Thursday, May 18, 2017

Simple isn’t always that simple

What problems of your customers are solved because you execute your processes?
That’s my main question when I help organizations with improving “managing by process”.
In the end, a process is just a means. A means to deliver a result which hopefully solves the problems of your (future) customers.
By keeping the focus on that problem to be solved, I hope to prevent working on useless processes.  
And it helps you to put process improvement ideas in the “does it help to improve the process result?” context
But, as there are more roads that lead to Rome. also a process result can be reached in more possible ways.
And sometimes that might lead to complex solutions, Solutions that work, but could also have been simpler.
My experience is that, when you look to a problem with a certain experience and knowledge, it is sometimes hard to see other ways. Other ways that might be far less complex.  Do you recognize that?
That’s why I love processes; they combine people with different knowledge and skills. All with their own “simple” solutions.
To impress, I also like to say that I prefer simple solutions.  But suddenly I had to think about a funny situation from the time I was still at school.
In some way I ended up at  pre-university education (not sure if this is translated well from Dutch). That’s where I learned all kind of theoretical stuff. But in the mean time I was quite jealous of my friends.
Most of them were at schools where you learn practical things like woodworking, welding or repairing cars.  So, after quickly finishing my homework, I spent most of my times in sheds to, for example, working on mopeds.  
At one time Mountain bikes were the new hype.. And I and my friends all owned one. We thought it would be cool to know who was the fastest, so we all had bought a digital speedometer. You know, with a little magnet in the wheel.
To configure that speedometer well, you had to enter the circumference of the wheel. And me, as the smart guy from pre-university education, had learned a formula for that: 2πr
So I grabbed a measuring tape and tried to measure the radius of my wheel, Which wasn’t so easy for a bike without a kickstand. And with an all-terrain tire, what is actually the radius?
But finally I could use my fancy calculator and was able to calculate the circumference.  I proudly asked my friends “Shall I do it for your bike, too?”
“No” said my friend Jeroen. “But please throw me that measuring tape”
After that he picks up his bike, moves the wheel until the air valve is at the bottom. Then he draws a little line on the street, moves the bike till the air valve is at the bottom again and draws another line.
Then he puts his bike aside and measures the distance between the 2 lines. 
“You with your pi nonsense. Come on, grab your bike and let’s head for the woods”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lazy people, those process consultants

In the last 20 years I did quite some activities that could be labeled "something with processes".

I guess it won't surprise you that a big part of this time was spent on helping organizations that wanted to improve their processes. 
And those were all kind of organizations. There were the "usual suspects" like city councils, banks and insurance companies.  Also more exotic ones like power plants and a manufacturer of satellites and fighter jets.

And luckily I was also asked to contribute to companies that really matter. In industries like healthcare and education. 
Talking about education; I definitely have learned a lot in all those years. But for sure I don't know all the ins and outs of what is happening in the processes of those organizations.

And that is a hard time for a person like me. A guy who is very curious and who likes to know it all.

I want to know how things work. And, sometimes a little annoying, how they can be done better.

The biggest lesson I learned is that knowing all is just not possible as a process consultant.

Now I'm a little older, I think it's even better to not know it all. 
Every organization has processes on which the principles of "managing by process" are applicable, but I think "changing the processes" should not be the role of a process consultant.

And to be honest, wouldn't it be weird that I came to tell how to build a satellite or how to treat a patient?

(Luckily I got my own semi-professional hobbies were I am the owner and executor of the processes ;-)
The organizations that ask me for help, know very well what they are doing.  They might have lost a little grip on their processes and are looking for some help to get that back. With the final goal to spend more time on the real work again.

I see my role as a process-psychologist, asking open door questions like "What do you think yourself?"

A little kidding of course. Although, not completely. I believe organizations should improve their own processes. I can coach them a little or ask some mean questions to keep things in a proper (process)context.

But changing things? They should do that themselves. 
So I can take a nap.

Happy processing! 

