Friday, October 30, 2009

Your desktop will get a facelift. Who is holding the scalpel?

There are discussions everywhere you look on whether desktop applications, such as the Microsoft Office productivity suite, have any value in a future of cheaper PCs and netbooks, software as a service (SaaS), and a need to cut energy consumption (aka less powerful desktop computers). One example of this discussion is a recent ebizQ forum, talking about exactly this. Windows 7 has also refocused people on the fact that the desktop is important. But the operating system wars are unlikely to be where the next big facelift for the desktop comes from.

In this discussion, much attention has been placed on the new platforms that provide a rich internet application experience (like Adobe Air and Microsoft Silverlight), software that is installed on your computer that supports the building of pretty application UIs that work well with centralized Internet based services. An evolution of the pretty Flash advertising that is everywhere, into something that might offer the end user some actual value.

What does this mean? It means that software developers have identified the traditional desktop operating systems of Windows, OSX and Linux (Gnome, et al.) to be insufficient for building visually attractive applications quickly and reliably that rely heavily on central web servers for information. Users have noticed that old traditional applications don't work in an Web environment either (have you ever tried to use Outlook on VPN for any period of time). And web browsers are tied to their standards for displaying traditional document type pages that they are too limited for stunning user experiences to be built.

The new platforms provide a polished look and feel, some decent software development tools (essential for adoption by the guys that make the software to choose one platform over another) and a way to almost make the OS that the application is running on irrelevant. For Adobe, for example, by getting a huge adoption of their Air/Flex platform across all different OS types, more and more applications get built on their platform. Much like Acrobat for reading PDF documents, once you have a majority level of adoption, you can assume that computer users can use your applications. Suddenly Adobe takes control of the desktop and its experience, not in a malicious spyware attack way, but in a subtle, corporate, 'we are more important than the OS vendors' kinda way.

Control of the platform gives Adobe three advantages: the ability to drive the direction of future applications through the platform functionality they provide; a justifiable way of charging a bunch of money for better developer tools; earlier access to the platform than anyone else so that their applications look better and work better than anyone else. The latter two are the items that will make Adobe the money.

I've spoken about Adobe as if they are already the winner in this. Its not true of course. There are too many vested interests for it to be that easy. But unlike the early days of the PC, where users were tied to the OS, cos that's what came in the box, today tech-savvy consumers demand openness and choice. This is why Microsoft may struggle with Silverlight - the platform ain't half bad, but it carries a stigma and assumption that it will only work well on a Windows OS (despite offering Max OSX and Linux versions). Linux and/or Java based offerings may end up being technically superior, but will be late to the game, and almost certainly lack the visual shine that comes from teams of paid designers working alongside the tech guys. I've talked about Adobe already. But I missed one -- Google.

A quick inroads with the Chrome browser and Google Desktop has brought many people a Google mindset to the desktop. Chrome is a way of perpetuating the current web application approach with some speed and simplicity, while Google gets their heads around whether Google desktop and it's gadget/plugin approach can grow into something bigger.

This is not a new fight, and is likely to continue for ages yet. Your PC, Mac or Linux desktop is going to get a facelift, we just don't know who is holding the scalpel.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What are the required attributes or skills of an excellent professional?

"What are the required attributes or skills of an excellent professional?". That was the question I was asked for a recent research study. "Give me some guidance or categories to guide my thinking", was my response. The five aspects are below; what would your responses be?
  1. the technical background
  2. the educational qualification or the Breadth of knowledge
  3. the essential character of the leader
  4. the management ability
  5. the interpersonal relationship

If you don't have the time for a long winded response, feel free to add a single click to the short poll.

Here is what I responded, quickly and without much deep thought (which may mean they represent more or less truth than 'marketing'):

1st, the technical background

Technical background appears to be most important early in the career of a professional and can get a person a foot in the door of a company of interest. It is after getting in that the other attributes really take over (though #5 is essential to getting in as well).

2nd, the educational qualification or the Breadth of knowledge

I hold more importance around the relevant experience and adaptability of the person than their educational qualifications. In the US at least, there is a trend to making the minimum requirement for any senior position an MBA. I believe that this represents HR laziness, or the lack of an organization's ability to spot real talent, since 'MBA required' is an easy filter to a minimal level of capability. A breadth of knowledge is essential, since a person will not be focused on a single task or category of work, especially as they progress beyond their starting point in a company. It is also more appealing to customers to work with a well rounded individual

3rd, the essential character of the leader

There are only a handful of great leaders in my opinion. Most CEOs seem to lack the interpersonal skills or even traditional leadership skills people around them have come to expect. In the US, if the compensation (salary + potential big bonus) is right, people put up with CEOs that typically say one thing and do another. I'm not a fan of many of the CEOs I have had to work with, and the others were not successful in that particular company (though may have been successful in others).

