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.

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Amazon's New Simple Workflow Service

Yesterday, Amazon launched an adjunct to its successful Amazon Web Service (AWS) elastic cloud offering. While we don’t normally comment on every product release, this one is significant — primarily because of who is doing it. The Simple Workflow service (SWF) clearly has nothing to do with Adobe’s Flash offering (although techno-nerds may initially think so, given the acronym).

So what was this all about? The business model is certainly interesting: an elastic, configurable workflow capability that’s distributed across any number of access points. Essentially, this will allow an organization to orchestrate processes in the cloud, linking participants up and down the value chain.

“Amazon Simple Workflow Service (Amazon SWF) is a workflow service for building scalable, resilient applications. Whether automating business processes for finance or insurance applications, building sophisticated data analytics applications, or managing cloud infrastructure services, Amazon SWF reliably coordinates all of the processing steps within an application.”

Pricing is initially free and then transitions into a blended, low-cost consumption model, with charges oriented around execution steps, bandwidth usage, how long the task is active, and signals/markers, etc. With usage charges at around $0.0001 per execution step, this gives you an idea of how small the operating overhead might be.

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A BPM Prediction For 2012: Connecting The Dots

Reading the recent Harvard Business Review article from Tom Davenport et al., it occurred to me that next best offer (NBO) is actually a subset of what my colleague Jim Kobielus calls “next best action” (NBA). And when you couple that predictive thinking with advances in process mining (see Wil van der Aalst’s post and the Process Mining Manifesto), it clearly becomes possible to optimize operations dynamically on the fly. First of all, the organization could mine the existing system (the transaction logs of traditional systems or a newly implemented BPM/CRM system) to identify what happens today. This then enables you to identify the outcomes that are most interesting (or those you want to achieve) and then optimize the NBA accordingly.
 
We take for granted a process definition where the next action is predetermined by the arc of the process definition. But if we can do NBO in 200 milliseconds, we can also do NBA in a similar time frame. Directed arcs in process models and the business rules that go with them start to become a little redundant. This sort of combination (mining and NBA) enables wide-open goal-oriented optimization for all sorts of processes, not just those related to marketing and cross-sell/upsell ideas.
 
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“Tis The Season For Events, Tra Le Lal Le La La Lah”

And I must say I am particularly keen to get into the thick of it this year. We’ve got some really interesting ones coming up; in relatively quick order, I have three different IQPC events (reflecting our growing partnership with IQPC):

  • Business Process Excellence in Financial Services Exchange in London on September 19 and 20. Here I will be delivering an opening keynote and chairing a panel between BPM heavyweights IBM (Phil Gilbert), EMC (Chris Preston), and Pega (Russell Keziere). That should be really interesting — we’ll have the heads of all things process-related from most of the big banks in Europe in the room. Looking through the delegate list, I can’t wait to meet them all — so much to learn from their experience and insights. Of course, I’ve got my own views, but nothing like testing them with those on the coal face of change.
  • Then in October I am chairing, keynoting, and running an active research session at the BPM Leaders Meeting in Amsterdam (October 20-21). Again, a really interesting lineup of speakers — a truly pan-European bunch, where we will focus on four major themes over the two days, culminating in a workshop format at the end where all the themed sessions/discussions feed into our active research session. My objective is to create a series of documents/blog posts/discussions that derive from the insights we’ll collectively build at the event.
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The Scope of BPM Initiatives

 

Over the last few weeks, I have had a variety of conversations with clients that have centered around the scope for the term BPM. I think we all agree that BPM is not purely a technology – but how far does it go.

BPM – The Discipline

Forrester sees BPM as a broad framework of methods, approaches, techniques and technologies that support organizational change, value optimization and ongoing performance improvement. While some see BPM as a narrow technical approach, Forrester regards BPM as including a wide range of improvement methods such as Lean and Six Sigma, along with customer-centric (outside-in) engagement approaches and organizational change management – each one of these levers ties back to a flexible and adaptable enterprise architecture that implements an evolving business strategy. Such an all-encompassing approach can help focus on strategic priorities, as well as opportunities to both differentiate the value proposition, and sharpen the competitive edge.

While some would argue that Lean and Six Sigma are separate – that they are “in the business” – our research data suggests that the most successful BPM initiatives are run by the business, for the business and are of the business (to paraphrase Lincoln). Something like just 20% of BPM process improvement initiatives are run out of IT. Indeed, I would go a little further than that – BPM initiatives run out of IT are just not sustainable in the long term. If you are charged with maintaining a BPM program from within IT (perhaps running a BPM CoE), then one of your primary tasks is to a) identify and b) work with any Lean/Six Sigma programs that are out there.

BPM CoE Service Portfolio

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BPM Research Series

For most of the past year or so, I have been working on a set of research docs in parallel to my inquiry and consulting work at Forrester. And the results are finally becoming available on the Forrester RoleView platform. With seven docs out in the past few weeks, this set should provide a comprehensive guide to Forrester clients setting up and running BPM programs.

