Tag Archives: key performance indicators

Smart Business Process: Wal-Mart Proves (Again) That Reducing Costs & Adding Customer Value Leads to Profits

Wal-Mart aired its latest performance data today and revealed that, despite the recession, they have maintained profitability. Shining a light on Wal-Mart is kind of silly given that virtually no other organization in the world (and most countries, for that matter) are in the same league.  The point is that we can all learn from their lessons. The lessons this week are absolutely central to the argument for  smarter business process management. Wal-Mart applied several elegant tactics with what appears to be precision execution. Firstly, they reduced their inventory which contributed to the goal of reducing costs by 6%. Secondly, they recognized that their customers are facing deep income cuts of their own and identified which product discounts would be perceived as most helpful. They leveraged their world-class inventory data to identify specific products and discounted prices considerably. The result was an influx of new customers who compensated for lower sales per customer thereby producing profits that exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Lessons Learned – What Small Business, Non-profits and Governmental Organizations Can Take-Away From Wal-Mart (without stealing)

In the spirit of keeping it simple, the following lessons can be brought home to your organization:

  1. Visualize, illustrate and understand your supply-chain
  2. Negotiate discounts with your suppliers
  3. Reduce your inventory and reduce inventory costs
  4. Ask your customers what they believe will add value to their lives and modify your offering to reflect that demand…now
  5. Let your prospects and customers know that you have satisfied their demands – promote yourself effectively
  6. Establish clear and specific performance expectations including those for positive financial results
  7. Measure and report results openly (even the bad news)

It doesn’t matter how big or small you are and it is frankly irrelevant which industry you hail from…you can apply all of these lessons and tactics. I have done so in commercial for-profit enterprises, governmental programs as well as in non-profit settings.

BPM – whether it is enabled by software or not – is key to each and every one of these tactics.

  • If you cannot “see” your supply chain;
  • if you cannot model how you will reduce inventory;
  • if you cannot illustrate how you will engage and interact with customers to understand where and how you can create value in your value-stream;
  • if you cannot develop a straightforward mechanism for gathering, measuring and reporting performance data, then you will find managing your business very difficult compared to those who can.

The best strategy and the best intentions will be trumped by lousy, inefficient and absent business processes. Between you and me – when I run across reasonably successful organizations that lack identifiable and manageable business process and controls, I know they are successful quite by accident. Ignorance in managing organizations and performance is not bliss.

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 Data: On Dashboards and Windshields

Reading about IBM’s “Stream Computing” in Business Week magazine this week, I am reminded of a time in a meeting several years ago when I groaned: “I don’t want a better dashboard; I want a cleaner windshield. I want to know what’s coming and a dashboard can’t tell me that. Those are lagging indicators.  At best, a dashboard tells me what I have done in the recent past. I want to know what my suppliers and customers are doing as they approach…before they get here.”

On My Windshield

I never did get my Windshield. Today, we’re lucky if we have a dashboard. It would  put many of us in a small minority if we could have near-real-time indicators of what just happened  on our desk-tops. From a business process management perspective, how would life be if I could see changes in my supply chain before they affect me? If I could see my suppliers’ dashboards, would that be enough to give me an idea of what I could expect?  If, instead of relying on marketing, I relied on interoperable business data between my company and my customers, could I see their demand before they pick up the phone and place an order? That information would help me in innumerable ways.I suspect very large companies can afford supply-chain and distribution information management and reporting but what is a mid and small sized organization to do?

Is it possible that my contracts with suppliers and customers might involve strategic dashboard exchange? Of course  it is. In a business-to-business relationship, my clients might even think they were doing business with a pretty smart guy if they knew I needed to know something about their data prior to them needing to know they need me. I bet they would be happy to give me that information in small packets called “Bugs”. Throughout the day, “bugs” would hit my “windshield” and I would know what’s coming down the road. You could have a lot of fun with this metaphor. Landscape, traffic signs, intersections, accidents, traffic jams, you name it.

Operations, Finance, Marketing and Sales: Performance Metrics During the Race

Dashboards are helpful. Don’t get me wrong. I find them especially helpful once I have arrived. I can quickly look back over the course of the trip (or the day at work) and understand where I have been, what my top speed was, how many miles I covered and how much fuel I used (plug your favorite business metrics in here). A windshield, however, lets me calibrate  what is happening in the midst of a high-speed race. As a former football player, I can tell you that my stats after the game were a lot less important to me than was knowing where the line-backer was when I pulled out on a sweep. Failure to see my adversary or my teammates often caused me great pain. Successfully anticipating blows led to touchdowns.

