A year in the process world - Some quick thoughts.

2008 draws to a close and gives us the opportunity, once again, to review what has happened over the last twelve months in the world of business processes.

Economically the last twelve months have shown a lot of change. The bail-out of the financial markets, coupled with the potential issues with the Big 3 car manufacturers, along with what we Brits refer to as 'The Credit Crunch", has caused a lack of consumer confidence. Already this last three weeks, 3 major British high street retailers have gone into administration and one - the venerable Woolworths - will disappear totally from the high street after almost 100 years of business.

Naturally all this uncertainty has caused ructions in the general world of business. Companies are no longer willing to spend a lot of money on things that think they can do themselves, or to 'waste' money on non value-added expenses. Travel budgets are being cut. Advertising is being cut. Conference budgets are being cut. Outsourcing is being stopped.

Looking at business process management specifically one area that has been in the news a lot is the loss of outsourcing contracts in places like India and the Philippines. Every week in the last half of the year appeared to bring news that some company was withdrawing its outsourcing contract from one of those two places. Not much information was given about how these companies were going to actually deal with BPM work in their organisations? Presumably a lot of companies were looking at bringing in a third party software provider to implement a tool to do this (and you know my opinions on having the right tool for the job)

Amongst major vendors there has been some business success with their products with demand for Business Process Management solutions at an all time high. Metastorm also managed to gain a big hold on the BPM market by releasing V6.1 of it Metastorm/Provision tools set.Iit also released plans for an IPO to raise money and then pulled out of that in November due to market conditions.

There were, as usual, many conferences this year. The big one, obviously, was the Gartner BPM conference in September as well as the events by IRM and Management Events in the UK. one of the things that did come out of gartners research this year related to BPM was the fact that in the economic downturn few companies are actually cancelling BPM projects. This must mean they are obviously seeing the long term benefit of running something that will improve efficiency and cut down waste (hurrah!). For coverage of the Gartner conference the best blog is Sandy Kemsley's Column2.

What's in store for 2009? I'm sure the market will continue to recede as it is doing at the moment. Companies will continue to look for ways to increase their efficiency, decrease their costs and increase their sales. BPM will become a major part of that. Companies will also have to decide whether having some sort of large BPM tool with lots of whistles and bells is better than actually doing something simple such as looking at their processes with a view to appropriately managing them? I am of the opinion - as has been expressed in these pages before- that if all you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail. This means that companies without BPM or EA tools will start to look at their problems in light of what tools they have.This is not necessarily a good thing.

GCP Consulting will - in the new year - launch a brand new offering to the world. This is tentatively called the Small Business Review and is aimed at businesses which are mature businesses with 10 - 100 employees. The primary function of a Small Business Review (SBR) is to identify and remedy issues that are causing process management to be overlooked, ignored, or badly managed. Basically this is looking at the creation of a process management capability within an organisation. Initially this will be released in a workshop format with attendees being talked through a detailed workbook that will identify their key business processes, the issue surrounding them (badly designed processes, inadequately documented processes, no process owners etc) and then identify a set of tasks needed to remedy these issues. This will result in an action plan at the end of the workshop that each attendee can take with them to start moving down the path towards having a process capability. The principles of the workshop are all linked into the concepts behind The Perfect Process Project, my ebook which was release last year.

Keep an eye out for more information about this workshop offering early in the new year. If anyone is interested in helping promote this, or even wants to work with me to fine tune the workshop session and the workbook, then please get in touch with me. I'd love to hear from you.

Finally I would like to wish you all a good new year and let's hope 2009 is better then 2008!

3 tips when implementing a process management capability

In my book "The Perfect Process Project", I focus a lot on the building of a process management capability. The concept is simple: unless you have resources who are trained and dedicated in managing your processes you will never be able to get the best from your organisation.

So how do you get a process management capability? Here are three tips to help you on your way. (I would also recommend reading "The Process Ninja" series of quick tips on how to be a Process Ninja)

1) Get someone senior to run this.
Ensure that as you build your process management capability within the organisation that you have support and leadership from a senior level. I have been in organisations where we did not initially have this support and - whilst it is not impossible to build without this support - it is extremely difficult to get the right sort of traction for the work you need to do. Ideally the top person operating your process management capability should be senior enough to cross several organisational boundaries - as good processes are not silo based. Whatever happens don't give this to Janice in accounts or Bob in Sales and Marketing. This needs to be at a much more senior level than that.

