Tag Archives: business process

The Leaning of America: The Case for Small Business Process Management is Unequivocal

As a consultant to small and mid-sized business, non-profits and government agencies (with a particular focus on healthcare), I often engage executives on the merits of BPM. Said executives wonder aloud if their time is well-spent documenting, analyzing and re-engineering work and processes.  The common refrain is that they believe they have bigger fires to fight and that their people simply need to be managed to be more productive. Other excuses involve blaming external factors such as unfair competitors,  legislators, suppliers, and fickle customers.

There’s no doubt that the economy is in terrible shape. All of my clients are struggling. However, the data is incontrovertible: organizations that run lean, slick, flexible processes in every dimension of their operations are doing well compared to their less BPM-savvy peers.

In retail, Wal-Mart is peerless. Japanese and European automakers have survived whilst GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. Amazon continues to disrupt the entire universe of commerce. Kaiser has revolutionized healthcare and health insurance. Tata is helping India’s GDP grow while the institutionalized first-world back-slides. The tech sector as a whole has fared better than most other sectors. The only incongruities are the BPM-centric banks that demonstrated ethics, morals, risk-taking behavior and greed can and will outsmart BPM any day.  While there are many factors at play in the world of business and global economics, it pays to study the common traits among the winners and apply them at home.

Think Small and Lean

It’s simply undeniable that investments of time, energy and money in becoming process-centric will pay off in a number of important ways. It is also a fact that the US economy is a function of small business. Our challenge is not in doing more to demonstrate how swell BPM serves multi-national, multi-billion dollar, multi-tech corporations. There is no question that aerospace and supply-chain giants know what they’re doing.

The great challenge lies in packaging BPM approaches, tools and methodologies in right-size, right-time, right-cost portions for healthcare, social services, job training, housing and other sectors. Government and non-profit organizations are crucial participants in our economy and generally suffer from a lack of process savoir-faire.  This is especially true at the local level. Small government and small business must become process-enabled.

This call to action is all the more reason to simplify and de-code the way we talk about BPM. The more cryptic and foreign something sounds, the more geeky the approach, the less accessible and more expensive it becomes in the minds of government and small business leaders. Similarly, the more BPM is a product of software developers and the more is aimed strictly at automation, the less attractive it becomes. Electronic medical records (EMR) are a terrific example. Software developers sell software in a way devoid of attention to the most basic workflow and implementation issues; 60% of implementations fail; and today a dismal 2% of hospitals and 10% of doctors offices have a fully-functioning EMR in place. No matter how badly our country needs EMR proliferation, if our approach is tinged with greed (which it is), the initiative will stall (which it has). Compare that performance to the spread of VistA (the VA’s answer to open source, simplified solutions to the same problems). VistA is standard across the DoD, VA and many other public health domains today and spreading quickly.

Lean Initiative

True, government, social service, health, and non-profit sectors – who are often smothered under the weight of social and economic pressures in ways you and I can’t relate to – need to modernize, get lean and automate. However, so long as the architects of change speak a foreign language and offer up expensive software solutions, progress will be glacial. I propose that this country needs a Lean Agenda as much as it needs a Green Agenda. Frankly, we need lean to get to green. But it has to happen in all sectors, fields, industries and domains. And in order for that to happen BPM ambassadors need to come back to Earth and engage people in a multi-cultural fashion. We should all be painfully aware that big business relies upon small business and affordable health and social services. Unhealthy, unemployed, uninsured, homeless and penniless people make lousy customers. Get real.

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Spy: Small Business Process Improvements Based on Process Benchmarks

I have to admit to being a chronic process observer and critic. Every time I sit in a restaurant, go into a store, arrive at a hotel, go to the doctor or shop online I pay attention to what staff and managers are doing and I judge. Sometimes I am deeply fond of what I see and other times I am vicious in my critique. While I am a little obsessive about all this, there is some virtue in the exercise. As a consultant, it’s important to have had exposure to tactics and process that work especially well in order to make stronger recommendations for clients. It’s also important, working across sectors to develop a mental inventory of what doesn’t work, what can be emulated and what can be tweaked to serve cross-purposes. Frankly, I would hope that anyone aspiring to build a business, product or consultancy in this domain would be doing the same kinds of things.