Monday, October 3, 2016

I love it when customers do all our work

Customer Journey; that's an hipster thing, isn't it?
Can you remember when the Customer Journey became a hip thing? 3 years ago? 5 years ago? 
Anyway, doesn't matter. But, when it suddenly became "the next big thing" in Processistan, I remember myself thinking "What have all these organizations been doing before they started thinking about the Customer Journey?"
Didn't they care about their customers? Did they really cause the customer a lot of trouble and effort to buy their products or services? I don't hope so. For their customers. 
Customer Journey; that isn't some standalone thing, is it? 
Besides that, it also surprises me that the Customer Journey is often seen as something separate from a process (that some even call "Internal process"). I think that is strange. Very strange. 
Most processes just have more executors. And  the customer is not seldom one of them. And in these days of digital-everything and co-creation, I think that will increase more and more.

That's why I think the Customer Journey is just part of any process. Not some separate thing. 
I might be sounding like some smart process consultant now, but in the old days I also made the Customer Journey an after thought.  Or no thought at all. 
Back in the days, when I was helping organizations to draw some process models on their walls (before doing it on windows became cool), we labeled the activities of the customer as a "black box" because "how can we know what the customer is doing?"
Indeed, we probably don't know what the customer is doing in his/her free time. But in the context of the process you're talking about, I think you must know what the customer has to do. That's just part of the process design, isn't it? 
Wouldn't it be unfair to not think about the effort and tasks you'll bother your customers with? 
Then it's about answering questions like
  • What information (or other supplies) does a customer have to provide to us?
  • In what way do we want (read: must) the customer to provide that information? 
  • When and how is customer informed about the process for his/her case and what is the effort to get that information?
  • What does a customer finally have to do to get the product or service?
Customer Journey; just a member of the big process family? 
I don't like non-saying consultancy terms like "End-to-End" or "Customer-to Customer", but of course I hope that processes are executed to solve problems of customers. 
And that can be anything:
  • I'm hungry
  • I would like to buy a house and I don't have enough cash 
  • My car is broken and I planned to leave for a road trip tomorrow
  • I want to save some money so my kids can go to university
  • I want to get rid of that headache
  • My printer isn't working 
And probably there are many organization who would love to allocate their resources to solve those problems. And make a few bucks with that. 
That makes the Customer Journey everything you, as a customer, have to do or provide to make those organizations execute their process to solve your problem. 
And when you've been in line for 2 hours, wondered why all the fields on that web form are mandatory, or had to send 3 documents with "missing information", you might know, that journey can easily turn into a traffic jam. 
But, as customers have the power these days, within seconds your service will appear on 129 review websites or you will be bashed on twitter and facebook. 
That's why I can imagine that looking at the Customer Journey is quite hip. But if I had to say it (and I know, I am not), I would take look at it in a little larger context.

Because a Customer Journey is not the whole deal, I'm afraid. 
Customer Journey; isn't that only a small part of the Customer Experience? 
You can design a relaxed Customer Journey as possible, but if you screw it up in the rest of the process, the, another cool marketing term, customer experience, will not be that fantastic.
It's (unfortunately still) not seldom that the different aspects of a performing process are designed, analyzed or improved separate from each other. And then I'm not talking about the customer journey or "internal process" only, but also about other process aspects like:
  • Information management (on different levels)
  • People and their skills needed to execute (parts of) the process
  • Software and Facilities to support the execution and coordination of cases in the process
  • The way the process is managed (task based, goal based)
  • Law and compliance involved in the process
  • <and you can probably name some more> 
And besides the aspects mentioned above, I would definitely not forget that a process has several stakeholders.

The customer for sure, but also the process owning organization, employees and possibly law or certifying parties.

And they all have their own journey. And all those journeys blended together; that's what I would call a process. 
Have a safe journey! 

Monday, September 12, 2016

I have to confess; I really hate technology

I spend most of my time in BPM world. I even provide training for a vendor of BPM software. This might make you think I definitely must be crazy about technology.
Absolutely not.
And that’s not because I am an old grumpy man or I don’t understand it, but when I think back; as a child I never cared about game consoles, remote controlled cars or Lego technics.
Instead, I preferred wandering through the woods to learn about the usefulness of nature, helping at the farm or playing soccer on the streets.
Years passed by and now I’m an old kid.
But still I don’t care about technology. I can easily get annoyed by the next hallelujah article about the next Silicon Valley start-up (with, if you have to believe other articles, employees who can’t pay their rent) that came up with the next app that solves the same “problem” as 20 similar apps.
Or take all that speculating and scaremongering about the impact of robots, artificial intelligence, blockchain or virtual reality. 
I think I can spend my time better than worrying about that.  
And that’s what I do, most of the time; not worrying. But, doing what really makes me happy. And, for example, that is spending my time on my hobby-profession of construction and renovating.
So, a few weeks ago I decided to spend the money I made with mapping processes for companies who don’t want to do it themselves. I treated myself and my family by building a patio in my garden to sit and relax when I come home from another tough day in the BPM center of Excellence.

