Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fix the little things, and get big results

Workflows are just not big enough for us to pay attention to any more. Why bother fixing things that just involve a handful of people working to get a job done?!

Most business process practitioners experienced the days when a business process was represented in reality by a paper workflow. The movement of work from one person to another represented the process for specific work to get done, so we called it 'workflow'. The word workflow seems dated. Despite this, the paper workflow still exists, although in many cases the workflow has become email based, with just a piece of paper to be signed by the customer. 

Business process management, both methodology and technology decided along the way that it needed a bigger piece of the pie. If you just transfer work from one place to another, surely that's not very exciting. Every professional needs more than that. Let's make sure we can measure the process in a way that was never needed before, analyzing it to a level of detail that could be considered obsessive. Let's model a new improved process and simulate its inside workings so there are no surprises. Let's step it up another notch and implement the new process with tools that could run real-time stock trading.

None of this stuff is bad, just for many organizations (okay, all organizations), there are simple workflows that are run on paper or email. They don't need much analysis and they don't need simulation. They certainly don't need a 6-digit piece of software to run them. These workflows are common: accounts payable, check/cheque requisitions, complaints handling. Business process management wants to think big and be big. So nobody ever focuses on the fact that some of these processes have an impact through the value chain on customer satisfaction. 

So while we are trying to fix business processes at an enterprise level, don't forget fixing business processes, oh hell, call them what they are, WORKFLOWS, at the departmental and team level. Its amazing (although it shouldn't be) how picking off some of these smaller items can help a company be significantly more profitable through better customer service.

A post from the Improving It blog
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What? Not Collaboration?

Anybody who has read my posts for a while will know that I have big stretches where I post nothing. Looking back,you can see my blogging rate follows a pattern: it starts solidly, maintains itself well, before building a crescendo (of quantity or quality) and then fizzles out pretty fast to a long period of silence. Since I'm not communicating with the outside world through my blog, nobody will really know why this is. Well, its two word that don't really fit together neatly: "relationships" and "process".

Social networking and everything "Web" has tried to teach us that you can maintain meaningful relationships online, with people you've never met and are never likely to meet. That's fine, and I won't deny that there are names I recognize on screen that I have discussed matters with that I would never have known in a past life. I work from a home office, so I understand completely the importance of online communications. Hey, I even can enjoy chatting to people on the phone if its somebody I genuinely like. But its never quite the same as "face time".

This is why my blogging pattern is erratic. I work hard for clients because I like them, or grow to like them. But its like having a new best friend, it tends to exclude others for a while. Now with a client, the relationship is kinda weird - its a big love-fest with multiple people AND a project, all in a big boardroom. I suppose I'm a geek at heart. I enjoy technology and I enjoy seeing how businesses work. But I have come to realize what I enjoy from it is seeing how people respond to the technology and how they interact with each other to achieve their daily work. I genuinely want to make it better for everybody. That is why I like business process management. What? Not collaboration?

Business process management is great, as it addresses the fact that in business processes you are trying to force people to do what comes naturally to only a few: work together smoothly, efficiently and consistently in a fairly alien set of activities (if you are telling me that most of the work we do in offices is natural evolved behavior I'd probably not believe you, therefore its alien). If you can help people work in a structured way for work needing that structure, the end result can be quite impressive. I've seen customers' employees just glowing with excitement and happiness that so many of the stupid annoyance of their working lives have been removed. This isn't collaboration. Collaboration let's people do something that is natural (work together in unstructured interactions), doing it better when it comes to information sharing. Its great and useful, but its a different animal.

My reason for not blogging and chatting with some of you recently? I've been helping a client deliver three business improvement projects simultaneously. One is a big catalyst for many other business changes going forward. I have a relationship with the people around the project and the project itself. And when a just bit more process improvement is eeked out of it, I'll be very happy and blogging again with great gusto! My new best friend will have a great process. And great processes make everybody happy.

A post from the Improving It blog
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