2) Allocate time and resource to get people trained
With all the best will in the world it is extremely difficult to start a functional group and get them up to speed and productive immediately. Time is needed both to find the right resource and to get them trained in the right areas. As far as training is concerned make sure you identify who you want trained on what and train them until they are happy with what they have to know. Skimping on training or 'training on-the-job' is not appropriate in this circumstance.

3) Get someone working on a project to analyse and update processes
As soon as you have your resources allocated and trained it is important to then start adding value to the organisation. One way of doing this is to start viewing the processes that the business has and create something like an Enterprise Process Model. The problem with this is that it takes time and the immediate value is not apparent. The next best thing is to start putting these process resources on existing projects and make sure they spend time analysing the processes that will be touched by the project.

Creating a process capability in your organisation is not an overnight thing. It can take months and sometimes years. The key to remember is that action - however small - is what is needed. Go for the low hangng fruits. And keep moving forward.

(Picture courtesy of clspeace. Released under a creative commons attribution licence)

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

Enterprise Architecture - A Simple approach to a complex problem

(The following is an extract from a Whitepaper which will be released next month)

Enterprise Architecture is one of those annoying concepts. It can generally be perceived as being either too complex ("You want to know everything to an excruciating level of detail!") or too simple ("It's a spreadsheet with a list of our apps on it - what's the big deal?")

The real truth about Enterprise Architecture is actually somewhere in the middle of that continuum. Of course you can define your enterprise to an excruciating level of detail (and that is, indeed, the philosophy extolled by practitioners such as John Zachmann with his Zachmann Framework for Enterprise Architecture), but even Zachmann himself will admit that when you start looking at some of the more esoteric cells in his framework he only has a theoretical knowledge of what goes into them.

The investment in EA may not be realised if there is too much focus on IT-related issues and not enough on business issues. Many companies have used their EA to guide management decisions in change programmes covering M&A, outsourcing, shared services, rationalisation, cost-cutting.

So the problem then arises of "Given the huge diversity of entities that can be managed through an EA, how can you successfully create an EA that is neither too detailed nor too light?"

Having considered this for some years, it is my experience that EA, basically, comes down to documenting and understanding the inter-relationships between four key sets of items:

  • The Business Processes and models;
  • The Data and associated models;
  • The Applications and their uses;
  • The Technologies in use.

Let's see how this would work in practice:

In any business environment, the key driver for change (and therefore the key driver for enterprise architecture) has to be Business Needs. Whether this is a new product or service line, the implementation of a new type of ERP system, the purchase of a new company, or the integration of new legal or statutory requirements, it is all a' business need'.

The Business Needs feed into the business process architecture.

Business Process Architecture
Business Process Architecture identifies and understands the business processes that are needed to support the business needs. This is also where we model organisational functions as well as processes. Functions are set up to manage clusters of related business activities. Business processes are not an alternative to functional structures, they complement them and so both need to be modelled together. In all cases it is paramount to understand that business process is the keystone to successful implementation of the business needs.

Data Architecture
When the business process is known and understood (or more accurately when the impact on the business process is known and understood), the underlying data to support that business process can be identified (using UML models, for example). This can be defined within your business process and recorded for use later. Now that the data need is known and understood the data architecture can define the detail behind that data.

The money is in the data. By that I mean that the competitive advantage your organisation can gain through applying an enterprise architecture will manifest itself in your data. Think about it: As an organisation you modify and update your applications frequently. You install new technology and you change business processes. But how often do you actually discard your business data? It's generally the only thing that is transferred across from one system to another as part of an implementation project and – especially if you are a company such as Google or UPS – there is immense value in your historical data.

Application Architecture
Knowing the types of data that need to be kept, it is than a matter of identifying the type of application that can manage, store and manipulate this data.