4th, the management ability

Below CEO level, management ability for me suggests that the person is focused, and communicates clearly and honestly about the company's goals and their own goals. For me, great managers have often been great mentors -- people who have really shaped my progress in a company, and helped me through gentle guidance to be better and do better. True, personal, honest mentoring, rather than the formulaic approach that some companies try and approach (you must check in with your mentor once per month for coffee) is invaluable.

5th, the interpersonal relationship

This of course is what makes or breaks a professional. Close bonds with your peers (both in your department and beyond) is essential in any profession that requires management through influence rather than 'chain of command'. For example, a product manager role requires personal relationships to be formed with every department in a business - sales, marketing, customer services, manufacturing or R&D, etc, etc, since the product manager has no resources, but must persuade people to do specific work based on their own needs, rather than as a manager telling them to do it. Without interpersonal skills, a product manager will fail, since nobody will help and nothing will get done outside of the employees defined tasks to move the products forward. For most people, it is the people they work with that make the job exciting and interesting. Without interpersonal relationships, that is impossible.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

EMC 'consumes' Sharepoint, saving IT from becoming backoffice cleaners

The SearchStorage channel on TechTarget (Australia) reports EMC's drop in sales in its Content Management and Archiving (CMA) division, due to what some may call uncharacteristic tardiness on the part of EMC when it comes to technology acquisitions. If you didn't know about EMC's CMA division, you have probably heard the names Documentum or DiskXtender, so just think of it as the banner for that stuff and anything else that consumes documents and emails at a software level. In general I try to avoid talking about the dynamics of corporate M&A on this blog, since it is the technology strategy (and therefore customer solutions) that companies eventually develop from it that really interests me. So I'll stick to the strategy and what it means for companies that may never even speak to EMC.

There is nothing really exciting about the SearchStorage story, apart from the stuff going on between the lines: 'corporations are back on the defensive, worrying about compliance, governance and litigation'. EMC and OpenText have been hit by Microsoft's Sharepoint, since the latter has given organizations a rapid and more cost effective way of deploying content management systems that were previously extremely costly (I'm ignoring the many hidden licensing costs of Sharepoint for now). In doing so, as Microsoft succeeded in selling Sharepoint in all directions, little silos of high value documents, data, wikis and blogs have popped up across the enterprise in standalone Sharepoint servers, barely recognized by IT, but causing insomnia for Legal.

Imagine this scenario... a particularly aggressive competitor, or aggrieved customer or partner of Company X wishes to inflict financial and operational pain on that company. They design a well placed lawsuit to support subpoena of documents across the enterprise (especially many of those Sharepoint servers). This turns Company X's IT team into little more than backoffice cleaning staff for weeks on end as they search under desks and in rarely vacuumed back offices, dusting off Sharepoint servers and other file storage assets.

This is what EMC is playing catch up on. The eDiscovery game got bigger when Sharepoint made the ability to find all the information related to a customer, partner, contract, product or whatever, so much more difficult by enabling employees to unthinkingly spread it around the organization on servers often unmanaged by IT. A bit of a boon to the employee, since finally they got a server with their department's name on it to put stuff in, but a nightmare for anyone trying to find information. EMC has worked out, a little later than its competitors, that understanding and consuming data from Sharepoint is a good thing, if you can make it easier to find stuff. Enterprise search, the ability to Google content across all sources inside the firewall, is a good start, though nothing new (Autonomy has been doing it for years, and Microsoft bought the technology to do it). As we all know, 'Search' is not 'Find'. eDiscovery demands Find, because the lawyers will ensure you do.

EMC are visibly playing catch-up to get the fundamentals in place for managing documents they don't control. As they know, the key to solving eDiscovery is ensuring that all documents and data are classified when they are created so that there is a perfect understanding of what the documents contain. An alternative is ensuring that an unclassified the document ceases to exist (the Mission: Impossible self-destructing message). Putting controls around ad-hoc documents becomes essential. Preventing documents (e.g. contracts) from leaving the organization that have not been classified and stored securely becomes important (one draconian and highly effective approach is to block all attachments from outbound emails). Automatically working out how to classify all data that exist already and isn't in the ERP is equally important.

