Archive | January, 2007

Letter Approval Process

In a previous job, I managed a direct mail program where we mailed several million pieces per year.  It was a complex process which included getting client sign offs, interrogation of data against a customer segmentation model, managing several hundred letter variations, and coordination with a inbound call center for responses.  Although we had a decent Visio diagram for our process and well defined SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and rules, a BPM system would have been ideal.

Let me just focus on the letter approval process.  Several things drove letter changes – regulatory changes, corporate branding changes, lessons learned from our campaign results, client requests, physician requests, and consumer requests.  Each letter change went through my product manager who had to sign off.  It then went to marketing for sign off which often took at least one revision back to product management.  It then went to account management for sign off.  It then went to legal to sign off.  And, many of them then went to clients for sign off with many edits in between.

If someone was out of the office or busy, this could take weeks if not months to complete while the total time of the task was probably about one day from start to finish.  The challenges were the need for discussion and supporting documentation around each change (e.g., why is it better to call someone a patient versus a member); access to the previous versions to understand other changes; and a way to know who had signed off to date.  With a BPM system, this could have been managed very easily taking advantage of the workflow, the business rules for routing and escalating tasks, reporting for understanding the status, document management, and collaboration for a discussion tagged to the process instance.

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Process Rules – The Apprentice

For now, I will stick with the reality TV genre.  If you watch The Apprentice on NBC, the one thing that I notice is there is always a chaotic team versus a well executed team.  Much of this could be attributed to leadership, but a lot of it can be tied to process.  I think this gives all of us an important voyeurism opportunity.

Imagine if you could take any of your tasks at work and put two teams on each task.  One you gave little direction and a basic objective.  The other you gave clear directions, assigned roles, developed some rules, and executed against a process map.  Of course, the second would win.  The first might get lucky occasionally (a true management pitfall).  This is exactly where BPM as a management theory plays.  And, this is an insight you can get from the show.  You see how much better one team is with some process.  Imagine where you get with a fully documented and optimized process.

BPM helps you to capture the process.  It forces you to articulate what sits in your head and the head of your team.  You translate qualitative decisions into decision trees.  You allocate tasks to people which begins to define roles.  You select and articulate metrics which become reports and shared objectives.

Surprisingly, each episode offers a good nugget of business advice along with some quick lessons in management challenges.  These include:

  • Being faithful to your team
  • Focus on delivery
  • Getting organized
  • Being respected
  • Know your customers; know your market
  • Be decisive
  • Know yourself
  • Listen to your team
  • Be quick but careful
  • Winning is everything
  • Keep your eyes on the prize

Ubiquitous BPM

Taking a business user’s perspective, I can’t help but think that driving massive BPM adoption includes making it part of our standard workflow.  Now there are still (amazingly) some executives who assistants print their e-mails for them to hand write responses, but in general, e-mail and mobile phones are the two adopted tools of the business professional.  I could argue MS Office is the third.

When I think about where BPM is going, I imagine being able to send e-mails to initiate processes.  I imagine never seeing any BPM application since everything happens through Outlook (or my e-mail system).  I imagine being able to call up and respond to tasks on IVR (interactive voice response).  I imagine getting reports e-mailed to me or being able to dial in and hear key metrics.  Some of this is starting to happen, but over the next two years, I expect to see some radical changes.

I compare BPM to where CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was in 1999-2000.  It has a good install base and good client references, but it is just starting to get the right momentum.  I can still use the acronym and get a blank look back from people.  When I went to work for Firepond (a CRM software company) in early 2000, it was the same situation.  Two years later, most people knew what CRM was (primarily driven by Siebel’s marketing machine).  Now, anyone knows CRM, and you no longer have to spell it out.

I draw the parallel because we went through many of these same debates in 2000 with CRM.  Who is the right buyer – IT or business?  How do you make this seamless?  Does this have to change the user’s workflow?  Will they use it?  Are business users technically savvy enough?  What changes need to happen to a company’s infrastructure and architecture?  What industries are most interested?  What products should use CRM?  How to use these tools with your external constituents?

