Getting The Mix Right

Many business people still struggle to see the role of business processes in building better performance (i.e., business results). So I thought I would share this little hook that I developed within one of my consulting engagements. It is based around preparing bread: Mixing the components of the bread — the flour, yeast, and water — and then baking it all together for an effective result.

In your business, it is the dough rising that equates to achieving its performance objectives — however those performance objectives are defined.

Whether they’re aware of it or not, in most businesses the different ingredients are not well aligned or working together as well as they could be. Mixing the metaphors for a moment, the roles and actors are not rowing together in a coordinated fashion. Business process management (BPM) brings together a range of techniques and approaches — the BPM tool box. The components of this tool box help change agents in the business (the bakers) create their own special sort of dough. At the heart of that is an ongoing inquiry into business processes — if you like, the water that binds the flour (your people) with the yeast (the technology).

There may be other ingredients involved that add their own subtle contribution to flavor and texture. But cooking is not only about mixing the right quantity of ingredients; it is also how you mix them and how long you bake the mixture. You might think it is just a question of getting the right measure of ingredients. But first, it is necessary to decide on the sort of bread you want to make, how it is going to be delivered, and to whom. Alongside the choice of people (flour), the most critical element is the water (processes) — the ingredient that binds it all together.

Relatively speaking, adding the technology is the easy part — but it requires a considerable amount of rigor. This rigor is most apparent in the way we understand and model processes — because in modern BPM technology, it is these models that drive how work is managed and driven through the business. If we want to change the way the business operates, all we then need do is change the models. No programming should be required (or at least only in very specialized cases). As much as is possible, everything is configured with models.

But to develop these models requires a rigorous approach and methodology — one that allows us to bind together (integrate) the people, processes, and technology. The problem is that process models are like a bikini: What they reveal is suggestive, but what they hide is vital (to paraphrase Levenstein talking about statistics).


BPM Tool Box

Hi Derek, I am an SBA currently working on a BPM project - we have defined our AS-IS and are about to walk in to the TO-Be space. I would like to know where I can source the best BPM tool / box online ?

Any suggestion?


Always suggestions

Derek - I think you would need to give me a bit more context to make a realistic recommendations. If you are a Forrester client, then set up an Inquiry with me and I'll talk you through the issues.

I am not trying to dodge the question, but the issues are just a bit too much to try and grapple with here in open forum ... But I will give it a quick stab.

What really are your objectives? If it is just to "automate" a process and chop cost out (apply a quick band aid), then the answer is probably quite different than if you are involved in developing a holistic new approach to customer experience improvement (wellness program).

Is the team co-located, or are you looking to integrate folks across different geographies? Sort of obvious implications - re cloud and such like.

What work have you done on defining an appropriate process architecture? Most people set out to use decomposition oriented approaches to solve the problems created by ... er ... functional decomposition. BPMN and related methods represent just one perspective of process - I usually talk about 6 or 7. Value Streams are also another useful approach to get people focused on seeing things differently. You should also look into Role Activity Diagrams (which are not the same as BPMN diagrams sorted by role/swimlane).

Right now - with a view of the AsIs, you shoudl have a pretty good idea of how bad it is (the process area). It's the methods that you will use to design the ToBe that will really make a difference. And one of the most important that you can get your head around is engagement of folks on the front line (the ones who have to deliver the service). Get them to design the vision of the To-Be before tying yourself down into implementation details.

Now as regards online tools ... hmmn, Well there is Blueworks Live for a hosted modeling/collaboration environment. You should also have a look at BizAgi's free BPMN modeling tool (which you can then publish directly to SharePoint or export to other environments if you want to go to execution. They would be two good start points for you to play with.

Operational Intelligence

There have been several technologies that have come and gone with the promise of “closing the gap between business and IT”. One of the most promising has been, and continues to be, BPM. Companies use BPM to evaluate, redesign, and optimize new and existing business processes. The promise has been tools that enable IT and business users to develop and deploy processes jointly. Traditionally, business users have modeled the new business processes, then turned them over to IT for implementation, testing, and deployment. Unfortunately, despite the promise of collaboration, most traditional BPM solutions still leave business and IT speaking different languages and using different tools. Once the business user hand their processes over to the IT team, the business user loses the ability to modify the process and it is likely that the IT team may not fully understand the requirements.

Operational Intelligence enables true collaboration between business and IT through a single process meta model, one data model, and one programming tool enabling a more iterative development style and fulfilling the promised business empowerment. Operational Intelligence allows the business to design the process, share it with IT, clearly communicate the requirements, and jointly make modifications without stalling deployment. As a result, nothing is lost in translation.

doing the ground work

I wholeheartedly agree with your analogy of baking. However, I would go one further, or actually (one back). The most important step is to buy the right ingredients - i.e. get the right people doing the right tasks. Often people think that they can only use one set of ingredients (people) but actually through outsourcing and using consultants, they can shop regularly for the right people for the right job (at the right time). Finding the right people for the mix is an essential part of getting all your systems to work. Getting the right people can be hard and the only way I know how to do it, and the only way that I get clients, is through testimonials and recommendations from trustworthy sources. So my tip is shop well and often before you start baking!