Building a porch is a little bit like a process where it is smart to do the steps in a specific order, so I started with pouring the concrete foundation to place six nice and big Douglas beams upon.

Of course I wanted those beams to be leveled correctly, so I borrowed my friends’ self-leveling rotary laser. Beep, Beep. Everything leveled perfectly. Which gave me a good base to continue building.  
To construct the walls, a lot of planks needed to be cut the right size. Luckily I own a professional miter saw, so that job was done in no time.
Putting the timber on the roof could be a more time consuming job, because I chose to use a lot of small planks. But the nail gun did a good job and I could finish it in a few hours.
I decided to make the roof water resistant with EPDM, some kind of rubber. I never worked with that material, but it turned out to be a piece of cake. Some glue on rubber and roof. Wait a few minutes, unfold the rubber and done!

Because my girlfriend saw it on one of those hipster lifestyle television shows, she wanted a lounge set in the new porch. When building it, I was really happy with my light weight, but powerful, cordless screw driver. And those torx screws; I love ‘m!

When I’m working on those projects, so now and then my thoughts go to my late granddad. He was a carpenter in heart and soul, so I think I must have inherited some genes from him.
As a kid, I spent hours watching him work. Quality was his middle name, but man o man, his work needed a lot of effort most of the time. Sawing by hand, screwing by hand (and not with torx screws, but just the old flatheads) and mixing concrete by hand. Respect.
Nowadays all those tasks go much easier, because of….technology!
So, actually I don’t hate technology at all. I love it as long as it helps me. As long as it helps me to execute my processes and delivering the desired results.
Probably technology only interests me when it is applied in processes, I “bond with”.
That might be the reason why I always click away from the next fintech story; I just am not interested in processes in the financial industry. The results of those processes just aren’t things that make my head turn. But when I have to believe Linkedin, luckily there are enough people that do like those processes and the technologies supporting them ;-)
Personally I am, among others, more interested in health care. So, technologies to improve health care processes; bring them on!
So, isn’t it about technology, but about the processes (actually their results) in which you are interested or think are important?
When you are interested in certain types of processes and what problems those processes solve for customers, I think you are automatically motivated to improve those processes.
And that might be caused by the fact that, in the end, processes themselves are just a means. A means to deliver a result.
As I told you, I love building things (the process), but the desired process result was the porch.
All the steps I took to build it, were probably the same my granddad would have done 50 years ago. The why? and what? of the process didn’t change.
But the How? did. Because I used modern tools, the process went faster at certain points or did cost less effort or money.
Whether or not using all those tools made the quality of the end result better, is a thing I am not sure about. I think that has more to do with how well you are able to apply all those tools and materials. Good old craftsmanship.
Technology. I have to confess; it can be cool. At least, if you apply it in useful (opinions may differ about that) processes
Maybe that is why I never got really excited about BPM systems “in general”. Sure, the technology might be cool, but it only makes sense in the context of a real process.
And often it is applied in processes that do not really excite me ;-)
How processes can be designed and supported by technology might differ from process to process and I like to help organizations in finding that match,
But there are things I even like more. Tonight I will attend a welding course. Yeehaa!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

All our processes can be unique. As long as they fit into our Workflow Management System.

Fortunately more and more organizations become aware that "managing by process" isn't about making nice process manuals, or implementing a workflow management system. More and more they start to realize it's about getting the right level of grip on your processes: Execute, Monitor and (when needed) improvement of processes. 
Most organizations have more than one process and what I see so now and then is that, in the drive of executing and improve these processes, the "one size fits all" method is applied. 
Think about trying to use a traditional workflow management system for a process that isn't suitable for this structured way of managing it. Or using Six Sigma techniques, where these statistical methods don't add much value to serving the (process) customer. 
How is that possible, you think? For sure it is caused by the 'hypification" of some methods or technologies and solutions. Unfortunately that can lead to disappointment when it doesn't seem to work for your unique process.