Spy versus Spy: Lean Innovation

Welcome to the age of transparency, reverse engineering and piracy. Watching the equivalent of So You Think You Can Dance on Indian TV broadcast by satellite last night, my Indian friend quipped: “They copy everything we do”. Reading about the new film Duplicity in the latest issue of Fast Company I am reminded that the “leanest” forms of adaptation are mimicry and emulation. It’s called “evolution” folks.It’s the 100th Monkey Theory in blazing sound and technicolor. In some cases, it’s downright criminal so be careful where you draw the line.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that the sum total information in the world is doubling every 3-6 months or something like that. Similarly, in an open information age, we have the capacity to observe, re-engineer, implement, measure and observe again at dizzying rates. Knowing that competitors are observing and mimicking us should serve as a catalyst for greater and faster innovation (and ever more patent filings).

How About A Small Business?

Small enterprises can’t afford teams of engineers and analysts that prowl the web and deconstruct rival products the way Toyota and Honda tore into the Saturn. There is no virtue in piracy so what’s a small business to do? Give observation and emulation a try. Watch what others do and then think in terms of business process. What process can you borrow and pilot in your own shop?

Process Benchmarking

A Benchmark is a standard and, for our purposes, the Gold Standard. The Best Practice. I want to advocate for an open process exchange that enables up-and-coming enterprises to learn from the best. This idea may never take root in the private sector but it might in government and non-profit sectors. For example, what can my library learn from the Pentagon? What can a Blood Drive learn from the Census? What can the EPA learn from Green peace?

As a small business owner, I can effectively identify the leader in my market, the highest quality product or the lowest priced competitor and I can start studying how they deliver their products and services. Similarly, I can go to the leader in a totally unrelated field and observe them in action.

Benchmarking

Rivals’ and leaders’ strengths my not be in their products (engineering, materials, quality and performance) alone. You can look for benchmarks in the following areas:

  • Suppliers – supply chain, quality, ethics
  • Human Resources – recruiting, hiring and retention
  • Customer Service – walk-in, online and telephone, service responsiveness policies, dress code, etc
  • Marketing and Sales – packaging, pricing, branding, placement, promotions, sales tactics and pitches
  • Finance – pricing, financing, terms

The point is, identify some leaders, grab a pad of paper and a pen and go observe what they do and HOW they do it. Imagine how you could mimic, emulate or adopt what they do.

Keep it Simple

A final word on simple. While their algorithms are crazy complex and probably cannot ever be emulated, Google stands as the single greatest example of simplicity in customer experience. That simple one-box web page with scarcely 50 words on it – as of today – owns 64.2% of the world wide web’s search activity. They are killing their rivals with simplicity. How can you do the same?

Business Process Management (BPM) Core to Business Models Capable of Succeeding in this Economy

Reading the newspaper or watching TV news lately is an exercise in developing a blistering case of depression or anxiety or both. At the close of business this week we learned about record numbers of unemployment claims as well as lay-offs at Kodak, Ford, Starbucks, Caterpillar and Home Depot. Nearly twice as many people are unemployed today as were 12 months ago. The Dow dropped more than 8% this week and new home sales dropped almost 15% in December to their lowest point ever. How can anyone envision improved business prospects in this climate?

There’s Hope!

You can find examples of success if you look in the right places, folks. While the International Air Transport Association was reporting record losses for airlines this past year, they (in a January 30 USA Today story) acknowledged that “the only major carrier to report a profit in 2008 was Dallas-based discount giant Southwest Airlines.” Another story this week confirmed that while retailers continue to count the change in their pockets (and Circuit City says good-bye), this side-bar managed a small mention: “Citing its best holiday season ever, Amazon.com reported 4th quarter profits of $225M. The retailer said revenue rose 18% to $6.7 billion exceeding analysts estimates.”

