Wednesday, 16 April 2008

BPM Without Technology

Bookmark and Share

To many the idea of Business process Management (BPM) without technology is considered heresy, after all most of the marketing dollars that are spent promoting BPM are spent by the software vendors themselves. It is however something that I believe in passionately, the mantra upon which my work is based is that "People performing processes produce profit" – I am sorry but I do not subscribe to the school of thought that suggests that IT is the business or that IT should be driving the business.

Unlike many who preach or teach in the area of BPM, I have held executive positions in the areas of sales, marketing and product development, as well as sitting in the CEO chair, and I can tell you that in every one of those roles it was people and process that made the difference. Sure, technology was helpful, but it was not the business. In every one of those roles I was interested in how technology could assist people or help with process, but I was never willing to accede the way my business was to run to a computer. Fundamentally I believe that as a business owner it is my business and therefore any technology should be seen as a supporting infrastructure, albeit one that might enable me to do things I had never previously thought possible or that could help me enter new markets and serve new types of customers.

It is worth reminding people that me "BPM is a management philosophy for doing business differently, for producing extraordinary results, through innovation and creativity, aimed at serving the customer better and empowering people – this may then be supported by appropriate technology.". So when I hear people discussing how to use technology to get rid of people, or talking of Human Interaction Management (HIM) when they actually mean Human to Computer System Interaction, it actually makes my blood boil – who are these technologists to tell me how to run my business or to twist every business concept into an IT one?

One only has to look at organizations such as FedEx, SouthWest Airlines, General Electric and Wal-Mart to see that the very essence of their success has come through people and process, sure technology has helped, but it was not the essence. So when considering BPM, why focus on the detail of technology, when instead you can focus on the essence. In doing so you can create increased value for the business, ensure your customers are happier, and that staff morale is boosted – all of which seem, to my mind, to be the things that executives really do care about. Then when these things are taken care of, you can see what technology can do to help support the processes and people and make them even better.

So how to actually realize some of these benefits using BPM without technology. The approach used in my classes makes use of good old fashioned brown paper and post it notes, the approach that is taught is how to run a two or three day workshop where the users of the process map it for themselves and then analyze the process and present the actions they would like to carry out to improve the process. The role of the process or business analyst is merely that of a facilitator. When using these techniques with technology people you can imagine the resistance one gets from them. But for the most part they all list two particular obstacles they find in their daily work a) that they find people resistant to change and b) that people won't do as they are told. Funny that those same people who raise this also agree that they don't like being told what to do and they are resisting the very change we are working with J So the smart ones have an aha moment when they realize that if they don't like it then they can't expect others too.

It is an approach I have been using and teaching for some time now, but it was only last year after conversations with my good friend Dick Hilbert that I came to understand that the approach is very similar to the GE Work-Out approach. Something which Dick tells me is probably responsible for more savings and improvements at GE than any of the other fashion approaches which we all come to talk about when discussing GE, e.g. Six Sigma. Dick suggests that is the simplicity of having people at the sharp end focus on eliminating waste in a process that allows those doing things like Six Sigma to really hold on to the gains.

Indeed from my own perspective I have seen clients saving millions of pounds as a result of running these three day workshops, and they are just so easy to do. The benefits are nicely summed up by perhaps one of the techiest in the world, Bill Gates, when he said "a lousy process will consume 10 times as much work as the work itself." - So why wouldn't one want to make sure that the process was effective and remove waste before one even considers technology? Especially when the process itself leverages one of our key assets, our people.

So back to my original premise, if Business Process management is all about Managing our Business better and if we believe that processes are the key to how we actually do what we do, then technology is not a pre-requisite. It is merely a supporting act. Yes, we can document processes with it, best done after the initial improvement, it is far cheaper to capture what you will be doing than what you were doing. Yes, we can automate the process, but again let's automate the value, not the waste and finally the workshop approach links purpose, strategy, people and processes together to produce a more effective system – as opposed to focusing down at too lower level of detail.

I am certain that if more people approached the problem this way then they would find it much easier to engage with and become the credible partners for change of the business owners themselves.