Technology Architecture
Once the application requirements are understood the underlying technology to support this can be identified. Will you be using web-based applications – in which case what technology infrastructure will you need to support that? Do the applications run on Wi-Fi hand-held devices? What is the infrastructure needed for that?

These four key facets are the basic building blocks for an enterprise architecture, and generally this is the sequence they are reviewed in and build on each other. But in all cases it is paramount to remember the following:


(There is, however, one exception. This is when a new technology comes along that can be game-changing in terms of it's impact on the business. Look back over recent history and understand how items such as the internet, mobile phones, social media and tablet PC's can give a company a competitive advantage. If these are added to a technology architecture they can then be fed (as a business need) back into the process, resulting in change.)

I am firmly of the opinion that “If all you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail”. By that I mean it is very tempting to try and use tools that you already have for things they were not designed to do. The same thing applies to your enterprise architecture. It is all too easy to look at what you currently have in your arsenal and try to apply that to the enterprise architecture. Sometimes this will work, sometimes it won't. Gartner Group identifies two broad classes of EA tools: those which are modelling-based and those which are repository-based. The former focus on visualisation and the latter on decision-support. For effective EA both support categories are needed, such as those offered by MEGA, Troux Technologies and EVA Netmodeler from PROMIS AG. However, many potential users of such tools consider them to be too expensive, overly complex and difficult to apply. But the beauty of a tool such as this is that it will allow entry of information – and most importantly – reporting on that information to answer all the 'what-if' questions you may receive: “What if we decided to restrict internet access in these countries”, “What if we decided to remove this approval step from our manufacturing processes?”, “What if we wanted to relocate our Spanish office from Seville to Madrid”. With a well constructed and carefully maintained repository you could quite easily identify the relevant parts of the EA to answer these questions and determine what would be the right thing to do.

Creating an EA is usually a fairly detailed and time consuming effort. Unfortunately this is the way with Enterprise Architecture. It is useful to reference the following as a means of focusing your efforts, though.

Start with your business need. Identify the processes needed to support that need. Identify the data needed to support that process. Identify the applications needed to support that data. Identify the technology needed to support those applications and, finally, identify the appropriate toolset to capture and manage all this information.

You don't need to go into the excruciating level of detail that you may have thought you did. Use common sense and this roadmap and your efforts should pay dividends quickly.

(Want to read more from this whitepaper? The document this is extracted from includes a model to illustrate some of these concepts. Check back soon to hear more details about this document and how you can get a free copy of it.)

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

Chicken Little and the economy

(Image courtesy of Macroninja Released under a Creative Commons Attribution license)

The world is ending!

Unemployment is up! The economy is down! Companies are failing left, right and centre! Pink slips are being handed out willy-nilly! Consumer confidence is low! The Christmas rush is leaving many retail outlets with a let down feeling! Sales are down! Income is down!

Oh doom and gloom - the sky is falling on my head!

Chicken Little

The 'Chicken Little' school of economics has been rampant over the last month or so. The US financial markets, the bail-out of the big three car makers, the general 'credit-crunch' (as we call it here in the UK), overall dropping of consumer confidence and doom-laden headlines have started to make everyone believe that the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Well I'm here to tell you that it isn't.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will be difficult. I'm sure that the companies who are laying people off are doing it for the right reasons (business is a business after all and not a charity), but I think that a lot of where we are today is a matter of our reaction to events rather than actuality.

The Burger Seller
Let me tell you quite a well known story, that goes something like this:

A hamburger seller had a prime selling spot on the beach. From morning until might he used to ply his trade. People came from miles around to buy hamburgers from him. Every week he used to decorate his stall, get the best ingredients in and serve whoever came for the food. One day a friend of his came from the nearest city and saw what was happening.
"Hey" said the friend "You really shouldn't be taking all this trouble and spending all this money. Don't you know there's a recession going on?"
The burger seller thought about this for a while. The next week he didn't put up fresh decorations on his stall. He didn't buy the finest ingredients, electing instead to buy cheaper ones to conserve money. He cut down his opening hours to save on running costs. Lo and behold his income dropped. Customers stopped shopping at his stall. The guy from the city came back a couple of weeks later and asked him how things were going.
"Oh, don't ask! Sales are down, customers aren't buying. I'm starting to lose money here. You were right" the burger man said "There is a recession!"
The story is a silly one but it does illustrate one point which is that attitude has a lot to do with how people weather this storm. Remember the last big worldwide recession was the starting point for a lot of today's biggest companies. Apple and Microsoft were both founded at that time and Google was a benefactor of "the dotcom bubble".


