Process Excellence – a New Order of things? (Part 2 of 2)

Steve Towers

Attention question marks

The latest phase of Business Process Management (BPM) views process as simply the work we all do on behalf of achieving successful customer outcomes, writes Steve Towers.

A key to BPM success is shifting the mindset from inside-out factory orientation to outside-in customer centric. Once this has been established suitable systems can be deployed to both reinforce and extend the scope of BPM through the critical aspects of the organisations business.

At a simple level it is not putting the cart before the horse - you need to get the thinking right before automation. Where does that thinking need to come from? Ideally, driven from the top team both in word and deed. The fundamentals often involve reviewing the rewards structure across the organisation. We need to remind ourselves that rewarding people for dumb things results in people getting real smart at the dumb stuff!

What technology is appropriate to help create the Outside-in perspective? It is probably easier to think of what we do not need – huge monolithic systems that fossilize ways of working. On the contrary we require flexible, easy to deploy and quick to change solutions that release people’s creative instincts. The 21st century customer wants easy, simple and successful transactions. They do not want to be repeating themselves and passed from pillar to post to complete what they see as simple tasks.


Next stop, customer centricity

Longer-term integration is high on the agenda with a focus towards flexibility. As customers mature their expectations evolve. Remember what worked yesterday may not be good enough for tomorrow.

The evolving nature of Business Process Management (BPM)

Firstly we need to appreciate the several iterations of BPM over the last two decades. During this time frame I’ve observed four key phases leading to maturity. The period 1993-98 was a rush to automate using workflow toolkits and rudimentary techniques aimed at applying process thinking matrix style across deeply silo’d functions. At the very best its impact was limited to local successes that often times could not be expanded enterprise wide. 1998-2003 demonstrated an evolution into expanding management thinking and practice however this was always constrained by the factory motivation of input, activity and output.

This left to right top down model restricted BPM’s true role as an enterprise enabler. 2003-2008 witnessed consolidation across the nascent BPM industry with technology companies embracing a mish mash of workflow, business intelligence and enterprise toolkits. This shift coupled with the emergence of Outside-In as a business philosophy enabled some companies to break through the straight jacket of the industrial enterprise to become truly customer centric.

The latest phase demonstrates a maturing industry that views process as simply the work we all do on behalf of achieving successful customer outcomes. Answering the question ‘is everything we are doing contributing to customer success? And if it isn’t stop doing the dumb stuff’ has led to companies who clearly achieve significantly greater success through enterprise wide transformation that those who have retained a myopic inside-out view. Think on Kodak, Sony and Volvo as a contrast with Samsung, Indigo and Jaguar.

With this history as a guide traps can be avoided and a path to success appropriately navigated. The journey is not without difficulty. However clear leadership and a balance of suitable practical experience can help organisations to transform rapidly.