Friday review - 29th January 2010

Here are some of the links posted over on the Process Cafe Espresso Shots this week1

"BPM Is not just a technology" - Metastorm (PDF to download) - A PDF From Metastorm showing the benefits of BPM. This is a case study document not just a marketing exercise. Any of this sound familiar?

ARIS Mashzone: Home - Your Life, Your Business, Your Success - Aris' latest offering - a mash-up application to create management dashboards. Anyone using this? Any thoughts about it?

Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong - Business Insight - Wall Street Journal / MIT Sloan - MIT Sloan Management Review - An excellent article from the MIT Sloan Management Review about the causes behind - and the solutions for - failed process projects. Links in very nicely with my book 'The Perfect Process Project' ( Recommended read.

Answers to Top BRMS Questions (Whitepaper) - Some interesting thoughts and comments on business rules management systems. A white paper.

Want a free Business Process Tool? - A Free BPM development platform from Agile. Anyone using this? Any thoughts or comments about it?

1 The Process Cafe Espresso Shots is a place for linking to process related articles written by other people that don't merit a full post on the Process Cafe but are still worth your time reading. Sort of an espresso shot of 'The Process Cafe'-eine.

Why Process Projects Really Fail

Regular readers of my articles will know that I have written an ebook called 'The Perfect Process Project' which details some of the reasons behind - and the solutions for - failed process projects.

I recently came across an article published in the MIT Sloan business Review entitled "Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong" and I was thrilled to see that this article - an academic study based on data gleaned through investigation and survey - basically confirms the information noted in the book.

The article makes a number of recommendations which I believe are absolutely spot on in terms of my experience. Amongst them are two that I want to bring to your attention:

  • Performance appraisals need to be tied to successful implementation of improvement projects.
  • Executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just “support” them.

These two particular recommendations link into the recommendations I make in the book about assigning someone to be responsible for the process ownership and having senior management buy-in.  The article actually goes a step further than I do regarding 'buy-in' by recommending that the executives not only need to support this across the organisation but need to physically be involved in the project itself - another recommendation I fully endorse.

The article itself is well worth a read as it discusses the concept of a project being like a spring:

". . when confronted with increasing stress over time, these programs react in much the same way a metal spring does when it is pulled with increasing force—that is, they progress though “stretching” and “yielding” phases before failing entirely. In engineering, this is known as the “stress-strain curve,” and the length of each stage varies widely by material."

They also quote some statistics which are frightening in themselves but not really surprising: "Recent studies, for example, suggest that nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to yield the desire results." This is worrying considering the amount of money and effort that large corporations are 'wasting' on these Six Sigma efforts.

I fully recommend reading this article - even if for no other reason than to understand that Six Sigma is merely a tool to help solve problems rather than a solution in itself

Let me know if it throws up any blinding 'Ah ha's for you. If you would like a copy of the book then please click the link below.

Any process blogger who would like a free copy of the book for a published review on their blog please contact me to discuss or leave a comment

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now 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.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

See related info below

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Cloud, social, and BPM computing - Business Process Nirvana?

There was a time when a company needed a large computing department, dedicated professionals, hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of kit and a large budget to be able to support a business.

Nowadays it's all available for a lot less than that

Let me pull a few strands together and see if we can't do some crystal ball gazing

Is now the time to leverage these four different factors and create a low cost, cloud based, IT free, scaleable, social-media driven BPM implementation?

Think about it:
  • Business processes driven by the business rather than IT
  • Everything stored in the cloud where it is easily accessible by everyone, anywhere they have a network connection
  • Tools that are ridiculously cheap to purchase and implement and which can be picked up and easily used by the users
  • The ability to leverage readily available and well known social media tools to enable the capture and transmission of business data.

Is this a process nirvana?

The Problems

There are, of course, a number of problems with this approach. One is that, despite, what Gartner say, 1 in 5 companies running ALL their it assets through the web within 24 months is probably a little far fetched. I could see an instance where 1 in 5 run SOME of their assets through the web. But that's about it.

