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!

Links:
• 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

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s