You could call me old process fashioned, but I still think you need a proper understanding of what is going on in your processes and what you need to manage and improve them.

A straight through (oh, not in your organization?) like "paying invoice"; I'm pretty sure you can buy some kind of tool to do (or at least support) this.

But, a primary process that works with different types of customers, unstructured data and stubborn highly educated people; that's a different kind of process.

That's why I'd like to start with a process oriented view on an organization to determine the characteristics of these processes from there.

I'm pretty sure you will realize quickly that not all processes are the same and have the same demands.

Just like people. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Our processes are very flexible….….in doing useless things

These days, many business related stories seem to be about our fast changing world. Although I still have the same haircut as 20 years ago, I assume there must be some truth in that.

Translated to process management you might hear terms like flexible, adaptive or agile.  It all has to do with being able to change what you do. When necessary. 

Probably you might hear or use other terms, but I always use the terms flexible and adaptable, to explain that there are different levels of change when we talk about processes.


Flexibility and Adaptability are not the same

BPM is about getting the right level of grip on processes.  Some think that grip means ‘standardization’ or ‘force’ all cases into a predefined path.  

If your processes have to deliver the same result for 20 years with no variations, this might sound ok, but that’s hardly the case in any business these days.

So, ‘right level of grip’ can also mean flexibility and let executors in the process have more control on what should happen instead of predesigning everything.

And that’s what this little story is about, because there are 2 levels of flexibility in processes that get mixed up sometimes,  I think (as said, some might use different terms for it):

Flexibility in executing a process for one case (called a process instance)
The Adaption of a process to a changing environment (changing the process definition)

Never forget; Processes are about delivering results (about which you promise something)

As you might know; I often use the metaphor of traveling because a trip has a lot in common with a process. Both have a destination.  In a process that’s called a result (product, service or solved problem).  And that’s the thing to start with I think, because you always have to be aware a process is a means, not a goal.

A process is a means to deliver a result.  The result is what counts; the process is only the thing that brings you there.

Back to travel; assume I am in Berlin and my desired destination is Amsterdam.

So Amsterdam is my result, but to be able to design a good process, I must also define what I promise about that result. That’s what I’d like to call the goal.  That might be getting there fast, cheap, shortest route, least produced CO2,  etc.

Based on this result with goals, I can design the characteristics of my process (plan my travel). 


Flexibility; being able to change during the execution of a process

Assume the travel can be made by train or by car. You can imagine both offer different flexibility to the traveler.

If I designed a ‘train process’, the execution will be quite standardized and not really flexible. The train will bring me there fast, but if something happens (tree on the track) I am not able to take an alternative path because I, as executor, am not in charge of the process (the train driver is).  

So when everything is predictable during executing, such a process is OK and reliable.  

In software, (traditional) workflow systems can support these types of processes.

When more flexibility during execution is needed, using a car might be a better idea.  I, as executor, am in the lead.  I can decide to take another road in case of traffic jam. I can speed up if I like (taking the risk of not being compliant with laws anymore).  Of course, in real life there will be boundaries , but it is more flexible to reach my result.

In software, case management systems might be a better support for these kind of processes.

And is software really important in that?  Maybe, but mostly are empowered, result aware, employees supported with useful information to base their actions on.

So flexibility is about the way to take alternative paths in a current process design (getting in Amsterdam fast).  In that case, the result is more important than executing a standardized process.


Adaptability; being able to change your process design.

Above is all about flexibility in a current process design.  But assume my processes were always designed to bring me to Amsterdam fast. But nowadays I want to get there cheap (it’s still crisis…) .  So, the environment changed. Can my processes adapt to that?

So adaptability is about being able to create new process designs. It’s not about the non-flexibility in execution a process, but about being able to design new processes.  

If travel must be cheap now, but my processes keep on delivering ‘fast’ they will be running out of sync with my environment.

Back to my travel to Amsterdam. Assume I designed the current process by leasing a very fast (but quite expensive) Bugatti Veyron for 6 years.  I can get there fast in a flexible way.

