Tag Archives: Management

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.


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.


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.

Non-Profit Organizations & Workflow: Doing More for the Cause

Anyone who has ever worked in a non-profit organization knows all too well that slim administration and operations budgets translate into hard work. I’m not talking about gleaming hospitals and health insurance companies that meet non-profit status criteria. I’m talking about the small and mid-size social services agencies, group homes, charitable missions and advocacy programs that provide invaluable services in this country and the NGOs that do similar work around the globe.

Non-profits are staffed by intelligent, educated, experienced, mission-driven and hard-working people. The salary structures and the nature of the work do not tend to attract people who are looking to make a buck, climb the corporate ladder and get out. Similarly, because the organization is not so much “selling” something, it provides services in the trenches with whatever resources happen to be at its disposal. Slim margins mean there is little investment in technology and innovation. Not because managers, leaders and the board of directors don’t want to or don’t see the value in it, they simply can’t afford radical investments in technology to automate some of the back-breaking work.

Improved Workflow Can Stand-In for Automation (for the time-being)

While a non-profit may not be able to afford new technology-enabled tools that would drastically reinvent their delivery systems, they can afford to emulate systems and work backwards. By visiting a large for-profit that provides similar services – as a soup kitchen may be to a successful restaurant chain – the non-profit manager can learn something about how automation and systems make restaurant work more efficient and satisfactory. It may be in the way that the customer is greeted and moved quickly to a table or in the way an order for food can include some customization and accommodate allergies and diet preferences. It may be in the way that money is handled on the back-end or in the way that supplies and inventory are managed.

Bringing these lessons back to the non-profit to model the current state and the future state so it looks and feels more like the automated solution is not only possible, everybody benefits and it costs little.

Analysing and Managing Workflow for Improvement Doesn’t Necessarily Involve Information Systems

In this day and age, much of what is said in the press and in workshops and books on the topic of managing business process and workflow is spoken by software developers and consultants who can improve workflow and automate processes using technology. Often, the approach leads to new, tailored systems. That is not – by definition – the only reason to engage in workflow improvements. Workflow and business process can and will improve by applying the fundamentals to a white-board and then implementing them using sound project management principles.

Change Means Disruption – Addressing the Beliefs that Maintain the Status Quo

By virtue of their budgets and scant IS/IT resources, non-profit agencies tend to resist innovation and change. It makes sense in the context of organizations that cannot afford to develop new processes in parallel and test-mode. “Too many people would suffer in the interim. Programs might grind to a halt. What if there were mistakes? The founder’s unique approach cannot be challenged. The board will never approve it. We can’t afford it!”

All of these are the beliefs that maintain the homeostasis of things – people, processes, outcomes – and, with care, they can be “entered” and challenged for the purpose of producing a better outcome. Working with a non-profit involves challenging sacred cows that are often very different from the sacred cows one encounters in a for-profit setting. Greater care has to be exercised in challenging them because drivers of behavior like beliefs, values, vision and mission are very strong and give way only when the organization can be assured that their purpose will be met. Making the case for doing more with less and producing better quality outcomes is the best bet. Secondarily, a higher-performing non-profit does, in fact, attract greater funding but that is always secondary to the mission.

Workflow & BPM for the Sake of Crisis Management and Business Continuity

You may have heard the story and seen the headlines this week: Largest Recall of Meat in US History. You may have seen the other headline: FEMA Trailers Spewing Toxic Fumes in Louisiana. Both stories, and countless like them every year, reflect one of the oft-overlooked reasons to manage workflow and analyze business process: improving quality for the sake of safety and avoiding crisis.

Had the California-based meat processing plant assigned a workflow analyst and – more importantly – had they had the integrity to fully-implement a food safety and quality program, they could have avoided the embarrassment of being outed by a Humane Society undercover video sting that captured illegal employees on tape shoving disabled and handicapped cows into slaughter. School kids across the country eat that meat for lunch. Had FEMA had any quality controls in place and contracted with a supplier that managed its processes in accordance with standards, 30,000 trailers – home to Hurricane Katrina victims – wouldn’t be victimizing their inhabitants a second time – with toxic fumes, no less.

Crisis Management Planning Core to Business Continuity (Survival)

I have conducted crisis management planning with organizations and was always surprised at how little forethought went into it. It’s symptomatic of leadership and personnel at all levels. I became convinced early on that the very best way to spot potential crisis before it hits the headlines is to apply workflow and business process analysis tactics and principles. An organization that doesn’t know what its employees are doing is ripe for crisis. An organization that doesn’t see process issues and risks as a high-priority is setting itself up for disaster. Failure to examine and analyze anything more than the bottom-line is failure some companies frankly deserve.

Crisis management planning often involves scenarios that managers need to respond to answering questions like: what would you do if the phones were dead? What would you do if the power went out? Who will handle the press relations if there is a violent death on-site. Little to no attention is paid to the glaring and obvious opportunities to assess how quality of work can cause a crisis and how easily it can be mitigated by re-engineering workflow. ISO 9000 and other standards help industries by offering best practices and some industries are vigorous in their audit of quality controls. Sadly, enforcement is weak in many industries and self-induced adherence to best practice is a discipline many organizations lack.

The irony is that, of all things that could go wrong, workflow-related phenomena are easily identifiable, easily modified, easily monitored and measured and the consequences of failure to do so can mean complete ruin. FEMA’s reputation and that of their supplier is in serious trouble. I would imagine their supplier will be crippled by this. The meat processor is not only hiring illegal workers which reflects a breakdown in HR and personnel workflow but these workers are afraid for their jobs when their input and output aren’t maximized by leveraging a supply of sick and crippled cows. I would imagine this business is counting days till their doors close permanently. They should be.

What Crisis is Waiting to Happen in Your Shop?