Whatever EMC is doing behind the scenes (and I hope they are doing something big, or they are losing their touch) just reflects one thing: whether you are a huge multi-national or a more unique mid-sized business, having the information around your customers, partners, contracts, projects and employees, available for access, without having to hunt every corner of the organization, can save you big if lawyers come knocking.

Rather than waiting for the giant software vendors to work out some magic for automating the handling of random, ad-hoc documents, there is another approach. Give employees a system to communicate with organizations outside their own four walls in a controlled and tracked manner. Removing the need for email, Word and Excel can boost efficiency and accuracy, and even better can be done today with targeted business solutions, simple business processes and automated workflows.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Monday, October 26, 2009

'The Cloud' is big, therefore BPM is irrelevant

A new study, commissioned by Avanade and reported by Joe McKendrick on ZDNet, talks about some solid evidence for the drivers of companies to 'cloud computing'. This made me consider how the cloud became such big news, when other technology spaces, such as business process management (BPM) touted by vendors and analysts never quite make it to the top of the list.

For me, much of the 'cloud' buzz and adoption comes from the fact that everybody is talking about it, and the traditional guys with big marketing budgets have latched onto the concept. The 'cloud' could have remained a niche market, profitable to a small group of unusual players when it came to enterprise software (Amazon, Google). Much like service oriented architecture (SOA) in fact, which in my opinion would have remained niche if it was not for the mega-vendors attention. For me, business process management (BPM) sits in that category, since IBM, Oracle and SAP had too much invested in SOA at the same time for them to be distracted, so BPM had to wait on the sidelines for its time. Now that the cloud has them focused on what could be a whole new business model, its down to the independent BPM vendors to make BPM relevant again.

How will they do that? Well, I'm not going to give them the benefit of my opinion on that one for free (since they'll just profit from it), though it seems obvious based on the Avanade sponsored research that a service-based (SaaS) delivery model is essential:
More than half of respondents report that they are currently using Software as a Service applications. In the United States, that number increases to more than two-thirds (68 percent).

The problem of course is that current pure-play BPM is a terrible fit for delivery as a service, since it has relied so heavily on a delivery model revolving around skilled, expensive consultants with a mix of business and technology acumen.

It is time for a new model for business process improvement based software, and it works a little something like this... Oh, almost let the secret out there. That though is why I am working on business process improvement as a service.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The 'process maven' and reaching employee buy-in

Its hard to get employees to buy-in to any form of change, and process improvement is a really tough one. This strikes at the core of people's working existences and identities, making them resist the change more than can sometimes be considered rational. But its OK, you have an undiscovered ally. There is a largely untapped resource that companies need to identify, who can really make employee buy-in achievable, if not easy.

A forum question on ebizQ asks what it takes to achieve buy from end-users in the use of business process management (BPM) software. My response is out there, but it seemed like a question worthy of a more detailed post too.

BPM software vendors obviously know the value of BPM - their marketing departments ensure that the benefits are well understood. My opinion, and this is a hard one to test objectively, is that most companies outside of the software community just don't get the value of process improvement through BPM:
Without a burning need, BPM is unlikely to spring to mind at all. Sure, you can try and persuade prospective clients and users that they need BPM and it will save them time and money, but without them really feeling pained by a current process they are unlikely to actively respond.
It takes real process chaos to get companies to react and change what they are doing. Otherwise they will typically just throw more resources (often the same employees, working longer hours) at the problem. Its not rejection of BPM as a waste of time, its the lack of realization that something can and should be done.

So, let's assume that a company discovers that process improvement is required, and that some form of workflow or BPM tool could be valuable in that change. That realization typically starts with one, strong minding, and fairly senior manager in an organization - often at the department level. That person puts a lot on the line to start selling the idea to the senior executives, but that's easy -- the ROI has to be right in most cases.

For the real workers, getting the buy-in for any change to current working practices can be harder, as we all know. The efforts of the manager in persuading his or her bosses of the ROI of process improvement can be misconstrued (or possibly interpreted correctly, depending on your level of cynicism).
At an individual user level there is likely to be buy-in once they have truly acknowledged there is a need to change, and its not just the current management team's desire to leave their mark with an expensive software solution.
One problem is that the right employees are rarely engaged early enough in the process. This shouldn't be about including a couple of worker representatives in a vendor selection process, purely because it seems like the right thing to do. Companies embarking on process improvement projects should be looking at really involving some of the powerful resources they have, in a way that is quite unusual.

... the high profile employees, the most vocal, the potential advocates among their peers have to be able to see, feel and experience a working solution as soon as possible, possibly even pre-sale.

