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!'

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