Category Archives: Organizational Change

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.

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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 and Project Management Require More Honesty

As economic bailouts, uncertainty, stock market plunges, job losses and Chapter 11 filings proliferate, the bad habits of procrastination, workplace pandering and conflict avoidance must be addressed. This is as true among project managers, business and systems analysts, IT directors, CIOs, and consultants as it is anywhere else in the organization. It is not the responsibility of shareholders or boards of directors to ask the difficult, prying questions. That job falls on all of us. My experiences of late have reminded me that one of the most important ingredients in the field of BPM – whatever your role – is honesty. Sadly, the kind of candor we need so desperately is lacking and, sadder still, it is lacking by virtue of fear.

The Veil of IT

I have long been a critic of approaches to business challenges that lead with IT. I know it’s not really endemic but it feels like IT – with all its complexity and constant change, foreign languages and virtual qualities – easily shrouds and conceals reality from the lay-person and the executive suite. I have advocated from my humble beginnings that business process improvements are not IT projects. Not because I am a purist and believe singularly in the capabilities of operations folks but because I have worked with too many IT people who were challenged in the process of bridging theoretical, conceptual, linguistic and practical gaps between parties. I also believe that BPM stands a fair chance of overcoming those gaps but it is no guarantee. An honest, plain language approach is best.

Just the Brutal Facts

The act of watching banks, retailers and they-once-were-giants automobile manufacturers beg for financial aid and close their doors ought to be sending a piercing, shrill alarm through every organization and project team: tell the truth. It should also be establishing a new order: if this project is a high priority, then it will be first on your list and you will attend to it as though your livelihood depends on it. Thirdly, if you know something that has enterprise-wide, bottom-line, life or death implications, you must speak up and let your immediate superiors know about it.

I have several clients at present who have begun mission-critical projects (which truly will make or break their success) only to come up with competing projects and priorities 2 and 3 short months after project initiation. Consequently, SMEs and managers are stretched not knowing what meetings to attend and what homework to do. I have other clients who suffer from the obscuration of truth by virtue of frightened and manipulative IT leaders who continue to speak IT gibberish hoping to buy themselves more time and additional staffing resources to compensate for their own lack. I have other clients who insist on keeping critical information from the CEO or CFO, failing to disclose the true nature of process-related problems in meetings.

Yesterday, for example, I met with a hospital system executive and management team whose CIO insisted that the executive sponsor for a mission-critical IT project was one of his subordinates. I had to remind he and the entire team that sponsorship of a multi-million dollar, do-or-die project is not to be pushed down to a subordinate – particularly one complaining of being over-burdened by external healthcare quality audits and accreditation initiatives. The CIO’s reluctance to accept responsibility for this BPM project was alarming, especially given remarks from the CEO just minutes earlier that reinforced the critical nature of the project. How is it that the CEO and CIO were both so far off the mark in terms of ownership? Why is it that an outsider had to persuade them to reconsider their decisions and approach?

BPM Needs Executive Leadership

These issues – truth, leadership, due diligence, strategic decision-making – speak loudly on behalf of the importance of a BPO or Business Process Officer role. A role that transcends operations and IT and reports directly to the CEO is needed in some organizations if the CIO or COO do not want to or cannot accept full responsibility for it.These projects often involve enterprise-wide resources and decisions that – if not executed properly – can and will ensure success or failure. They need to be treated as such.

On The Importance of BPM Governance

The day after the election seems like a good time to remind ourselves of the critical importance of governance – even in business process management. We must remember that the issue and practice of governance is inextricably linked to leadership and the execution of strategic plans. If we are going to be successful in BPM, we must practice good governance. (Frankly, one of my government clients is experiencing hiccups (to say the least) associated with a total lack of governance so that’s really what compelled me to cover the topic. Still, congratulations to President-elect Obama. May he govern well.)

Good Governance in Business Process Management

What does it mean to govern in BPM? Notwithstanding the management in BPM, governance encompasses several high-level areas of responsibility, any and all of which can make or break your BPM initiative. Phil Gilbert, CTO at Lombardi provides a decent sketch of governance in BPM. I’ll add a few dimensions as well so you have a list you can take with you to your next executive team meeting.