The second problem is more of an esoteric one: Letting the users define their processes.  In an ideal world the users would know exactly what they wanted their processes to do, they would define them as effectively and efficiently as possible and the company would benefit as a result. In the real world this doesn't happen. Many times the users do not know what they want (As Henry Ford once said 'If I asked the customer what he wanted he would tell me a more efficient horse to pull his carriage'). Furthermore a large number of current processes are designed by users and lots of them are inefficient (Look at my post on 'The Way It's Always Been Done Part 2' for a great example). Let's not forget the fact that the user base in any large organisation currently also has it's own way of accomplishing things outside the recognised 'official process' (Anyone who has ever had to replace a system where the user base is proficient in Microsoft Excel will understand the insidious nature of that little tool). But overall the problem is that if we left the users to define and manage their own systems they would probably be in a worse state than they currently are. So the solution to that is to bring in knowledgeable expertise

Which is where the third problem comes in. If I could quote from a comment Andrew Smith made in reply to a post by Sanooj Kutty at the SGiM blog
BPM professionals and any consultant for that fact, need to remember that we are seen as “outsiders”, we must tread carefully around people and internal politics, always being aware of Agendas and feelings is key to being a great consultant
Never a truer word was said.  Essentially it means - in this scenario - that bringing in external folks will only partially solve your problem. The internal politics, the hidden agendas and the plain belligerence of people not wanting to be told how to do something they've been working on sometimes for years, will always hold back a project from being successful if not appropriately managed. This is equally as applicable to internal consultants as it is to external.

The future

Despite what I have just said about the problems I don't see them as being insurmountable. But think of the ideal situation:

A company can outsource a large part of the hardware function of its IT department to a cloud provider such as Amazon or IBM. They can then create an internal capability from within the user base who are dedicated to process management. Through the use of social media they can 'crowdsource' the current 'as-is' state of a process and - using freely available and low cost tools - they can document the current state to determine a starting point for change. Using localised resource - again from within the user base - coupled with a further usage of social media, the future state of the process can be determined and - with the appropriate third-party open-source software - modeled and simulated in a 3D environment, before being pushed out to the user base via the free tools.

Of course the logic outcome of something like this is that some enterprising company will try to provide 'BPM in the Clou'd as a service indeed this is already happening. But where that differs from this is in the fact that this BPM in the cloud would still be a service (almost SaaS) which would be paid for, whereas the Process Nirvana I am talking about would - effectively - be very low cost.

So who's going to be the first to join all these dots together in a way that actually does reduce a company's overall IT bill?

Let me know when you find one, please. Or if, indeed, this is possible.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now 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.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

See related info below

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Friday Review - 22nd January 2010

Here are some of the links posted over on the Process Cafe Espresso Shots this week1

The Process Centric vs. Information Centric approach to SOA - A long, in-depth article about SOA and the linkage to business process. Very much focused on SOA andEnterprise Architecture but worth a read if you have a half hour.

Run IT as a business -- why that's a train wreck waiting to happen  - An in depth look at why certain people think that the current IT model is deeply flawed, and how to fix it. Some interesting ideas in here. How many of them do you agree with?

Credit crunch is improving IT and business process management - A few words from Oracle about how they think that the credit crunch has improved business process management. My personal view is that it's a shame it takes something like the credit crisis to force companies into doing things like this

1 The Process Cafe Espresso Shots is a place for linking to process related articles written by other people that don't merit a full post on the Process Cafe but are still worth your time reading. Sort of an espresso shot of 'The Process Cafe'-eine.

Health Checks for your processes. Treat them like you would your own body.

I am indebted to Anatoly Belychook for the idea for this post.

Late last year I put out a post entitled “The Unseen side of process project part three: Process Ownership” which discussed the whole idea of how processes need to be owned by senior individuals in the organisation with authority across all business areas. This is one reason process ownership is so badly done nowadays.

As part of that post I made the following quotation "If everything goes well with them nobody notices. As soon as there is any sort of problem with it then you're the bad guy"

One comment I received from Anatoly about that quote said the following: “Maybe we should learn from medicine? Look: they have prophylaxy/prevention, then theraphy and finally surgery (who said "pathologist"?!). They educate their patients and future patients including 100% healthy - at the moment - ones that they must care about their health early if they want to live long and well. They instruct people passing through surgery what rehabilitation they need. Shouldn't companies go through process inspection annually just like people go to stomatologists? BPR = surgery

This is a concept which intrigued me and it made me think a little more about how we actually tend to manage processes in the big scheme of things.