If this sounds difficult, it probably is. Traditional BPM vendors are good at showing demos, although they may run to a proof of concept project for the company's developers and analysts. As for real end-users, they are harder to support without building out a solution.

It is worth the effort to get specific end-users involved early. Why? Well there is one department (you never thought you would learn something useful from) that has been refining the use of expert advocates, sometimes called mavens, for many years:

This is where we can learn something from marketing - spending your (both the vendor and the customer) effort on gaining the buy-in of the users who are the most vocal, highly respected among their peers. These end users 'BPM mavens' will go out of their way to get buy-in from the majority of other users. But don't oversell the maven, because they can as easily destroy your product after it fails to please.

I believe this is the key to getting buy-in for your process improvement project. Now all you need is to make sure you have a solution that can facilitate the conversion of the mavens, up-front, honestly and early in the process. The solution must be one that can address their needs and that they can actually use in hours, not months. Don't give them promises and Powerpoints, which they are sure will disappoint.

To achieve buy-in of end users, first convert your mavens by giving them what they really desire: a solution that they can see, touch, and experience immediately.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comic-book software projects

If software projects were comic-book characters they would NOT be Dilbert, nor would they be ugly beasts with two heads and dripping slime. Instead they would be insidious, vicious, but mostly normally proportioned human beings, with a exterior veneer of smooth style and a hidden core of vile aggression.

Put another way, software projects can be compared to one of two sports (sorry if you only follow US sports): rugby, a thug's game played by gentlemen; or football (soccer), a gentlemen's game, played by thugs. Which you get depends on the vendor you pick, but that's another story.

Does this mean I don't like software project? No.

It does mean that I treat software projects (either the implementation of products or the deployment of customer systems) with the utmost respect. I know they can bite. I've been bitten in previous lives, and I would never trust a software professional who won't admit to having been involved in (but of course was never leading) a software project that hadn't failed fairly spectacularly. You learn from these failures, not so much from the successes.

Software projects make for an interesting challenge. For the uninitiated, trust me when I tell you that this is not like dealing with some other services vendor your company may employ to get stuff done. Software is unpredictable at the best of times. So if you don't really know the rules of that particular game, expect that the other team - the inanimate software, not the software vendor itself - will get the better of you.

The moral of this comic-book tale? If you don't know the software industry well, find an expert who can help you run that project your are planning, or at least set best-practices upfront and track the milestones for it throughout. We cost more after a project is already on the way down the tubes.

Alternatively, don't run a software project at all. Use prepackaged, ready to run solutions based on software that is already running, hosted and maintained by a single vendor (the software as a server, or SaaS model). When the solution you need is already running and just needs you to set up account, there is a lot less to go wrong.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Monday, October 19, 2009

Survey! What is the biggest business process headache for small businesses

You'll see a few changes around here as this blog starts to evolve. First, apart from the new template and URL, to reflect the blog's link to Consected (though the old URL and feeds continue to work), I'm going to try out some online surveys. Here is the first.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about how mid-sized businesses could (and should) improve their business processes, to reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, achieve more repeat business, etc. From what I have seen, there is very little tangible evidence of exactly which processes they should go about enhancing. I would love to know what your thoughts are.

If you have an opinion, please respond to the one-click survey (no registration required) at:

If you'd like to add some additional thoughts, add a comment below!

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Balancing free, subscription and paid software licenses

Laurie McCabe writes an interesting blog about computing for small businesses, though I think that many of his thoughts make a lot of sense to anyone interested in cloud computing, SaaS and online collaboration tools. A little while back, Laurie posted about the pricing model for subscription based SaaS services and whether it is time for SaaS vendors to get creative in their pricing models, to get their subscription levels to a more 'meaningful' level and prevent the fatigue that comes from vendors constantly asking for a little more for extra services. He posted an interesting survey (Poll: Do SaaS Vendors need new pricing models to attract more small businesses?), which show pretty decisively that a new model is something that customers would like to see.

This is obviously important for all SaaS vendors, since creating a model that helps them grow their subscription base without giving away their services for free, is going to become more important as the number of credible online service offerings grows.

In my opinion, as the traditional enterprise software companies enter this market as well, pricing models are likely to stagnate. Publicly traded companies are generally not in a position to get highly creative on their pricing, due to the accounting rules surrounding VSOE. This really only applies once they have started to sell and recognize revenue, and although I can't claim to understand the technical accounting rules for revenue recognition around starting new subscription services, I think that their stockholders may envision a watering-down of profits. For this, the smallers independent SaaS vendors should be able to stay ahead, as long as they can work out a model that benefits their customers and themselves.

