Tag Archives: process improvement

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.

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.

Is Present Reality (Current State) a Prerequisite for Design of the Future State?

Once in awhile, a riddle so obscure and enigmatic comes along that it baffles and stumps most of our brightest thinkers and deepest philosophers, qualifying as a Zen koan. Like the sound of one hand clapping or the sight of your face before you were conceived, the answer cannot really be found in any conventional sense. Well, in my humble opinion good people, the tension between current state and future state and the need to document and analyze the “as-is” prior to taking on the “to-be” doesn’t qualify as a Zen Koan or a crossword puzzle for that matter. There is no question. You have to understand the present dynamics and process in order to sensibly develop something new.

I know that I will offend some of the business process management wizards and high priests by saying as much but my position is one of firmly believing in the value of documenting and analyzing the current state to ensure a high quality future. Frankly, jumping into the design of the future state without regard for a rather precise current state is irresponsible. Not unlike asking someone how they’d like to perform in graduate school without first ascertaining whether they can read or not. Or promising someone full health without first diagnosing their diabetes. The present state in business tells a vast and deep story that shapes the possible and potential future.

Dangerous “Experts”

I attended a conference recently (devoted to the adoption of EMR in physician practices) whereupon I was able to listen to a discussion at our lunch table between a woefully ignorant doctor who wondered aloud what it would take to implement such a thing as an electronic medical record and an “expert” across the table who piped up and assured him that he needn’t worry about how things are done in in his practice today. He would only be required to imagine what life would be like with his new system. What a  load!

Notwithstanding that particular “consultant” and his advice to the good doctor, it got me wondering, “How many of my colleagues would suggest the same?” I wish I could survey all of my BPM brothers and sisters out there. Do you honestly think you can account for all of the business rules, decision-making, forms, customer preferences, suppliers, and key metrics involved in a process without concerning yourselves with the current state. Do you really think you can skip that step and begin modeling the future state without compromising quality or any other vital business attribute? I think not.

Change without consideration for the present is invention

Don’t get me wrong. I love to invent stuff and get wickedly creative when given a chance to roam free. However, invention cannot capture all of the good reasons why my system dynamics are what they are and cannot account for the benefits and value inherent in my current state without first elucidating them. Failing to harvest and capture the good, the rules, the data, the preferences, and the logic and simply launching into invention risks losing a lot including compliance with standards of all kinds. The risks involved can cause an invented business process to become fatally flawed in short order, grinding business to a halt.

Take your time and carefully document what you do today and how you do it. Inventing the wrong thing, failing and trying weeks or months later to return to an undocumented state is fools work.

Time For Serious Strategic Planning, Widening Process Improvement & Balanced Scorecard

If there was ever a time to call your executive and leadership teams together for some mission-critical thinking, this is that time. I am slightly biased toward making those process-oriented meetings but that’s besides the point. The market – globally, nationally, locally as well as from a unique, individual consumer standpoint – is taking a beating. A mugging really. The capital we thought we had to conduct business with is not there the way we thought it was months ago when all we feared was a recession. With recession eclipsed by fears of a deeper, longer meltdown, it’s time to think and talk about survival of the fittest.

Who’s Fittest?

How is fitness defined in your industry? We know stock price alone isn’t the answer. If that were the case, nobody would be considered fit today. Is it profitability? Productivity? Innovation? Customer satisfaction? How is the strongest competitor in your field or in your market deemed the strongest? How long can they sustain in a down economy?

You must be able to define fitness and bear in mind that definition will vary from one industry to another. What makes a great hospital does not make a great publication or a great restaurant or a great garment factory.

There is an argument to be made for reading Colins’ Built to Last before the end of the month. Preserve the core and change the tactics and process as it is called for in order to adapt to this new environment.

Build On Core Competencies & Core Processes That Work

Want to widen your process-orientation? Want to document, design and implement more efficiency, productivity and innovation? Start by pinning down and understanding what you do best. Start by identifying what your core competencies are and deeply understanding what makes them so. Take an inventory of what it is you do best and how it is that came to pass. Do not change a thing in these areas right now if you can help it – except to do more if you can.