Power Facilitation

Back at E&Y, we had a process called the Accelerated Solution Environment (ASE).  For $250,000, we took clients through an amazing 2-3 day facilitated event that got months worth of work done with creative thinking and fostered huge buy-in across the groups.  Tons of clients did it, but it was expensive.

I lost touch with the group, but I just found them the other day.  They are now a standalone entity called Wildworks Group which offers a portable environment at a fraction of the cost…but with the same results and amazingly quick product.

This is great for rapid requirements gathering, strategic visioning, project kickoffs, or other activities that require cross-functional participation and buy-in.

Process Opportunity Prioritization

As you get your BPM project(s) to production, you will quickly see the tangible benefits and numerous opportunities will come to the surface.  How do you move to prioritize those?

There are several approaches including simple 2×2 quadrants that rank projects based on percent automation versus frequency of use.  Companies can also use the Kano Model from Six Sigma.  The Kano Model looks at how different attributes relate to customer satisfaction and help companies drive for “delighting” their customer.

Another framework from my E&Y days that I like lays out attributes based on potential value and ability to execute.  Each of these attributes (see below) is then rated on a 1-5 scale which can be weighted.  The projects are then ranked base on total score.  Some of the attributes in these two areas include:

  1. Strategic alignment
  2. Financial impact
  3. Customer satisfaction impact
  4. Competitive status
  5. Organizational readiness
  6. Proven technology
  7. Time and resources required

Identifying the right attributes for a company should be driven by an understanding of the corporate strategy and the metrics that drive that strategy.

Change Management

One of the areas of project implementation most overlooked across the board is organizational change management.  This “soft” area often scares people away, but anyone who has done a major implementation of a complex project will tell you the importance of this.  Every constituent has a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) attitude, and they see the project through the impact that it has on them.

I was reading some other sites about project management, and they stressed the importance of the PMO or COE (Center of Excellence) in managing the change.  But, a lot of people don’t understand the tangible deliverables of an organizational change management plan.  Some of the typical deliverables include:

  1. Implementation readiness – understanding the implications, creating a strategy, and assessing the leadership readiness to support the change
  2. Stakeholder management – identifying the stakeholders, lining up leadership support and change agents, capturing risks and benefits, and building commitment
  3. Communication – communication strategy, communication plan (audience, medium, message, frequency, author), and execution
  4. HR strategy – identification of future state and changes (e.g., new skills needed), pay and performance management, competency development, and staffing plan
  5. Team effectiveness – clear project charter, shared vision, and understood business case

E&Y, Accenture, and many of the large consulting companies have build competencies in this area.  In my time at E&Y, I worked with many clients in the data warehousing and performance management areas regarding change management.  It is not easy, but it is very important to get right.


Howard Smith (CTO of CSC Europe and author of Business Process Management The Third Wave) presented this concept of P-TRIZ at a BPM conference in November.  TRIZ is the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving” which was developed by a group of Russians in the mid-1900s and is based upon the theory that innovation can be codified.  There are even some very interesting software tools that help you apply TRIZ to your problem solving.  The best explanation I heard was the TRIZ helps you find solutions for a problem you cannot solve or a problem to apply a solution to if you simply have an interesting idea.

Howard introduces P-TRIZ in his blog.  The basic concept as I understand it from his talk and subsequent conversations and reading is that you can use TRIZ to create innovation opportunities around processes.  Since processes and a companies ability to execute them differently can create sustainable competitive advantage, innovation in process is critical.

I remember back in 2000 when Cisco announced that they had achieved their “virtual close” where they could close their books in one day and that could be any day.  A finance friend of mine was talking about several of his clients working to achieve this today.  This is a great example of innovation in process.

Innovation – IBM Study

I am a big believer that innovation is a critical part of any business strategy.  This has come into vogue in the past few years, but I have focused on this ever since I pursued a joint architecture / business education.  One site that I have followed for the past 18 months has been the Business Innovation Factory.  This morning, I was reading several things there, but the IBM CEO Study caught my attention.

  1. It talks a lot about innovation from the outside in from customers, business partners, consultants, and trade groups.
  2. Innovation is very focused on business model versus product innovation.