Governance is an institutional framework and formalized approach that defines:

  • what BPM projects belong in an initiative
  • who the executive sponsors can be as well as who the process owners will be
  • how projects become approved
  • the division and allocation of labor (human resources)
  • what the most appropriate measures of performance will be
  • the degree to which projects “fit” the organization’s strategy
  • the manner in which the organization will achieve competency and maturity in its BPM orientation

I would add that governance establishes the rules and conditions around communication and it establishes accountability by addressing the issue of consequences in a way few other bodies can.

Governance can tie BPM to other organizational initiatives in a way that maintains their integrity so BPM is not supplanted by other needs. This is important and speaks to what needs to happen beyond the scope of an executive sponsor in some organizations. I think – especially in very large organizations – an executive sponsor can become overwhelmed and lose control of his/her own initiative (even with the best of project managers). Governance allows executives to elevate their initiatives and put them on the table alongside all of the other executive matters. It empowers BPM in terms of stature and importance. That’s quite positive in terms of the attention BPM will recieve and it can prove frightening for the same reason. The choice to progress without good governance is yours.

Good governance also enables the following:

  • establishing a budget within the organization’s broader budget
  • resolving conflicts
  • assigning technology resources
  • determining future levels of investment according to strategy
  • establishing goals consistent with the strategic plan
  • defining the terms and conditions for democracy within the organization

It’s a simple matter of studying your organizational structure and learning how you can create a Governing Body or Committee. You will also need to study your by-laws and be sure you know who your committee chairperson reports to. That reporting is crucial and is best – in my opinion – if it reports to the CEO. Lastly, bear in mind that there exists a relationship between your Governing Committee and other committees in the organization. Draw straight, solid lines between governance and compliance, finance and others.

Addressing Fear and Confabulation In Business Process Management When Times Are Tough

Happy Halloween. I am writing this post in the wake of some pretty harsh economic indicators. This week has not been good for BPM. For the most part, the news has been about consumer confidence and consumption being at all-time lows and news of lay-offs and job losses peaking at nearly 750,000 in this calendar year. BPM initiatives in this climate are deeply challenged to keep people engaged, productive and cooperative. This is especially true if what you’re doing has even the slightest appearance of cutting costs. Executives are thrilled with the idea of cutting costs but you can expect all of your stakeholders will identify themselves as a cost in the process. And what do people do when they’re afraid for their jobs? They modify their behavior.

Fear and BPM?

Fear evokes instinctual reactions in everyone. The very fabric of our being is primed to fight or flee. So much is at stake right now that it is only natural for people to struggle with objectivity and complete honesty. They become protective and defensive. Some people become angry, some blame others, some withdraw and lose their confidence and will to compete, and some lie like there’s no tomorrow. Either way, if fear is running amok in your shop, your BPM hopes for lasting improvement are being compromised.

I met with a public health client this week who is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. It’s more difficult than ever to get subject matter experts in one room with all of the competing agendas they now have. Budgets lack certainty so it’s harder to commit to plans and strategies. Heavy questions like State financing hang over projects like brooding storm clouds. People doubt and that doubt is a mind-killer. Process improvement and doubt are nearly mutually-exclusive phenomena.

Confabulations!

To confabulate is to tell people what you think they want to hear about the way things are and the way things ought to turn out. You’ve heard of people doing this in psychotherapy. Well, it happens in BPM projects even in the best of times and circumstances. People – particularly managers – tell process analysts and consultants what they want based in large part on what they think the rules of the game demand. Basically, if I think you want to model a current state that has certain features, I will make it up as we go along so the model comes out looking like I think you want it to. It’s because people do this that I invite as many experts to process documentation meetings as possible (within reasonable constraints). I want to hear what everybody has to say about the process. It’s also why I don’t include the boss in the first session. They fear for their lives so I bring them in toward the end to validate what their staff have told me. Staff are so much more candid when their boss is out of the room! If this sounds like an intervention on an alcoholic it’s because the approach is similar. Only the problem is not the manager. It’s a less-than-ideal process that some managers believe reflect poorly on them and their performance.

What To Do About Fear and Process Confabulation?