If you have any experience, good or bad, with SaaS subscriptions, please leave a comment.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wasting money measuring Turn-around Time

Many years ago, I remember my father talking about being involved in a time and motion study. In his office, managing the movement of railway equipment and trains to ensure the optimal performance of the London commuter rail network (given the suboptimal resources they had), working efficiently and effectively was key to many millions of journeys being completed on-time. It was a fascinating idea for me.

I haven't heard the term 'time and motion' in a long time, and to me it sounds dated. Taking the 'time' piece of it is still very relevant for business process improvement, and frankly studying the time in a process that needs some improvement is something that seems unfortunately overly hard to achieve.

I have worked on business process management (BPM) software projects that try and achieve the study of time alone, rather than any real process improvement goal. The projects had the single goal of putting a basic work delivery solution in place so that the business analysts could start to measure (and management could work with users to improve) the turn-around time (sometimes called TaT) for individual tasks within a process.

The time analysis solutions provided a very simple mechanism for packaging up work items or cases, then delivering them under the control of individual users, as a single step process without any real rules in place. These processes allowed the measurement of the time taken to complete tasks (the turn-around time), and the amount of time work was sat waiting to be acted on (wait-time). The solutions were a minimal use of expensive and complex BPM technology in my opinion. The processes gained from automating the manual delivery of documents and information, but little additional control was provided to further improve them.

It seems to me that the analysis of time used in processes that have yet to be remodelled and improved with BPM would be better handled use lighter weight, easier to deploy and cheaper to buy tools designed with this type workflow delivery in mind. It seems even more important, when you think that many of those processes that were initially analyzed for TaT and other simple measurements, using expensive BPM licenses and consultants, where never actually enhanced afterwards to benefit from all the features of the product they were using.

Understanding the processes you run in your business today is desirable. Improving them quickly is essential. Doing that in a way that doesn't waste money goes without saying.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Download the podcast of this blog post

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The (hush, hush) next big thing for your business processes

If you ever wondered how to improve your business processes today, to run your business better at a lower cost, you'll probably not be excited to hear that all the business process management (BPM) software industry can do is debate what the next big thing in BPM will be tomorrow (a related ebizQ forum is here). BPM is tied to big businesses who want to spend money, and as we all unfortunately know, there aren't too many of them around. So the software vendors need to guess where their next big buck is coming from.

Business processes are the workflows that are followed by your people, clients, partners and suppliers, and are internally how your employees respond to the requests to get the results that are needed, fast, accurately, and at minimum cost to everybody. Getting this right makes a huge difference to your business. So what are BPM vendors focusing on? Pretty diagrams of business processes that involve no more than five people and suddenly appear to have 53 steps; dashboards optimizing the sub-second response of stuff that is out of your control; and complex technology filled with buzzwords to keep their software developers in kicks.

Mid-sized businesses and departments of big businesses are in fact incredible similar. They need results and improvements in how they operate, today, not tomorrow. They need to use technology that is not for the laggards (to use a common, slightly derogatory marketing expression), but is still quite innovative, without managers and users struggling with its complexity to understand, configure or use.

Making business processes run better, by helping people track the work they do, across the many people they work with and systems they are forced to use, is what BPM vendors should be focusing on today. Taking that one step further and making that simplicity available as a service which you can sign up for, online, with no software to install is where email has already gone, CRM has gone and BPM is going.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Look mom, we do Six Sigma too! - Part 2

In Part 1 of Look Mom, we do Six Sigma too!, I reiterated some of my views on the use and misuse of lean thinking and agile development in business process management projects. I suggested that a standard approach to improving business processes often follows this rather lame approach:
Let's draw a pretty picture of your as-is process, then have everyone collaborate around that to remove the waste. Look mom, we do Six Sigma too!

Practitioners of Six Sigma have pointed out to me the benefits of the 'collaborate' part. I agree that there is a huge benefit in taking workers out of their usual environments for a while, to disconnect from email and daily tasks, and actually think about what it is that they do. Only when a worker is not embedded in the daily grind can he or she start to separate the wheat from the chaff - the valuable activities from the tasks we do 'because we always do it that way'. Despit this, my feeling is that the longer workers are kept in the abstract mode (aka the conference room), the more likely it is that they will also forget the reality of work. The temptation to oversimplify kicks in - 80:20 rules are great, until you get to the point where improving the 80% of common use cases actually prevents you from doing the 20% that are more complex, but often more profitable.