All of us are responsible for risk management. When workflow and business process analysis become the domain and tool of IT only, nobody else knows how to detect workflow-related issues and risks with any precision. If you’ve gathered issues and risks as a function of developing requirements, what have you done with them since the day you gathered them? As a business or systems analyst, do you bring them back to the attention of management with any frequency? Do they become quality improvement initiatives? Is there a project manager assigned?

Management by Crisis

I have a particular disdain for management by crisis. Waiting until something happens as a strategy for prioritizing workflow and process re-engineering is a mistake. This is where analysts and developers need to step up and invite risk management folks and corporate counsel to meetings and raise red flags. When I meet analysts who tell me “this is a disaster waiting happen” and managers who say “if anyone outside this building knew how shoddy this process is, we’d be done for,” I cringe.

Healthcare Crisis

Let me give you an example. At a recent community healthcare meeting, healthcare leaders were reflecting upon the fact that most citizens believe their doctors and hospitals have access to their medical records across organizational boundaries. The fact is, with the exception of 0.1% of the population, that’s not true. Fragmented health information and barriers between healthcare partners that prohibit exchange are at the root of America’s healthcare quality chasm. Sadly, the public has no idea. As a result, healthcare is a dangerous pursuit for all of us. The risks are great. Hospitals are full of quality and patient-safety landmines. Rather than allowing public misunderstanding to persist, we should be honest and get to work more openly. I think people would be willing to support initiatives to develop workflow and processes that lead to integrated healthcare information if they only knew how badly disjointed systems are today. When these projects are limited to technology and systems staff, we’re luck to crawl across the finish line. These are NOT technology projects.

A Good Reason for Funding

Workflow and process design are not free and they’re not cheap. Business leaders looking for a cost-benefit analysis and ROI ought only look as far as FEMA and the meat processor this week to know that weaknesses, issues and risks must be mitigated. Planning and prioritizing that doesn’t resolve blatant risks – risks brought vividly to graphic life in a simple workflow diagram and in basic performance measures – can shut company doors overnight. Without warning, poor construction, manufacturing, HR, hygiene and customer service risks can cause instant implosion.

In some cases, folks, there may not be enough warning to suddenly prioritize an issue and launch a project. Think way ahead and allocate resources carefully.

Competition and Cost of Quality

When I beat this drum, business leaders tell me they cannot fund quality improvement initiatives because their competition doesn’t do it. If they were first, their prices wouldn’t be competitive. I say, make higher prices for quality products a competitive advantage. Sell your product on the basis of its quality. The recent troubles faced by Chinese toy manufacturers may bear out the wisdom of this approach. Suddenly, toys from China aren’t expected to be so cheap anymore. And remember, the next time you think cheap is competitive, the top-selling Christmas gift in 2007 was a $300 video game. People buy quality.

Workflow with Precision: The Art of Asking The Right Questions

Facilitating workflow and business process improvement is a science and an art. In its scientific clothing, workflow is about identification, dynamics, variables, equations, testing (simulation), metrics (inputs, outputs, throughput) and the forces mitigated by effective process engineering. Of course, there’s more to it. In its artistic clothing, workflow and business process analysis is not unlike psycho-analysis. There is a problem-state (as-is) and a desired-state (to be). In order for the psychoanalyst to facilitate change, he or she must build rapport and apply some rather artful techniques in order to gently yet effectively produce a new outcome. The art is in the questioning.

Questions as Art

Asking questions skillfully is grace. It’s fluid and flows. Resistance is softened in the listener/answerer and the truth of conditions is allowed to safely emerge. Skillful questioning opens the door to willingness and honesty. Artful questions progress logically yet they lack the icy cold of reason and logic. Artful questions also lack the abrupt, mechanical sensation that scientific questionning prompts in people. These are, after all, people we’re dealing with.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

AI was developed by David Cooperrider as an organizational development approach and methodology that would engage people with their own change and performance. AI is a unique way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in people and the reality of their conditions. In the process, it enhances the system’s capacity for collaboration. AI uses a 4-stage process:

  1. DISCOVER the organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM and envision processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN, plan and prioritize processes that would work well.
  4. DELIVER the proposed design (implementation).

The core idea with AI is to build solutions around what works. Instead of focusing all your energy on fixing the 1% that’s wrong, AI focuses on how to create more of what’s already working. The approach positively acknowledges peoples’ contributions in order to increase trust and alignment.

Precise Questions – NLP

Bandler and Grinder – founders of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) developed an approach that engages people in developing clarity in the sensory dimensions of their current and future states. This approach is much more complex but suffice it to say, by focusing on what processes will look and sound like and how individuals will know when workflow is flowing, the future state becomes crystal clear. Primarily, the NLP approach seeks to challenge the underlying assumptions in what people throw at you. For example, when people share generalizations like “we always stack all the enrollment forms over there” the NLP approach would question “ALL the enrollment forms?” and “ALL the time?” and “over WHERE SPECIFICALLY?”. Further, the NLP approach would ask gentle questions like “Is there ever a time when you wouldn’t stack them over there?” These are over-simplified examples to be sure but the point is, by seeking precision in a gentle way, you get a more refined sense of what people want to experience.

The Art of Discovering Beliefs

Facilitating workflow and business process improvement is about overcoming resistance to change. Sharon Drew-Morgen does an excellent job of teaching us that people inherently want to maintain homeostasis. They don’t fear change. They fear disruption of the status quo. I think she’s right on and I am a strong advocate of discovering why people believe the current state can’t be overcome. Questioning into the barriers and obstacles – including attachment to the current state – is crucial to gaining understanding.

Taking the time to acquire some proven questioning skills will go a long way to producing much more than a new process diagram. Artful questions produce answers that are truthful and most likely to become actionable quickly. That’s buy-in!