“It’s very clear that CEOs today are looking at new kinds of innovation to drive substantial organizational change and business growth,” says Ginni Rometty, Senior Vice President, IBM Enterprise Business Services. “It’s not just about product innovation any more. It’s about understanding how to innovate a business model, or an operational process, or management behavior.”.  View IBM Global CEO Study 2006 Event Presentation.

Another article on the site that appeared in Forbes talks about service industry innovation using traditional product design concepts.  (See article)

All of this is relevant to BPM for two reasons: (1) process innovation is an area of real opportunity for many companies and is akin to business model innovation (just ask all the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies) and (2) there is lots of talk about using BPM to identify exceptions and notice trends that could create new product innovation opportunities.

Center of Excellence

After you have your first few BPM projects complete, it is natural to begin looking at sustainability and best practices.  A typical way to approach this is to build a Center of Excellence (COE), but companies have to avoid the PMO (Program Management Office) trap.  Corporate level PMOs were set up to do the same thing, but only a few have been successful.  Keeping your COE (or PMO) lean and focused is key.  A good strategy is making it a rotational role so it doesn’t become an ivory tower and make sure that it is composed of cross-functional people with line experience.

What does a COE do?  It serves as the knowledge repository for the organization on BPM strategy, methodology, tools, market changes, processes, business cases, templates, etc.  The team should be versed in multiple approaches to process management (e.g., BPR, BPMG training, Six Sigma, Lean) and should understand system development with experiences with BPMS, BI, DW, and EAI.  Essentially, they are acting as internal consultants to evaluate projects, create the business case, recommend the right approach, and make sure teams are successful.

The COE is going to answer questions like: How long should this take?  Are their re-usable sub-processes or services that we should link into?  Is this the right BPMS?  How do we integrate with our existing data warehouse or document management system?  How do you analyze our processes? What works well?  What doesn’t work?

A few articles on this:

  • Moving On Growing the Team’s BPM Capabilities – key points include conduct benchmarking, evaluate different approaches, take an iterative approach, build experience on the right types of projects, address governance early.
  • Infosys Presentation – key points include building standards, doing market analysis, linking efforts, and knowledge management.
  • IT Toolbox Blog –  talks about the process culture which become critical as you move from functional focus to process focus and address the issue of governance.
  • Allstate Article – this is an old article (2002) but it talks about Allstate’s Process COE that they built in 1997.  some of the key points are building models and templates, linking projects to the enterprise vision, and moving to process stewardship.

This is a key topic so I will continue to add to this, but it is an important part of your roadmap as you embrace BPM.

The Power of Process

It has been a few days without blogs while I was on vacation.  But, it gave me a chance to sit down and read The Power of Process by Kiran Garimella  from cover to cover.  Kiran follows the story style of The Goal (Goldratt and Cox) and The Choice (Russell Roberts).

In this story, a mythical consultant helps a management team (primarily CEO, CIO, and CFO) understand BPM, SOA, and many other TLAs (Three Letter Acroynms) related to process.  It is a good and quick read that addresses many of the questions that I get from clients – isn’t this a technology issue, does this compete with Six Sigma, how does this relate to other projects, where should this be located within a company, how to start, etc.

Let me highlight a few of my favorite parts:

  • “Lean takes the fat out of processes.  BPM keeps it out.”

  • “Process Management offers a disciplined, sustainable meta-process for controllership and compliance.”

  • He emphasizes a lot the opportunity for BPM to automate the repetitive tasks and create a greater “Return on Time” that frees up the opportunity for innovation.  (more on this in another blog)

  • He provides great discussion on Six Sigma and BPM which I have seen to be a point of confusion for many people.

Paul Harmon of BPTrends  did a good review of this book.

Art of Visualization

This is off topic, but wow.  Anyone who struggles with the business challenge of visualizing complex ideas will enjoy this.  Guy Kawasaki, whose blog I subscribe to, put out a blog today about the Art of Visualization.  In it, he provides a link to A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods which is a fascinating tool.

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