My view is that a short period of time away from real work is a benefit. Workers realize that a change to their working practices is necessary and inevitable; they start to look at what they do differently and can see some of the wasteful practices in a new way; and they get a feeling of ownership for the subsequent, painful changes that will happen to their work tasks.

This is where I would like to propose a different model for improving business processes. Rather than continuing to try and redesign the business processes in a conference room away from where the real work is done, send the workers back to their working lives. In a conference room, when thinking about the pain-points of their work, employees tend to fixate on the most recent and most painful issue they had, or are having, not necessarily the issues that are the most common. What you need is some way of seeing and measuring where the real problems are and a way of seeing what can be done to improve them, within the real context of the work being done. But how can you do this?

Here is how you could go about it:
  1. Put in place a workflow or process automation system that manages the main work process, as it is today.
  2. Ensure the system is flexible enough to handle the many use cases you have not thought about or never knew existed, so that users don't have to revert to email.
  3. Use the system to track the activities that workers perform and who they interact with to get their jobs done. This is not Big Brother spying on users; we are trying to get an accurate and non-judgemental view of the flow of work in reality.
  4. Now use the same system to enhance one part of the process that appears painful. Use the employees involved to understand what is going on, and why they do certain activities. Now agree on a change and implement it immediately.
  5. Go back every so often to see how the change has improved the process, making enhancements and responding to the way workers have adapted to (and possibly found new flaws) in the new way of working.
Doing this, you take the best bits of 'lean' and 'agile' methodologies (reduced waste and 'release early and often') and keep the processes you design real by adapting them within the context of the business. For this to work, you need two things: a software solution that can automate a workflow and make it ready for use within hours; the flexibility to support work that the modelled workflow can not handle directly.

I don't believe that I'm proposing anything particularly radical here. My aim is to reduce the amount of time and effort businesses have to spend on analyzing and improving their business processes, and to provide them results that fit their unique working environment better. As I talked about in Part 1, this approach probably does not fit business processes that can never fail. But if you have processes that need some help urgently because they are less than perfect, taking a new approach to making them better can only help your business, especially if that approach requires the investment of hours, not weeks.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Download the podcast of this blog post

Friday, October 09, 2009

Look mom, we do Six Sigma too! - Part 1

I see the relationship between lean thinking, agile development methodologies and technology for an actual implementation of business improvement being closer than ever, and one that is barely touched by more than marketing by traditional business process management (BPM) vendors.

A short post on by Leonardo Mattiazzi prompted me to think a little more about the relationships between lean, agile and the tools you use to actually run a better business. The post doesn't contain any amazing revelations, although it is a good summary of the benefits of avoiding traditional software projects when trying to improve the way your business runs.

In the past I've talked on this blog a few times about the importance and success of using an agile methodology in business process improvement projects, and a little about the style of business process management (BPM) tools that can support this. But this morning (and all may change by Monday!) I feel the relationship is more important than ever.

There has been a large amount of marketing targeted at the rise of Six Sigma, and the traditional BPM vendors have gone at it in the only way they know how:
Let's draw a pretty picture of your as-is process, then have everyone collaborate around that to remove the waste. Look mom, we do Six Sigma too!
For huge business process re-engineering projects I won't deny the importance of strong analysis and process modelling tools to ensure the process is well understood. For a rigorous process that can allow no errors, and a low degree of flexibility, this is a decent approach. IDS Scheer built a good business around this type of thing for good reason.

My view is that there are a limited number of business processes, even in regulated industries, that require this level of definition in such an abstract form. I say 'abstract' because these models are exactly that - they take little into account of the target software solution they will be implemented on, so in fact the most successful products will be those that are vanilla, generic, tick-the-boxes process engines (perfect for IBM + dozens of Global Services consultants).

Fundamentally, you can run a project to make some business processes more lean on paper, with Visio or with software design tools built for the job. Reality is, if you take this on-paper design too far, you will achieve such an abstract design that only generic software makes sense. You can take advantage of none of the cool or compelling features in the software package you just persuaded your CIO was the best choice. You wasted your money on stuff you'll never use.

So here, I want to talk about taking lean, agile methodologies for process improvement back to the real world of work. I want to talk about designs and implementations that happen hand in hand, leveraging the capabilities of a product, to get you better business processes faster, cheaper and easier.

Follow this link for Part 2 of 'Look mom, we do Six Sigma too!'

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Download the podcast of this blog post