Tag Archives: Organizational Change

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.


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.


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.

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.

Enduring Change Requires Spread (among other things)

No matter how many times we say it or how hard we work to impress upon organizations that real, sustainable workflow and business process improvement requires buy-in throughout the company (or agency or non-profit), the silo effect is ubiquitous. Largely, I think that’s a function of having to do “business-as-usual” while workflow is being redesigned. Besides the silo effect, the effect of perceived temporary disruptions versus enduring transformations is like a cancer eating away at deep, lasting change. The failure point is in the implementation. It’s fine to think that work has to go on during the design, however, someone has to have create the burning platform at the highest level and help “spread” the impetus throughout the ranks.

It happens with innovation in the private sector. That is, engineers and developers get excited about a new gadget and pretty soon everyone from customer service, sales and distribution is gearing up for the launch. The mood in innovative product releases is infectious and customers begin lining up to buy.

So why is it that workflow and business process fails to ignite the same “fire in the bellies” of staff and suppliers? Failure to launch. Failure to transfer the cause and best practices among people. It’s a virus that fails to spread and succumbs to apathy.

Spread the Word (and the practice and the impact)

What we’re talking about here, folks, is culture change. Workflow and business process re-engineering/improvement projects are NOT IT projects. They lead to some of the most exciting non-techie innovations. Redesigning how work gets done means redesigning your product which means the world to your customers. It should also mean the world to every single employee and supplier you have on board. What people need to hear and see and feel is the impact of properly executed workflow re-engineering. They need to learn how it happened once it hits the floor and they need to see a closed-loop demonstrating a direct impact on the bottom-line.

Burn the Platform

Leaders at every rung on your ladder need to champion the cause. Workflow and process improvement needs to be heralded as a courageous and brilliant attempt at making the organization better. “Better” has to mean something specific. Is it a quality improvement? Is it an efficiency gain? Is it a cost-savings? Is it a new product or service feature and benefit to the end-user? Will it impact sales? There needs to be a push on people to participate as much as a pull to want to participate. Compulsory participation needs to be replaced by voluntary willingness–even a deep desire–to want to be part of the innovation.

Own the Change

Business unit managers need to own the change. This is non-negotiable. Step up or get out of the way.

Measure and Monitor the Impact

Develop key indicators and business intelligence and make the monitoring an inclusive activity. Give everyone including suppliers a chance to see how the change is impacting the bottom-line. This sounds so simple yet it invariably fails to launch. Priorities get re-assigned over the course of projects and pretty soon, people (especially leaders) drift to new initiatives. You have to cultivate the attention span to close this loop and measure your success continually.

Transfer and Spread = Fluency

In order to sustain a new language, one has to learn it in a classroom (training), practice it (pilot), and then use it regularly in a foreign environment (deploy and implement). If I really want to learn Italian, I will take a class, practice with my classmates and eventually travel to Italy and spend some weeks or months “living the language”. Heck, I may even move to Italy! The same is true of new workflow. Train your staff, enable their practice (remove obstacles) and then transform your organization so everyone is speaking a new language.

This kind of deep and enduring change is no different than me moving my family to Italy. We all need to be on the same page and we are all making a profound commitment. Think of Apple releasing the iPod. That was a profound commitment for everyone at Apple, their suppliers and their customers. That’s how this stuff has to work in order for it to endure.

Projects are Dead

I want to submit that it’s the word “project” – used by everyone everywhere – that slowly eats away at the endurance of change. That single word tells everyone “don’t worry, this will all be over soon.” Sharing and spreading best practices in the hope that they endure means a radical and permanent departure from “business-as-usual” has to take place. Kill your projects and give rise to enduring transformations.

Money Talks: Securing BPM Project Buy-in With a Budget

There aren’t many constants in life and even fewer in business. In addition to the constancy of change, I have recently been re-acquainted with the constancy of establishing and securing a budget in effective business process re-engineering projects. So much so that I am compelled to alert anyone with aspirations of renovating how they do business. There is a cost. You have to make some educated guesses as to budget and you have to secure that funding before you lead your friends down the BPM path. Nothing throws cold water on the organizational change process quite like being penniless. We all know buy-in is critical to these efforts. Buy-in is a exercise in rational, logical and emotional agreement. It is also a financial commitment.