In practice

My experience is that processes tend to be handled as follows:

Either an organisation leaves their processes to deal with themselves (i.e. no method of process management is implemented) or they tend to have projects which will affect one or more processes and as such will deal with them as part of that project. Occasionally there will be a project that is implemented to document the current state of the process prior to, say, an internal audit or an outsourcing project. Other than that, the management of processes within a company is not isolated and identified as a separate capability or function.

The problem with this approach is that it does not allow the different levels of maintenance that Anatoly mentions in his note.

For example: If a process capability was identified in an organisation with the mandate of overseeing the ‘health’ of processes they could then look at each of the different stages detailed above to potentially identify problems and remedy them.

In a smoothly running organisation there would be regular checks of the state of a process with minor preventative maintenance being made if there is a small issue (Such as when as market shifts and a process has to subtly shift to deal with that). At a later stage in the life cycle of that change it may be identified that there are larger changes which would need to be made to ensure the process is set up for success in the future.

At some point in the life of the organisation a major upheaval may need to be made. This could include being purchased or taken-over my a third party or taking on an outsourced function from another organisation. This could involve major surgery to a process and would have to be dealt with as such.

To monitor all this - and ensure the appropriate level of care is taken of your processes, there needs to be a body which is responsible for the ‘health check’ of the process. This needn’t be a large function - and indeed could just be a capability attached to other parts of the organisation. But it does need to exist and it does need to have the appropriate level of control and authority to identify, recommend and make changes to the processes.

As Anatoly mentions, each process should then go through the equivalent of an annual health check. The process should be scrutinised on two levels:

a) Superficially. Does it have the appropriate ownership, management and measurment in place to identify potential changes and to make those changes?
b) In detail. Is the process still appropriate and relevant? Does it still fit into the overall scheme of processes within the organisation? Does it need to me altered (or removed) to make it more efficient?


Of course a suggestion or proposal such as this is not one which can happen without some sort of difficulty. There are always reasons why something like this should not be done- in the same way as there are always reasons why people do not have regular health checks until something goes wrong. The problem with waiting is that once a problem has been identified, it then becomes a serious matter of cure rather than a less serious matter of prevention. Curing a problem will always take longer and cost more than preventing it in the  first place. But preventing something as less sexy and harder to quantify. This is when a company starts to fall into the paradigm of “pay me now or pay me much more later”. Usually companies will elect to pay more later. This is a similar situation to the current problems with airport security that the world is having to face. Back when I travelled 150 to 250 flights per year the security was lax and it was quite easy to turn up at the airport 30 minutes before departure and get on a flight. If someone went to the authorities and asked them to spend a load of money adding extra security checks, more people, more intimate searches and more intelligence into the process you would have been laughed out of the room. However once terrorists used fully fueled planes to target internationally known buildings in suicide attacks it became a lot easier to justify this - although it also cost more as a result. (Please don’t think I am equating the 9/11 terrorists attacks with managing a process. I am not. What I am illustrating is the tendency of people to be adverse to doing the right thing until the situation forces them to do it)


The idea of a ‘health check’ for your processes is one which, I think, holds a lot of merit. There are, of course, barirers in the way to making that happen, but if a company is serious about being world class when it comes to the processes in its organsiation then these barriers can easily be overcome.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now 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.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

See related info below

Friday Review - 15th January 2010

Here are some of the links posted over on the Process Cafe Espresso Shots this week1

Process Mining: Because Your Company’s Workflow Issues Aren’t Always Obvious: Forrester - Some great insight from the guys at Forrester about process mining and why process discovery and improvement isn't as easy as you might think

The Beginning of the End in BPM? « BPMS Watch - BPM maven Bruce Silver with his thoughts on the recent amalgamation of the BPM industry. Good comment by Malcolm Ross (Director Product Management) at Appian at the end.