The Importance of Anticipation: Getting Out of the Blind Spot

We are living through the negative consequences of not anticipating what lies ahead. We’ve all become so enamored with the rear-view mirror and the mounted DVD players in our SUVs that we have forgotten to simply out the window in front of us and drive defensively.

This may all seem trite and I may sound like I am beating this metaphor to death but I think we need simple reminders these days. Look outside your vehicle and assess what is happening down the road. Many companies have done this very well and managed to keep staffing levels and inventory at quite safe levels. Other companies were so busy fiddling with their dashboards and cell phones and doing their make-up while they drove that they missed their exit and went over a cliff.

What do you need to know about the road ahead and the drivers around you? What kinds of “bugs” do you want hitting your “windshield”? This is a great question for your next executive team meeting. It’s also a great question for your business analysts and your line staff.

  • what would you need to know about your customers’ “demand behavior” that would allow you to do your job better?
  • what would you need to know about your suppliers and supplies?
  • what would you need to know about the economy?
  • political changes around the state, country, world?
  • currency and credit changes?
  • social trends and patterns?
  • legal developments?

Keep in mind that as you’re driving in LA, for example, you don’t want to know what’s happening on the roads in Brussels. Keep your expectations “close” to you. There is little true and accurate value in looking “down the road” for more than 30-60 days at a time. Conditions on the roads are changing far too quickly. Pay attention to the drivers next to you where it matters most. The next bend in the road is far more important than the bridge several hundred miles away.

Give your data needs some attention, ask your suppliers and customers for data and use it effectively. Good data makes good information. Reliable information becomes intelligence and enough intelligence used appropriately over time makes one wise.

Building The Business Case For Process-Enhanced, Information-Rich Customer Service

We all need to revitalize our customer service, relationships with customers and motivate new levels of consumer confidence. That’s our job as business leaders and small business owners. Business is not a spectator sport. It is a high-speed art and science. Business Process Management offers a special opportunity to raise your customer’s experience to new heights. What I am about to suggest is not singularly going to turn things around for you but it is one thing you can do quickly. The more “mature” your organization is in its BPM development, the easier it ought to be to deploy. What I am talking about is not new. The credit probably goes to FedEx. It’s a standard in the minds of consumers and rightly so.

Take Me Through The Process

I am referring to the manner in which UPS and FedEx have incorporated tracking into every shipment. Information regarding my package can be as important to me as the package itself. Frankly, it’s common for me to feel more importantly about something arriving than is the something. For instance, the first time I used a web-based florist (flowers.com) to send my mother flowers, it was far more important that the flowers arrive on time. I was tickled to know the flowers got there and I never even saw the flowers! The same is true with my online banking. It has to perform flawlessly and reassure me that my mortgage got paid on time. I love my bank for the knowledge that my bill got paid. Every day, I get updates from my bank in my email. I am kept apprised constantly.

Information Is Service

As a customer, information concerning by business interactions is extremely important. By telling me when my dinner will be served in a restaurant, my server is allowing me to judge how long I can take discussing a proposal at the table with a client. When my Lexus dealership’s service center calls to tell me when a part will be in, I can better manage my travel schedule. When United Airlines sends email alerts that flight times have changed my kids’ flight 30 days in advance, I can rest assured that they will be safe and know where they’re supposed to be.

What’s In Your Process?

What information is embedded in your process that would add value to your customers’ lives? If a customer triggers an order, can you tell them where their order stands minutes, days and weeks later? If a decision has been made in process, how quickly and clearly do you notify them? If you must abide by certain rules in the disposition of their interaction with you, do you let them know what rule it is you are referring to? Refer to common BPM metrics (standardized in your industry) for more ideas or ask your competitors what they measure!

What Not To Do

My local hospital’s urgent outpatient unit (open for walk-in visits on weekends) treated me several months ago (May 2008). I paid the same co-pay I have for two years and went home with a prescription for an antibiotic. Very routine. HOWEVER, they failed to mention that they no longer contract with my insurer. My claim was denied by my insurer (naturally) so the hospital sent the unpaid portion of my bill to a collections agency. Said agency calls me and can’t tell me why my claim was denied. They didn’t have that information. I just owed them $113 or I could expect my credit score to take a big hit.

The story here is not the money and it is not the abysmal performance of our local hospital. The story is in the lost opportunity to manage information and contain a customer experience. I regularly refer everyone I know to their competitor.

Customer Service: Seize The Data

Look deep inside, walk through your own processes and find the valuable data. Talk to your customers (really talk to them!) and ask them what they’d like to know and why. This is basic but so few businesses actually take the time to do it. Information is relatively inexpensive so stop being so stingy! If you want my confidence, you will earn it with useful, accurate and timely information. And – by the way – I will tell you what is useful, meaningful, valuable information. I am, after all, the customer.