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BPM Research - How Do You Identify The Operational Processes

In the early part of next quarter, I am entering a research phase on a topic I have alluded to many times: techniques for Process Architecture.

One of the key problems that BPM initiatives suffer from is that, even with all the attention, we end up with processes that still have significant issues — they are too inflexible and difficult to change. They become just another version of concrete poured in and around how people work — focusing on control rather than enabling and empowering.

A phrase that I picked up (from a business architect) put it fairly succinctly:

“People tend to work hard to improve what they have, rather than what they need.”

This was then further reinforced by a process architect in government sector on an email:

“The wall I keep hitting is how to think about breaking processes into bite-size chunks that can be automated.”

The problem is that we don’t have good techniques to design (derive) the right operational process architecture from the desired business vision (business capability). Of course, there is an assumption here that there is an effective business vision, but that’s a subject for another line of research.

I am talking about the operational chunks — the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle required to deliver a given outcome. Not how the puzzle pieces are modeled (BPMN, EPC, IDEF, or any other modeling technique), but how to chop up the scope of a business capability to end up with the right operational parts.

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Understanding Roles And Responsibilities In BPM

Having just finished the dynamic case management Forrester Wave™ — it will probably appear in mid-January — I was struck by the variation in the approaches between the vendors; especially how they represent the organization, and the variety of wrinkles associated with work assignment. This was not so much related to an individual case management vendor, but it became apparent when you looked across the products. And that got me thinking and discussing with colleagues, customers, and vendors around the challenges of realistically supporting the organization as it looks toward BPM generally. Of course, there are many different issues, but the one I want to focus on here is around organizational structures, roles, skills, and responsibilities.

The central issue I want to highlight is one that many folks just do not see coming in their BPMS and dynamic case management implementations. Very often, there is only a loose concept of “role” within an organization. When the word “role” is used, it is usually equated to an existing job title (part of the organization structure), rather than responsibility (at least initially). It is further complicated by the fact that within a given job title, there are usually wide variations in the skills and expertise levels of those who work in that area. And while this is not a problem where people manually coordinate their work, when it comes to automating work routing (to the most appropriate person to deal with a given work item or case), there are often major complications. 

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What Does Your Organizational Weave Look Like?

Firms are often challenged to undertake transformation at a grand scale — to sustain and scale BPM programs across the organization. All firms are at subtly different levels of maturity, with different histories, unique cultures — and while there are many commonalities, every organization needs to approach the BPM and transformation agenda in subtly different ways.

Enterprisewide transformation involves a large number of people doing some pretty special things. The reality is that each organization will need its own subtle blend of skills, methods, techniques and tools. In a sense, the organization needs to weave its own proprietary method framework — to create its own fabric — a unique approach that reflects its special needs, the maturity of the different business units, the history of change, culture, and political challenges.

There will be people inside the organization that need to own that framework and set of methods, monitor its efficacy, and improve it over time. And while external resources can complement those employees, the executives at the helm should understand that they cannot abrogate responsibility for change. Too often, I hear the transformational objective stated and then followed by something like " . . . and we are looking for an outsource provider to do it all for us.” That sort of attitude is likely to end up in a courtroom (as things go sour down the line).
Coming back to the weave — populating that framework is always a challenge (since you only know what you know you know). What methods, techniques, and approaches does your organization need? For the organization to answer those questions effectively, it needs to understand the likely challenges it will encounter and assess the skills and capabilities required to overcome them.

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BPM Takes Center Stage At IBM Impact

Returning home after IBM’s Impact user conference (Impact 2010). I’ve been to a lot of BPM conferences in my time, but never one this big. 6,000 miles (to Las Vegas) there and 6,000 miles home again to see 6,000 people going through a few of days of indoctrination and engage in a few meetings with important execs. From the point of view of a busy analyst, one has to wonder whether it was all worth it. But putting aside the sore back/neck and the lack of sleep, I think that, on reflection, it was worth the trip. I am sure other pundits will have already posted their own interpretations of the conference, so this is just one report to add to your perspective of Impact 2010.

The Message

6,000 people all gathered to hear the carefully scripted message. Well that is what it seemed like; a scripted story that was supposed to sound spontaneous. Even the Q&A was scripted on the teleprompter, which, quite apart from the wooden presentation style of one or two of the speakers, sort of took away from the central message.

There was a pretty important message there. A message that was being communicated to the faithful. And whether you like it or not, IBM has a lot, and I mean a lot, of faithful followers. I didn’t do a scientific assessment of the number of IBM badges versus non IBM badges, but even if half of the attendees were internal, there were plenty of customers there too. And those internal folks were also being recruited as emissaries and evangelists for the new mantra.

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