This is Still an Economy After All

Those of us who remain in business must remember that we are in business. This is not family and it is not a social event. Nothing is certain in business and it is rich with risk and speculation. We are involved in developing and continuously massaging business models and business plans. If ever there was a bell weather event demanding BPM, this recession is it.  I have heard people tell me (this week!) that they do not want to “lose the art” involved in how they conduct themselves and execute their core processes. They “prefer the judgment and reflection involved in making choices as to how to proceed” and want to “preserve that unique and individualized process”…while they go out of business!

BPM is not and should not be about hard-coding anything. Rather, it enables you to design work and process that can more easily be tweaked and simulated to suit conditions assuming you stay on top of both the conditions and the process. This is active, dynamic and organic stuff.

Several people have commented that Southwest, Amazon, Wal-Mart and Costco are thriving right now because they have a different business model than their competitors. I want to suggest that that is the point. It is past time for all of us to question our business model and challenge (aggressively) our enshrined assumptions concerning the way we do business.  Each of these companies challenged their entire industry and introduced unparalleled and disruptive innovation.

When, in healthcare for instance, professionals wonder why their patients seek health education online at WebMD rather than making an appointment, someone is evidently not paying attention.  1,000,000 medical tourists will take their hard-earned money to Thailand, India and Mexico for that hip replacement. Wal-Mart sells prescriptions for $4 and Minute Clinics are popping up in malls and grocery stores by the hundreds. Times have changed so it’s best to invest in change.

Innovate or Die?

Most of us can find plenty of evidence for what it is our customers and prospects don’t want to buy. How many of us are working as hard as we can to discover what it is they do want to buy? How many of us are innovating our business processes so that we can drive a new business model in a new business and economic environment? Using BPM to bring a visual/graphic dimension to what you do and how you do it will allow you to unlock the “Special Sauce” potential in your business. Until you can look into the core of your business machinations, you lack the perspective to see how it is that you can discover quality and efficiency gains while incorporating the voice of your customer in the process.

Some people argue with the “Innovate or Die” adage. Ok. Try this: Adapt to rapidly changing conditions by changing your business model (customer value proposition, resource mix, processes, financial formula). Choose your market carefully and sell what your customers want to buy at a price they can afford.

Remember: there are still many trillions of dollars in the economy! What can you do to tap into that? How can BPM support your mission?

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.

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.

Protect & Preserve Your Intellectual Capital with Business Process Management (BPM)

Yesterday afternoon, I sat with a client who wants new business processes reflected in functional and technical requirements for a new information system. Of course, he has no idea what the current state of his business process actually looks like today. “It’s invisible” he told me. I mentioned that he may want to address the visibility of his current state – particularly if he has any concern that any of his subject matter experts (SMEs) might jump ship. He looked at me a bit puzzled and then lit up saying: “My God! You’re right. If any one of my department heads were to leave right now, I’d be lost. I have no idea how they do things or why they do them a particular way.”

When you document business processes, business rules, decisions, performance indicators and tie things together carefully, you’re protecting a very important asset – your intellectual capital.

Avoiding Brain Drain

For a decade, I had a team of directors reporting to me and each represented a discrete functional area. Prior to my baptism in BPM, I was the one laying in bed at night anxiously wondering what I would do if I lost one of those directors. In previous years, I had lost people to competitors, pregnancy and other family opportunities like cross-country moves and promotions. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you know you’re losing wisdom.

My first attempts at documenting work and procedures in simple swim-lane diagrams convinced me that I had answered my own unanswered question: how to preserve that wisdom so my business could continue. This was my business continuity plan. This was my knowledge management plan. All of it came together under the banner of BPM.

