and related projects, when they stand on their own, are weak, fragmented, vulnerable and will be deemed to lack business viability  in a heart beat (especially during an economic heart attack). Failure to fully integrate and demonstrate inherent value in the business model is the surest path to obsolescence.

I believe firmly in the practice, art, science and discipline of BPM and all of its cousins (Lean, Six Sigma, workflow, etc.) however, I remain steadfastly concerned that IT is much more akin to BPM than are operations people and executives. That has to change. Unfortunately, the projects I have seen shrink and dissolve these past few weeks were mission-critical.  However, it is only reasonable to expect that executives must make the best decisions they know how with the information they have. I hope we, as a field and as a discipline, can do more to demonstrate value and weave BPM into the very fabric of our organizations. As a consultant, I hope I can find new ways to better and more fully make the case for the integration of BPM within and throughout organizations so it matures into a business fundamental and not a “project”. I sincerely hope that you and your peers can provide your executives with the most succinct case for continuous process management in order that they might make the most informed decisions.

Business Modeling – the Essence of Viability

The latest Harvard Business Review (December 2008) has a section dedicated to the development of Business Models. Bear in mind that a business model is not a business plan and it is not a business case. Somewhere in between though. A business model is akin to a logic model in that it quickly establishes the logical connections or relationships between who you are, what you do, how you do it, and the effect you want to have. A business model (in particular, the model suggested in HBR by M. Johnson and C. Christensen) is best boiled down to 4 big chunks:

  1. Customer Value Proposition
  2. Financial Formula
  3. Key Resources
  4. Key processes

Now, if you’re paying attention and you think BPM is pretty swell, you noticed #4. Let’s start at the top though.

Customer Value Proposition

  • who is your targeted customer?
  • what problem are you going to solve with your product/service?
  • what is your product/service and how does it solve the problem?
  • who else is doing anything similar (the competition)?

Financial Formula

  • how do you propose making money/generating revenue?
  • what are your costs?
  • what will your profit margins be?
  • how long will it take you to generate revenue and make a profit?

Key Resources

  • People
  • technology, systems and other tools
  • information and R&D
  • brand, reputation, relationships, allies, market data and sales channels

Key Processes

  • core processes and process owners
  • business rules
  • performance metrics
  • other norms and standards

BPM’s “Must Do”

While business modeling, planning and the like are not usually in the domain of your average analyst or IT staffer, it is imperative that support be generated for the fourth dimension of business models. This is especially true in smaller organizations…the vast majority of companies. You must make your case and educate people within your organization. The best way to do this is to become fluent in business-speak (to refine your business acumen). Approaching your peers with a business model in-hand, making the case for improved Key Processes to enhance the overall business model – complete with simple examples and data-driven ROI scenarios – is your best bet. Demonstrate the relationships and dependencies between these four moving parts and move away from fragmented and discretionary “projects” until you are firmly ensconced as an unequivocal  fundamental. A business is a 4-legged animal. You must become one-fourth of the team that will lead your organization to victory.