Business Process Improvement

Working for GlaxoSmithKline IT, after the 2000 merger, developed my familiarity with business process improvement (small letters) and with Six Sigma methods and metrics. I would never call myself an expert. Routine training was to Green Belt level, without taking the qualifying exam, and I don’t have the instincts which make a leading practitioner able to pick the right tools to adopt for any specific need.

But it taught me a lot, which can be applied well beyond IT. First: as a previous CEO used to say, “If you don’t keep score, you’re only practising”. So, to drive and verify and improvement, you need metrics. But pick the right ones, which will show you where you are. Establish your baseline before you start doing anything. Use the metrics to demonstrate the change (you hope!). And when the improved process has reached the status of business-as-usual, you can probably drop the measure. It’s no longer needed.

Second: a saying that was drummed into us. “Don’t tinker!”. Don’t make changes on the basis of “I think …” without the analysis. Don’t over-react to one-off incidents: processes have variability, and some outliers will happen naturally.

And third: develop and demonstrate your own (internal IT) understanding and improvements before you try to work with the rest of the business. IT has, perhaps, an unique overview of what goes on across the company, and is almost always a participant in any business improvement project. So there’s good leverage there: but you have to gain credibility first. It takes a lot to get to the point where, when a business leader asks for an IT development, you can say “Why? What improvement are you driving? Who will own it? How will you measure it?”

Well: tomorrow I’m facilitating a Corporate IT Forum event on Business Process Improvement (BPI). I’m expecting the twin threads of, first, identifying and improving IT’s own processes; and, second, putting that experience and expertise at the service of the business as a whole. Where are the sources of information and analysis?

Gartner have a Leaders Key Initiative on BPI. The overview, as recent as July this year, has a natty graphic showing the BPI practitioner as a juggler (operations, transformation, skills, technology and innovation) under pressure from both business and technology forces. They offer a number of tools for maturity assessment “across IT disciplines” (what about the rest-of-business?); key metrics (that’s IT spending and staffing, not how to measure a process); and best practices across several competencies. It seems, though, towards the end to lapse back into business process management (BPM) not BPI.

There isn’t a lot in the Gartner blogs, but a useful post from Samantha Searle earlier this year challenges us to avoid the word “Process” (unless your business-side colleagues are process engineers or in manufacturing). That kind of gells with the observation that Gartner probably, under the covers, maintain an IT-oriented focus because Process is very present in the key initiative!

Similarly I don’t find a great deal in Forrester specifically around BPI. But there’s a stronger focus on the interplay of IT expertise and whole-business improvement. A recent report, for example, discusses the shift from “a tactical process improvement charter” to a more strategic role across the enterprise. This requires a plan “for optimizing the BPM practice to deliver on new strategic drivers and business objectives”. That sounds more like it.

Interestingly, a search collected a link to Cambridge University which I expected to be to the business school or computer science. But it’s to their internal management services division with a one-page (one-slide, really) graphic and definition of BPI. Take a look. But the Judge Institute of Management Studies does indeed have a Centre for Process Excellence and Innovation, also worth reviewing.

There’s a lot of material you can find by searching. Too much to survey. Assess with care!

• Business Process Improvement Leaders Key Initiative Overview, Gartner, 25 Jul 2013 (search Gartner for ID:G00251230)
• 10 New Year Resolutions for BPM Practitioners #2: Don’t Mention the “P-word …, Samantha Searle, Gartner blogs, 8 Feb 2013
• Optimize Your Business Process Excellence Program To Meet Shifting Priorities, Clay Richardson, Forrester report, 6 Jun 2013
• Business Process Improvement, University of Cambridge, Management and Information Services Division (undated)
• Centre for Process Excellence and Innovation, Judge Institute, University of Cambridge

Ray Wang’s Constellation reaches the next stage

In 2010 we reported the inauguration of R “Ray” Wang’s new venture, Constellation Research. Constellation launched with a dozen analysts, Ray himself having left Forrester and stayed a short while with Charlene Li’s Altimeter Group. The founder analysts were all senior, recognised industry figures: many had built their reputations within Forrester, Gartner or (in one case) AMR Research which Gartner, at the time, had just acquired. Others came from high profile consulting companies.

Of the original group, Ray is the only one remaining although Liz Herrell, who joined from Forrester very shortly after the group was founded (and before its official launch) is still there.

Today’s email includes the announcement from Constellation that Ray Wang is stepping down from one of the elements of his role. Constellation has appointed an externally recruited, separate CEO. Bridgette Chambers comes from the user side: she is credited with a strong performance in the American SAP Users’ Group. Her credits include the award of Maverick of the Year in 2012. Now there’s an idea I like!

In three years, Constellation has become seriously established and it isn’t just about research reports. There’s a focus on introducing disruptive technology to an enterprise. This year’s major development is the Constellation Academy with workshops and best practice case studies. Remember that disruptive doesn’t necessarily mean novel; established technologies can be used in a disruptive way. The primary event, Connected Enterprise, also has a focus on innovative use of technology; and Constellation now hosts the Supernova awards (see note below). It’s interesting to look not only at the finalists listed for this year, but at the winners and citations from 2012. The group claims over 200 clients world-wide.

A note on Supernova: Kevin Werbach’s Supernova Group retains its web presence but there is no information there about its Supernova Awards since the 2010 event. The Constellation timeline claims the event since 2011. Kevin Werbach, who is Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton Business School in Philadelphia, is himself still active through his blog. In April 2011 he posted that he was not contemplating another Supernova event and in July 2012 repeated exactly the same comment. So I’m not clear what the link is between his Supernova events, now apparently ceased, and Constellation’s. To find these entries, go to Werblog (link below) and search it for “Supernova 2011” and so on.

Best wishes to Ray and his partners.

• Constellation Names Bridgette Chambers as New CEO, Constellation announcement, 4 Sep 2013
• Constellation Research: what can users expect?, ITasITis, 15 Nov 2010
• Constellation: the next step, ITasITis, 17 Feb 2011
• Constellation Research: timeline
• Maverick of the Year is one of the American Business Awards (Stevies)
• Constellation’s Supernova Awards
• Supernova Group (Werbach)
• Supernova Hub (Werbach)
• Werblog (Kevin Werbach’s blog)