Want to make a difference? Get out of the weeds! Part I

Dan Morris

For this particular column, I am asking you, the reader, to think for a moment about what role you occupy in business improvement and the role of BPM within your business. Each business is unique and each position within a business is also unique. However in the end, the same paths will lead each to success and the same mistakes can lead to failures. As you read through this column, each of you must ask yourself what you can do to nudge things towards success and nudge things away from failure. If you are a key executive, you might be able to make major changes towards a culture of improvement. If you are the newest member on the team, you might still be able to influence those above you. Everyone has a role and everyone can be part of the problem or part of the solution. If we want to see a culture of improvement, we might also have to improve our own processes to get there.
Business Transformation seems to be experiencing difficulty in some companies. I am seeing budget pressures and cuts, staffing cuts, and a de-emphasis of disciplines like Six Sigma in several companies I am talking to. In looking at what is going on, I am seeing a type of stagnation in the growth of BPM activities and a shift in emphasis from the business side to the technical side of Business Transformation.
It seems like the real issue is that the business transformation practitioners have somehow become focused on small improvements and the big, really transformative changes are focusing on the IT use of BPMS tools. It also seems that with all the cost reduction measures of the past 15 years, many business operations are now so lean that they have no elasticity and many managers are okay with shifting responsibility for operational improvement to IT and the automation of manual work.
This observation is based on discussions with several people, representing multiple companies. I would like to hear from you regarding what you are experiencing in your company. Please take a couple of minutes to send me a note at daniel.morris@wendan-consulting.com. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.
The underlying issue is one of benefit. All the small reductions in staff are individually beneficial from a cost perspective, but even when added together one must question the real benefit they bring to a company. I call a focus on these small improvements "working in the weeds". While benefit is definitely delivered, the question that must be answered is "Is it enough to make the BPM group really relevant in the whole scheme of company operations?"
Benefit and Value
Have both benefit and value been defined in your company relative to work done by the BPM group? Do you know the thresholds that determine when benefit or value delivered is considered enough to make a difference by management? Do you know if different managers have different ideas of where these thresholds are? If you are a key manager, have you communicated your thresholds to the BPM group?
If you don’t know the thresholds, you are "flying blind in the mountains". But I find that few people involved in delivering BPM and BPMS enabled BPM improvements really can define these things. Without such an understanding how can anyone answer the question of "what value or benefit is BPM bringing to the company?"
We also see that people have a hard time answering the questions - What improvements are really valuable to the company? What does executive management believe needs to change to give them real value for their budget investment? Is executive management defining a vision that can allow value to be addressed?
The fact is that every BPM group must react to project requests. Equally true is the fact that there are a limited number of people in the BPM group and a limited budget. So what do you work on? Is it first come first served? Is it the squeaky wheel selection approach? Is the selection directed by rules and is it formal – based on a written request with problem/impact/scope/benefit information? Does the request include a commitment by the requesting manager to engage and provide the time and staff needed to properly define the problem and design the solution with the BPM team?
These are important questions because they allow the BPM group to differentiate and mix the projects it will work on as well as to know which projects are seen as providing value. Doing this will help the group move to bigger and more mission critical projects – and, I believe all of these larger projects need help from professional business focused BPM practitioners. This is what will allow the BPM team to begin to focus on value and making changes that do more than deliver individual small benefits.
Follow up – Value delivered
Also, if benefits and value are not formally measured following the delivery of an improvement, are estimates really trusted? Without formal measurement, any value will up to individual opinions, and they will vary – not a good place to be.
For this reason, I recommend that any benefit or value targets not only be clearly defined in the project request, but that the request also include how the improvement will be measured and thus proven. I also suggest that only numeric performance and other improvement measurement should count. If it is not some number based measurement, you are again in the world of perception and opinion. If you are a key executive, do you require your managers to define measurable benefits?
Clearly, only when enough provable value is sufficient to reach a level where it is noticed as being very important to the business and its success, will business transformation efforts begin to become indispensable. Executive level management must agree regarding how value is to be measured.
Business operations, strategy, the operating model, compliance mandates and more are driving constant change – from weed level to strategic level. To be competitive, companies must be able to deliver even large scale change quickly and for low cost. And the ability to deliver high value solutions that work the first time is critical – and will become a separator in the game that is beginning.
The only group in the company that can deliver the support that this level of controlled evolution requires is the BPM group. No other group can do this – not IT, not the individual departments.
That is why it is so important that the BPM group begin to evolve and begin building the capabilities that will be needed. Building the confidence that is needed to help the BPM group evolve to this indispensable level is why defined value delivery is critical.
Stay tuned, Dan Morris' Part II of this piece will be published on July 30th, 2015