This is especially true in the public sector or in organizations that have board control over the budget and financing of new initiatives. Buy-in has to happen at the very highest levels of the organization. Just this week, I watched a client struggle desperately to gain the support of procurement officers who months earlier had made verbal promises. Governments are very sensitive to budget fluctuations so make sure your budget is actually dedicated.

Estimating Costs

Think in terms of fundamentals. In order to analyze your workflow or business process, you’ll need to gather subject matter experts and at least one executive sponsor in a room and commit some measure of their time. You will need a facilitator. That facilitator may be a paid consultant. You may have analysts in the room. Count the number of people, estimate the number of hours each process re-design might take (a good guess is better than no estimate) and multiply by your best guess of hourly costs. Guess high.

Now consider the hours associated with conducting time studies, observation of work, coding any changes in the systems your people use. There are hours to calculate on behalf of managers, analysts, IT staff and line staff.

Next, assuming you want to test any new process, you will probably have to estimate the cost of parallel processing (running the old and new side-by-side) while you’re testing. This could take weeks or months depending upon a number of factors.

Lastly, if you expect to acquire and implement a new system of one kind or another (assuming your process re-engineering project is dedicated to automation), factor in as many of the implementation costs as possible. You simply cannot afford not to estimate high.

Reality Bites

Failure to calculate all of these costs will cost you in the end. An unrealistic budget and cost over-runs are the shortest route to having your project unplugged by finance and procurement. Can you blame them?

Secure the funding

Once you have a budget, secure it. Securing a budget means you have the money. It doesn’t mean someone told you “you’ll have it” or “go ahead, don’t worry” or anything else approximating security. Promises and good faith pledges don’t quite cut it. Your executive sponsor needs to step up to the plate and secure the funding. The consequence of a failed BPM or workflow re-engineering project is the solidification of cynicism in your organizational culture where change is concerned. Renewing these efforts in the future will be extremely difficult given how much “buy-in” you have to secure in order to be successful.
I feel so badly for well-meaning teams of change agents who suffer the consequences of failed budgeting. Months of meetings challenging institutional beliefs, hours spent analyzing and designing solutions. Change is hard work and comes at the expense of business as usual. Getting 80% of “the way there” only to find out the financing for the final 20% isn’t available is a painful blow to morale and innovation.

If you need help with budgeting, ask your finance people. Ask peers in your network for the budgeting tools they used for their project. Call a consultant. Get some help somewhere. Budgeting is not second-nature for analysts, operations managers and IT folks. Ask for help and remember that buy-in really involves making a purchasing decision.

Workflow Integral: Broadening & Deepening Your Approach To The Way You Do Business

I want to share a brief quip based on a recent meeting with one of my clients. I think it may resonate with people who are charged with managing business operations, product lines, services and teams of people. Anyone, that is, who might be interested in improving their workflow IQ or that of their organization.

“2000 What?!”

My team had recently wrapped up a high-level study for a large public health system and one of our recommendations (a foregone conclusion) was that they would need to invest in a contemporary transaction system. Of course, one of the steps involved in deciding what kind of application to invest in is to define requirements. Requirements–functional and technical–are a product of mapping current workflows and then extending those into business processes that can be analyzed in terms of the rules that govern activities and decisions made in-process in order to develop future state or “desired” business processes. There’s much more to it that that but you get the idea. The next steps involve collecting or harvesting requirements for an application from the schemmatics or drawings you have rendered.

When we discussed these next steps, the CIO proudly declared: “We’ve already done that.” “Oh,” I said. “When?” He went on to share that “3 years ago,” his department and unit heads mapped out their workflow. “That would have been in 2005?” I asked. “No, 2004.” He replied. Further, rather than develop requirements based upon their own mapping exercises, they “borrowed” requirements from another coalition of similar agencies. “When were those requirements written?” I asked. “2003.” He replied.