Managing Costs with BPM Hinges on Identifying the Right Process Metrics from the Beginning

The opportunity to manage, control and cut costs in a process improvement context is well-known but for those of you who are new to the practice, the savings may be as elusive as they are in high demand right now. 

 

There is no shortage of evidence in our economy that costs must be controlled. As much as I detest lay-offs, it is clear that many hundreds of thousands of workers are losing their jobs every month. Therefore, every ounce of process cost management may translate into pounds of saved jobs. Of course, there is only so much you can do to create efficiency. Some jobs will have to be trimmed until consumers can afford to consume again. The urgency with which you approach your process improvement project in a lean economy (to say the least) is critical for a number of reasons:

·        You’re likely to save jobs by creating process efficiency

·        You’ll innovate and disrupt the market to some degree, attracting much needed positive attention

·        You’ll become more competitive in the process

·        You’ll learn something valuable about the people you involve in the process which may make staffing decisions easier

 

Having made the decision to improve your processes and discover efficiency this year, make cost core to your analysis. While you may have focused squarely on throughput, volume, inventory reduction, pull rates, time in queue and other metrics just a few short months ago, I am suggesting you calculate the costs associated with everything you measure, and modify today.

 

Establish cost-cutting and control goals. Communicate them clearly in your project charter and hold everyone accountable for measuring impact and results. All of the more sophisticated BPM suites include cost factors in their application. If you’re running Visio in your shop, analyze your costs using simple Excel calculators. As long as your math isn’t flawed, it doesn’t matter how you collect and report your findings.

 

Present and report cost control findings and recommendations. Measuring quality improvements in a BPM initiative? Tell your story inclusive of costs.  

 

Costs can be identified in terms of:

  • Level (pay scale) of staff performing tasks
  • Number of staff and impact on capacity
  • Resource allocations (high, low)
  • Technology in use (high, low)
  • Automation of manual tasks
  • Time
  • Cost of raw materials (suppliers)
  • Cost of inventory
  • Cost of marketing and sales in bringing products and services to customers

Now more than ever, executives and board members will be looking to justify everything and every decision in terms of cost. Sad but true. BPM analysts and process owners must be sure to lead from a position of cost control before they’re made to.

 

Let me know what you think.

 

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.

Key Performance Indicators: Before, During & After Your Business Process

I want to make a special case tonight for the reasoned approach to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that involves what happens before, during and after your process. This field (business process management and analysis (and on and on with the jargon)) makes the very most sense when we stop seeing processes as discrete “events” much the same way we advocate for “seeing” tasks in relation to one another when strung together to form a process. That was a mouthful but I hope you get the point. The more holistically we see these phenomena unfolding, the better we can manage them.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

This is rather basic no matter how “new age” it might still sound to some people. My process can be viewed and considered in relation to the process prior (which constitutes the “triggering event” and the processes immediately following it. We’ve approached the physical sciences in this fashion for a pretty long time and it works very well. Smaller phenomena are nested inside larger phenomena. They are included in yet transcended by larger phenomena. It also helps to understand that the larger has more inherent value than the sum of its smaller parts.

By studying my triggering events and measuring them accordingly, I inform the process I am analyzing. By measuring what happens downstream, I similarly inform my analysis. Suddenly, if I have metrics for Input and Output that tell me something important which translates in favor of my goals and objectives, I will know precisely how to calibrate my process in terms of its productivity, efficiency, quality, volume, throughput and so on.

I know this is going to sound remedial to some of you and I also know that others will find this concept and practice confusing. The best I can do is point you in the direction of BPMS solutions that include simulators. There are also simulation engines from ProModel that are very good.

Simulation allows you tweak your Inputs and imagine what your Outputs will look like under different conditions. This is a practice that involves rigor and discipline. Everybody around you will find it boring. That is, until you point out the impact a process design change can have on suppliers at the point of Input or the impact on customers at Output. There are top-line sales and bottom-line inventory considerations here so do make sure your teams understand that it isn’t enough to see tasks strung together as processes but they must also see processes strung together – end-to-end – to form your entire enterprise. From this vantage point, you will all make your best business decisions and manage your risks effectively along the way.

Key A Good Fit

One final note relating to the title of this post: this practice of looking downstream and upstream for metrics is what makes your measures “key”. They describe critical indicators at critical junctures. If I screw up upstream, you can bet it will ripple through your process and screw things up downstream. One critical “key” performance indicator depends on others in its “ecosystem”. Again, I know it sounds a little cheeky for some of you but others of need to keep your eyes on all of these variables throughout your analysis. This is how you manage Unintended Consequences.

Do you have any horror stories you’d like to share? Any unintended consequences in making radical process changes? We’d love to hear from you.