Is there some aspect of your core competencies that can be expanded to other areas of your work, product-line or service? Can you become the outsource provider of these services to another firm? To a competitor? Can you market and promote your core competencies in new ways? Can you take them into new markets and embed what you do in an entirely new supply-chain? The point is to identify what you have 100% confidence in and do as much of it as possible during tough times. This is your greatest survival tactic. Don’t under-estimate your need to survive right now. Read Zook’s Profit from the Core before the end of the month while you’re at it.

Balancing Your Scorecard

As I mentioned earlier in this post, you must begin identifying your most meaningful performance metrics. Collectively, we do an abysmal job of this. We rely too much on financial measures or quality measures or employee satisfaction measures or none at all. Too often, we measure one dimension of our business at the exclusion of others. If you haven’t already done so, pick up Niven’s Balanced Scorecard. The implementation of a balanced set of metrics can be relatively straightforward and will do wonders for you if you can stick to it.

Do yourself and your organization a favor this week and make a commitment to measuring at least one  from each of the four dimensions of: customer satisfaction; financial performance; internal process improvement; and employee growth. If you make this commitment today while times are tough and while your employees are looking to your for leadership, then you will instill in them an abiding belief in your ability to see and appreciate the big picture. You will also be setting in motion the machinery that will set you far apart – so far as to be in a different league  – from your competitors when the dust of this economy settles. You will thrive.

Do These Things

Leverage your process improvements, your new skills and your deep desire to outlast the bad news of late. Bring your people together. Have frank and hard-working sessions together. Plan like professionals. Work more and work smarter. Apply your process-orientation as widely as possible and make a commitment to measuring what matters. Then what matters will get done in some surprising ways and you’ll be glad you made these commitments 1, 2 and 3 years from now – long after your competition has thrown in the towel.

Make The Tough Decisions

As you plan, apply yourselves to the core of your business, and begin measuring your performance in new ways, I assure you that weaknesses will become apparent. You will certainly be faced with difficult decisions to make. Resist the impulse of simply making deep cuts. If you manage to discover you have resources at your disposal, think of them as an investment before you think of them as a savings. This may, in fact, be the best time in your industry to provide exceptional customer service or it may be best to expand into a new market. The very people you may have otherwise shed may be the best people to take you in a new direction. Lead outside the box. If you do have people to let go of and you cannot justify any other conclusion, make the decision, be compassionate about it and help everyone through the transition. By all means, keep your high performers who “get” your vision and mission.

3 Simple Aims of Process Improvement: Simplify, Accelerate and Reduce Re-Work

Process improvement is a spacious topic, isn’t it? Our lexicons, bookmarks and book shelves are crammed full of approaches, methodology, terms and new software applications. The rate of innovation in our field is exhausting and the field itself is growing more holistic and cross-functional all the time. Yet, for all the new software, merging of IT and operations and clever methodologies, the essence of process improvement remains elegantly simple and highly effective. Continuously seek to simplify, accelerate and reduce re-work. If you can focus on those 3 simple objectives, I promise you will positively impact your costs, customer satisfaction ratings and value proposition.

Can’t See the Forest Through The Weeds

When you bog down in the weeds – particularly as a small organization – in the interest of developing your own expertise and resume, you run the (high) risk of running your ship against the shore. You’ll become so embroiled in project management and completing dizzying spreadsheets that you won’t be able to show enough progress and momentum to justify your initiative in the minds of leaders. I have seen projects suffer from a form of analysis “vegetation”….much worse than paralysis. Brain waves have simply stopped waving.

Blue Baskets

I try to remember the story of the Toyota employee who wondered why he had to run back and forth between the assembly line and the supply (parts) depot all day long. He went to Wal-Mart after his shift and bough himself a blue plastic laundry basket. The following day, he filled it with all the parts required at his station and swiftly did his job without having to run back and forth for each part. By methodically plucking parts from his basket, he was better able to focus on what he was doing and had fewer quality concerns (less re-work). 

That may be an over-simplified example but it’s a real model for effective change that can be produced by allowing people to SIMPLY improve what they are doing. He met all 3 important criteria: simple, faster, higher quality. If you multiplied that simple change by 500,000 cars per year, you’d discover an opportunity to lower prices, please more customers and promote a greater value proposition.

Improve Process Improvement Processes

If you haven’t already, take a look at how your process improvement process unfolds. Chances are, you can improve that first before you attempt to “fix” others. Doctor, heal thyself.