  • Make some strategic decisions at the executive level about the viability of your initiative. If it’s best to hold off for a few months, then wait.
  • Go easy on terminology like “eliminating waste” and even “automation” for that matter (unless you’re clear that is what you’re after and you’re prepared to deal with the fall-out)
  • Communicate, market and promote your BPM initiative in positive terms. Share the benefits, value-add and goals for organization. Have your executive sponsor write a short, persuasive and motivating letter and make sure everybody reads it or hears it.
  • Observe workflow and process by means of direct observation first
  • Document process with the help of non-management experts. Be inclusive and cross-functional in who it is you invite.
  • Validate processes with managers and directors
  • Identify process-related data and metrics and validate your model and assumptions by reviewing the data. The data rarely lies. If you have 100 customer complaint letters and a manager telling you people complain “once in a while” then you can deal with that discrepancy. If a manager tells you their staff processes 10 invoices per hour each and there are 5 staff working 7 hours per day, then somewhere there should be data supporting 350 invoices per day. Close the loop and don’t get snookered into believing without evidence of performance.
  • Be objective, firm and confident.
  • Lead by example and engage others in the same productive, positive behaviors.
  • Believe that BPM projects and initiatives that overlook human behavior and organizational dynamics like these are guaranteed to flop. This is not an IT project.

HR Dimensions of BPM (business process management) Are Mission-Critical

Business Process Management (BPM) promises to bring the disciplines of IT and HR together. That’s the promise, anyway.  BPM draws the map and establishes goals while HR provides the framework to hold people accountable for those goals. Sadly, I rarely see the integration of HR in BPM projects led by IT folks and yet I believe it’s absolutely essential. Bridging the divide between HR and IT is not so difficult if you follow some simple guidelines.

  • Understand HR’s Role. This is fundamental to your success. You must understand that significant changes in business process cause changes in job description and performance expectations. HR can help you decide which changes are significant enough to have a material impact on job descriptions and can identify those performance measures that make a difference to performance appraisal. Similarly, significant changes in processes may mean change in employee recruiting (you may, in fact, be seeking a different skill-set than previously thought) and it will likely mean considerable change in supervision.
  • Integrate From The Beginning. Include HR in the BPM discussion from the start. Invite HR to the table and seek their input and advice. If you don’t have an HR professional on your staff, invite a consultant from the community. Trust me, the lawsuits that can result from botching this aspect of your BPM initiative will outstrip the cost of hiring an HR consultant by a factor of 100.
  • Include HR in Human-Centric BPR (re-engineering). BPM and BPR are not simply mapping exercises. Eliminating waste, finding efficiencies and improving quality in the way things are done is about modifying human behavior. All of our models and talk of “suppliers, triggers, resources, outputs and metrics” must bear in mind that real people are involved at every juncture.
  • Conduct HR/BPM Gap Analysis. Involve HR in assessment of the changes you’re making to the current state. Review your future state designs together and determine:
  1. What rules need to be properly documented and how will people be held accountable for following those rules?
  2. How will employees navigate the decision-making processes and who do they seek permissions from?
  3. What training will employees require to implement the new state of your business processes?
  4. Who will provide that training and how will you know when your people are competent in the new way of doing things?
  5. Are there any risks associated with your new business processes? Exposure to dangerous conditions? Risk of accident or injury? Violations of workplace safety laws? Your HR professional can answer these questions for you.
  • Establish New Performance Metrics Together.  Assume the new key performance indicators (KPIs) will have a direct impact on the way employees are appraised and rewarded. There may be some exceptions and your HR professional can help you decide.
  • Enlist HR to Communicate your BPM Initiative. Establishing buy-in and overcoming resistance to change (your biggest barriers to success) are dealt with by executing a comprehensive communication plan. You must create and maintain momentum by including all of your stakeholders in the conversation. Your greatest asset in communications is your HR professional. IT people in particular should not attempt to communicate without the help of HR.
  • Implementation & Training. You want to implement changes in process and HR professionals want to properly train people. Implementation is the intersection where HR and IT usually collide. If you’ve followed these guidelines reasonably well till now, implementation will be a success because it will have been a collaborative effort.
  • Assess Compliance. Compliance is a creature with many heads. While IT may have ERP, XML and integration standards they are trying to comply with and the CFO has Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues with the new process, HR will have a full slate of compliance issues to assess. There are safety and occupational hazrds to assess, discrimination and disability conditions to review and the full array of hiring/training/supervising processes to evaluate in light of a modified workflow. It’s not impossible, for instance, to engineer or design a business process that suddenly creates a disadvantage for people with a disability who had been properly hired to do things the “old way”.