Preserve the Core

If your people are your greatest asset, you need to make damn sure you’re protecting that asset. Protect your people and preserve what they know with BPM. In the process, you will be prepared if something awful happens to them and you will, in fact, be launching your knowledge management initiative.

That’s the beauty of BPM if you can keep it accessible to people. It’s about efficiency, quality improvement, innovation, compliance, intellectual capital and knowledge management (and so much more). Keep it simple and spread the good word.

Any horror stories or examples you’d like to share? Comment below.

Thanks for listening.

Patrick

Business Process Management: Managing Complexity and Chaos For the Sake of Simplicity

Make no mistake about it – if you’re new to this field as a business process engineer, business process analyst, as an operations manager seeking to discover your inner workflow IQ and archetypal process warrior – you will find that the start of the journey can be chaotic and complicated. BPM is not for the faint of heart in terms of managing complexity nor is it for the meek, quiet, introverted isolationist.

However much simplicity is one of our aims, we have to remember that it’s a little like declaring photosynthesis is elegant and simple. Only in the end is it simple. Only after a great deal of chaos and complexity is managed with some small dose of serendipity, can we look upon it as simple.

Order From Chaos

Your organization, business unit, team, or process reflects many dynamic systems:

  • people of various nationalities, cultures, age groups, and genders
  • people representing various professional specialties, domains and subject matters
  • people from various strata within your organization often with different sources of stress and tactical responsibilities (sadly, even competing interests in terms of performance and appraisal)
  • varieties of educational levels, experience and expertise
  • information originating from various places, transmitted in different mediums and managed (and analyzed) in different ways often made to mean different things
  • policies and business rules akin to social taboos, laws and regulations that attempt to govern behavior
  • physical environments that present opportunities for success as well as barriers and impediments
  • suppliers and customers with often contradictory needs and dynamic systems of their own
  • tools and supplies of varying quality
  • technology and system supports built atop logical models and strict codes

The list goes on and on and all of it is your raw material.

Our job is to take a morass of variables, factors, information and document it logically in order that it can then be understood, analyzed and modified. It’s a rather holistic science, really. Trans-scientific in that it transcends the boundaries of:

  • biology
  • computer sciences
  • engineering
  • business management
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • anthropology
  • physics
  • and political sciences.

Don’t under-estimate (or over-estimate) the significance of what is happening or what is at stake. When we do, business process management becomes superficial and creates a “box” that people under-perform in.

Analyst or Facilitator?

The human dimension of this work begs the question: are you an analyst outside the system looking in or are you part of the experiment yourself acting as the facilitator? I think BPM very much involves the scientist in the experiment. So much so that your facilitation skills – your people skills – can make or break the success of what you’re doing. The act of observation and all of our interaction with the objects of our “analysis” have a direct impact on the outcome of our observation.

The Role of Visibility

Thankfully, we have tools and methods that allow us to take myriad data describing a process and map it in a way that allows everyone to see the same thing from a bird’s eye view for the first time. Do you remember seeing one of those posters illustrating the human anatomy for the first time? Can you recall seeing a map of your city and neighborhood for the first time? Do you remember that “hit” of understanding you got? It all became so simple so suddenly! So elegant and flowing. Somebody knew enough about your city to create a visual tool anyone could look at and eventually become oriented to from an entirely new perspective. That map became the foundation for the change in your understanding. The map enables the insight.

Would it have helped if they had written a book describing with words what your city looks like? Would it have had the same impact to attend meetings in order to hear about the streets in your city? Short answer: No. Human beings, for the most part, need visuals to find a more common understanding in a shorter span of time. Visuals are simpler.

Art or Science?

You decide for yourself. You have many people to manage. You have a great deal of information to illustrate using diagrams. I think it’s a bit of both. Keep an open mind, gather and harvest all the information you can, and consider the quality of experience you want your viewer to have. Remember your purpose…insight.

How have you adapted to all of the complexity you have to manage? What special skills have you borrowed from another discipline to make your job easier? Let us know!