You can guess (one guess only) how successful this approach to writing requirements will be. I suspect that’s why they’re 2 years behind in making this change. But the real problem in this illustration is in the eyes of the department and unit managers sitting around the room. One chirped, “I’m afraid the requirements won’t reflect what my people do everyday.” Good thinking. Another chimed in, “My people are clinicians and it isn’t in their nature to work in two systems and not be able to take notes when they’re with a client. This change risks not reflecting who we are.” Again, brilliant observation. These managers understood something seldom appreciated by technology people (especialy those who are under-resourced and several years behind the times) – people use these tools.

People are Complex Systems

We’re integral by nature so our tools need to accommodate the variety of factors that motivate our behaviors. This is more true now than it ever has been. That’s because we want our tools to encompass more and more of what we like or need to do. The iPhone is a great example. So is Google. They integrate otherwise disparate activities into a common application and single interface. That’s the point of Business Process Management. That’s the point of standardizing code and re-using data. That’s the point of understanding what all your customers want to experience.

What’s Integral?

I give Ken Wilber full credit for my understanding of what it means for something to be integral. I give myself full credit for all that I don’t understand.

  • “Integral” takes into consideration my sense of self on an internalized, individual basis. This is really my self-sense. My sense of “I”. One finds motives, emotions, intelligence, passions, beliefs, sense of purpose and mission.
  • An integral view also takes into consideration what is exterior to me in terms of discrete phenomena like all of the “it” that I am or you are. This really refers to the human body and how it is compounded from atoms and molecules all the way up to this brain sitting in this head atop this body. In work, we are surrounded by other “it”s, all external to us and all of them are organized in terms of how they are compounded or assembled. The body is what moves in relation to other bodies (and tools like desk-tops and printers and machines) to produce…a process!
  • The integral view considers the internal sense “we” share. This is the collective cultural dimension of work (and life as a human being). It considers our values, our mores, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves as a “tribe” would. In this modern age, our story trends toward pluralism and appreciating others’ perspectives (sort of). This view lets me figure out where and how I fit in with others in my group and how our group relates to other groups.
  • Lastly, an integral view considers the external social system or organization of people (the “its”) as seen from the outside and their environment all of which is less visible but still serves as infrastructure. This would include industry, trade groups, corporations, governance, nation-states, governments and all of the social apparatus they produce (like laws and schools). This, for example, explains why it takes weeks for a purchase to be approved “because of all of the red tape”.

Wilber goes on to explain that each of these four “quadrants” include lines of emerging intelligence and developmental stages. That is, they can be rather stunted or more evolved. The more evolved they are, the more they are said to be “trans-personal” and include but transcend their less evolved natures at lower levels of organization and development. Ok. Enough philosophy. Especially done this way. Trust me, if you wan to learn more, there’s plenty to read. Don’t take my word for it. This has been a rather brutal summary treatment of very exciting material.

The point is…

Using the example above, if you want to help a team of people through change, transformation and evolution from: less organized to more organized; from low quality to high quality; from paper to database; from less efficient to more efficient; from fragments to integral; then you are strongly encouraged to look back to those four bullets above and consider how the change will impact the individual (“I”), the group (“We”), the individual actor’s body (“It”) and the social system they belong to (“Its”). From that standpoint, you can account for an integral change and avoid barriers, resistance, and potential failure.

  • Will people accept it?
  • Will people feel as though they were regarded?
  • Were their beliefs and sense of purpose be upheld?
  • Will the social system support it (and fund it)?
  • What are the rules, mandates, laws, and budgets?
  • How are partners and suppliers going to react?
  • How will the body move through this change?
  • What will the new process exert on the body?
  • What is important to these people?

And for cryin’ out loud, don’t wait 3 years to apply some other agency’s requirements to your 4 year old workflows! Ask more questions, go for more depth, more span, and act quickly before the recession gets any worse.

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.