This is actually a time of great opportunity. The ability of someone to leverage this situation and launch a great idea for a product or service is phenomenal. Sure there may be a couple of rough years as the business is launched, but these will serve as an excellent foundation for when 'the good times' return.

But the other side to this situation is that businesses are currently in a prime situation to start looking at how they do things and improve that. In times of plenty, inefficiencies are allowed to creep in and are not removed. (For example when money is tight, one of the first things that people do is stop company travel, or at the very least restrict it to economy/coach class only. Why is this? Are they saying that at other times of the year they are allowing people to spend the company coin profligately? Surely ALL company travel should be important and therefore a diktat like this should be unnecessary?) Focusing on these inefficiencies is one way of reducing overhead or increasing sales.

Business Processes

This happens through Business Process management. Consider this: If you think that your company is working to the best of its process ability, that all processes are fully documented and that every process is fully optimised, owned and measured, I would warrant that you are in a very small minority.

I have yet to encounter a single company that could not be improved through the judicial application of some staple process analysis and review techniques. Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer 'yes' to:
  • Does every process in your organisation have an owner with authority to mandate change to that process?
  • Is every process appropriately documented and managed by that owner (or people working with him)?
  • Do you measure the effectiveness of your processes and feed that measure back into the process to affect change?
These three questions are fundamental to the appropriate management capability of a companies processes, and not one of those questions actually addresses any individual process to understand if it is working appropriately.

For some real-life examples of what companies do that can reap dividends of fixed processes refer to these two posts about "The way it's always been done" (post 1) (post 2)

There is no doubt in my mind that things are going to be tough over the coming months or even years. I submit, however, that focusing on the right things - in this case streamlining and reviewing your business processes - is the best way to ride out the storm and set your business up for success as it comes out of the other side.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

Alltop - here we are...

The Process Cafe is now on Alltop!

Alltop, all the top stories

Alltop is an aggregation service which gathers together the best blogs on any given subject and categorises them for easy viewing. I'm pleased to say that The Process Cafe has been included into this august group.

Welcome to anyone who is reading this after clicking a link from Alltop. If you are, may I recommend the following popular posts..

You can also subscribe to The Process Cafe in a feed reader or by e-mail. Click the icons in the column to the right to do so.

Thanks for popping by. I hope you find something of interest here.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

The competition has winners!

Recently the Process Cafe and The Process Ninja have been running a joint competition.

If you sign up and confirm your subscriptions to both our blogs you will be placed in a draw to win 1 of 10 copies of my ebook "The Perfect Process Project"

Well, the competition ran throughout the month of November and - after reviewing the entries - Craig at the Process Ninja and myself have chosen 10 subscribers to receive the book.

If you have won the book will already be in your in-box.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Promote your company!

In related news, the Process Cafe is teaming up with a Swiss multinational EA organisation to promote EA/ BPM and "The Perfect Process Project". I have written an article which will be included in the next newsletter produced by this group. The newsletter goes out to over 6000 decision makers in medium to large organisations. It will include a link to my eBook. On this revised page you can see that I have added a number of testimonials I have received about the book. If you wish your name to appear in the testimonial section (along with a link to your site/company/product) all you have to do is write a few words about "The Perfect Process Project" that I can add in the testimonials section. Send it - along with the appropriate URL - to me at G_Comerford (at) GCP-consulting.com. I will review it and - if appropriate - add it to the web-site. In order to determine if this is valid testimonial (i.e. it comes from someone who has actually read the book rather than someone just trying to game the system), you will also need to provide the following piece of information from the book:
One page 28 of the book (In the section entitled "If everyone owns the process no-one owns the process") there is a quote in white text in the blue sidebar on that page. What is the number that appears in the quote?
I hope to hear from you soon.
P.S. If you want to buy a copy of the book so you can check the answer click here. Only £5.99!