The most often-cited reason BPM projects stumble and fall is that organizational dynamics and human behaviors weren’t properly assessed and accounted for. There is a lot of psychology at work here. HR people are a different breed and IT people – most often asked to lead BPM – need to accept and include HR. I think the creation of HR/IT teams for the purpose of BPM ought to be your first BPM initiative. It’ll create the conditions for everything else you’re hoping to accomplish.

Market Roller-Coaster Ride Strongest Justification For Business Process Management, Analysis and Re-Engineering

Business Process Resiliency

The past week’s tumultuous downward spiral, global banking interventions and stock market spike speak to the need for organizational resiliency everywhere. I’m speaking primarily to those of you who are scrambling this week to get your shop under some semblance of control in the wake of your market’s turbulence. You’re desperately seeking answers and you’ve heard or read somewhere that workflow management and business process management (inclusive of documentation, analysis, design and re-engineering) can transform the way you do business. The promises are lofty but, like technology, workflow management and BPM are essential tools. The difference is not in saying “we do BPM” but in the way that you implement BPM in the social, cultural, and operational fabric of your organization. The value and benefit is in HOW you use BPM. But the bottom-line is BPM produces a degree of resiliency not possible without it. That may be a strong opinion but I will stand by it. One cannot adapt to invisible conditions. BPM makes conditions visible and adaptable. You do the math.

BPM Builds Resiliency

To contend that BPM builds resiliency is not quite complete. It makes resiliency possible. It is the lens through which you can identify your resiliency needs. Without visible processes, you have to rely entirely on anecdotes, opinions and assumptions concerning your strengths, weaknesses, productivity and efficiency. All of which vary from one employee, supervisor or director to another. Social constructs like that are always relative. BPM is the closest thing we have to a mechanical view of your enterprise and much less susceptible to relative interpretation. A business process model is the shortest and potentially most accurate model depicting what you do and how you do it. Imagine military leaders discussing strategy and tactics in the midst of battle rather than at the perimeter of a table housing a model of their battlefield and you begin to get the picture. If you’re in the thick of the trees, it’s tough to see the forest and your place in it. If you’re slogging it out in the muck, it’s tough to develop an adaptive strategy with your mates.

Resiliency is about adapting to conditions and bouncing back from blows. Adaptation requires knowledge of conditions in the environment or ecosystem as much as it requires knowledge of ones own capabilities, traits and resources. There is no substitute or alternative at the moment for BPM in demonstrating, reflecting, modeling and measuring conditions in both the company and its market. It’s the shortest route to a complete assessment and planning.

Measures and Metrics Count

Notice that adaptation is also a function of measuring conditions. Unlike natural selection processes which might favor traits and capabilities honed over decades, centuries, and millenia, we need immediate access to accurate data concerning our strengths and weaknesses. Our environment is changing much too fast to wait for year-end results. BPM will equip you with deep knowledge of what it is you need to measure. A high-performance entity measures in surprising ways and – of course, – what gets measured varies widely across industries. However, what gets measured gets managed. It’s not what you expect that will change deliberately. It’s what you inspect.

Break The Rules?

Our experience with economic upheaval ought to be having the effect of causing you to challenge your assumptions, myths and deep-seated beliefs in the rules you follow. Not sure what rules govern your business? Don’t worry, that’s what BPM will help you discover. BPM establishes the rationale for process and articulates the business rules you follow. Upon identifying your business rules, challenge them. If you can break them and establish new rules without breaking the law or any ethical/moral codes and without compromising your quality, customers, employees or mission then you will be participating fully in your own adaption and resiliency. How about that!

If the rules you live by don’t change while the economic and market forces around you are changing at the speed of light (as they have been for a month or two) then, my friends, you will get left behind. Don’t let this happen.

Up and Down

Like the roller-coaster we’re on, you need to assess what you’re up to at the macro levels of strategy and economic/market factors as much as you do at the more micro levels of business process and key performance metrics. Inside, out, up and down. Many of you are new to this field. Some of you are new analysts and some of you are executives. All of you may be wondering if business process management is right for you. The answer is that it is essential.