But now, because of changed circumstances, I want to get there cheap.  Unfortunately, my process is ‘stuck in the lease term’ , which means I cannot adapt easily (for example by buying a fuel economic diesel car).

And that is what adaptability is about; being able to get rid of my old process and develop new process designs.  Talking about software again; you can imagine that if your current process is ‘hidden’ in billions lines of code, how fast can you change your processes? 


So standardization and flexibility are just ways to execute and manage a current process.

Adaptability is about being able to change processes so they keep on fitting the wishes of their stakeholders.  

So even very flexible processes might deliver things nobody wants because they are not adapted.

Happy processing!

Monday, June 20, 2016

If you mix up means and goals, you will get fabulous soccer...

...but still might lose every game. 

So, what does process management have to do with soccer?
Besides traveling, sometimes I use the metaphor of playing soccer to explain terms like process, process result,  process manager, process owner, process improvement etc.
The most obvious is the process itself: playing a soccer game. But processes shouldn't be executed for fun (at least, in companies), so the result of this process is a ‘played soccer game’.  No doubt this will be fun and healthy, but this doesn't automatically mean you will win.
With this I’d like to explain that there is a difference between the process result (game played) and the goal attached to that (winning, I assume).  In business you might see that many organizations deliver the same result, but what they promise about it, might be very different. That’s depending on your strategy (do I want to be fast, cheap, flexible, the best in quality, etc.) and of course what your customers expect about the process result.
And then we are at process again, because, in the end, a process is ‘the thing’ that delivers what you promise.
So, to do what you promise, a process has to be executed. And that’s just daily business, because every company has processes. That doesn't mean all companies have a clear process focus or that those processes perform well, but processes? They must be there.
Talking about process performance; to let a process perform, several aspects of a process design should work together.  
The most obvious in soccer are the players on the field. They are the process executors. They might have different roles in the process (forward, defender, free kick taker or goalkeeper). Besides the players a process needs other enablers like a system to play (workflow), equipment, information etc.
The coach of the team can be seen as the role of process manager. He or She is watching the game and has indicators to see the performance. Main indicator will be the score, but in soccer they are collecting many types of information these days. (S)He continuously checks if the game (in process terms I’d like to call this a case) is on track to the desired end.
When this doesn't seem the case, the process manager can change things, trying to improve the process during the game. Think about substitute players, moving players, defend more, take a risk by making some fouls, etc.
To me that’s the core of Business Process Management; being aware that processes happen on the play field and not in the locker room (like creating process models or discussing processes ‘in theory’). Being able to act before the case is finished. A game can only be won on the field.
An important role in this must be played by the players on the field (employees). If they know what is expected out of the process and know how they can act to improve process performance, you don’t need endless improvement projects; the process is improved during the game.  I like this kind of empowerment.
Sure Emiel, but one important thing to remember is that not all process executors are the same. Some have a natural sense for improvement, while others don’t care and just do their job. And there are even players who need very strict instructions from their coach.
So being able to adjust things during the game is very dependent on the people in the process. So, maybe they need some coaching in that.  
Also, some processes are so predefined/standardized that adjustments during the game are not possible anymore; once a case is started it will be executed as agreed upon.  In that case you can only tell if the process performed well, after the game is finished.
And when, after playing several games the team is not high on the ranking, the process design itself might not be as good as hoped, and a structural change might be needed. You could say this is the responsibility of the club owner (the process owner). He can decide to buy new players, fire the trainer etc. But these are structural changes and for sure will cost lots of time and money. And aren't they a little too late?
But, despite all the continuous improvement talks, in many companies process improvements are still done this way. Is that bad?  At least it’s bad luck for the customers who were still served by the old process definition. But. It’s really depending on your industry and your customers how agile your processes should be.
Adjust on the field or complain in the locker room? I’d like the first option, but as said: are employees capable of taking this role? Are they empowered to act? Do they know how to act?
I am a true believer that BPM is daily business and to do this as best as possible you need several roles. To me the most important roles are the executors and the process manager. They make it happen for your customers. By the way, these roles can be played by anyone. A player can be the coach too. Or the process owner can also be a player.
So, on of my first steps for every company thinking of 'doing something with processes' would be educating everyone on the basics of BPM, so they have a clear understanding how they can contribute to make your processes do what they promise.
On the field by preference. 
Happy processing!