Is BPM a Dirty Word? (The Process Ninja) - A short but succinct post from The Process Ninja about the perception problem of 'BPM'

Gartner Reveals Five Business Process Management Predictions for 2010 and Beyond - Gartner's 5 key BPM predictions for 2010. Which do you agree with?

IBM, Others Bullish on BPM for 2010 | Blogs | - Some interesting thoughts on the future of BPM in 2010

The Rise of Business Process Architects | - Some thoughts on why we need business process architects and the value they bring. Do we agree with this?

1 The Process Cafe Espresso Shots is a place for linking to process related articles written by other people that don't merit a full post on the Process Cafe but are still worth your time reading. Sort of an espresso shot of 'The Process Cafe'-eine.

‘The pregnant woman’ thinking in BPM

Let me paint a picture for you. You’re working on planning a project. Or to be more precise you’re working on re-planning a project because you’ve over run a deadline, or the scope has changed. The PM sits there with the plan in front of him and works through each individual entry, trying to work out what can be changed. He comes across an entry entitled ‘Transfer historic data’. It has a single resource assigned to it and should take 5 days. With a swift stroke of the pen he adds another 5 resources to it and the job has been shrunk down to a single days work.

Congratulations, you’ve just fallen into  ‘Pregnant Women’ thinking.

This is, essentially, when you have the following mindset ‘If it takes a pregnant women 9 months to have a child then by adding another 8 women into the task we can have that baby in one month’. Of course this is patently absurd, but it does happen. In fact it happens quite a lot. It is a symptom of project managers not understanding the nature of the work they are planning. There are always going to be tasks which cannot be altered through the additional of more resource. It happens in project planing, and it also happens in process design.

When you design a process you have the option of working out what the optimum number of resources needed to make that process work effectively. This can be through individual analysis of the process itself or through a simulation model using variable numbers of resources at various points. Each process step will have a number of data points attached to it. these could include processing time per transaction, waiting time, transfer time and number of resources.

When optimising a process it is always tempting to add more resources to the steps in the hope that this will reduce the cycle time. But often a process cycle is not governed by the actual number of resources working on the task, but by the nature of the task itself.

Take, for instance a simple two step process such as supermarket checkout. One person scans and totals the shopping, one person bags the shopping. Naturally there will be a queue forming at the check-out desk. The issue here is that the time taken to process one individual is fixed by the processing speed of the check-out assistant. This is a finite time. Adding another resource to that check-out queue will not speed up the process because  it isn’t a resource issue that is causing the bottleneck, it is a work-time issue. It physically takes a minimum number of seconds to scan each article and each shopper has a different number of articles to scan. that is your limiting factor. Adding another person to help packing, or putting two people on the same check-out desk will not speed things up and in fact that would slow things down. This is the shopping equivalent of the ‘Pregnant Woman’ thinking.

The easiest think that you can do then is to open another check-out line. But this line, too, will suffer from the same problem - there is a maximum throughput available for any given time period and adding more resource will not help. Ultimately the maximum number of people to be processed through all tills in a given time is limited by the number of tills you have available. If all available tills are working then adding more resource to the tills will not have any effect, just as adding more women to help the pregnancy will not speed things up.

So why am I telling you about this? Well, it’s basically because one of the problems in good process design is trying to identify time dependent issues and removing or eliminating them altogether. This is, by far, the quickest way of reducing process cycle times without adding further resource. I have spoken before of the insurance company who wanted to reduce their cycle time for issuing policies from 33 days to 3 days. They couldn’t work out how to do this until they realised that there was a 30 day delay in there caused by a process step where the policy was sent to a warehouse in Wales ‘to allow the parchment to dry’. Once that 30 day step had been removed the whole process was dramatically speeded up.

So, looking at the process work you are doing at the moment, is there a simple step that can be removed or change which would reduce your process cycle times?

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now 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.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

See related info below

Silo thinking and why it is bad...

(This is my top-read post ever on this blog. Since it was written I've had additional thoughts on the silo mentality which I have added to this post)

I want to send some time discussing the topic of 'Silo Thinking' today

What is Silo thinking?
When everyone in an organisation is organised and works around the concept of individual functions or departments. this encourages introversion and also decreases efficiency

Friday review - 8th January 2010

Welcome to 2010. Here is the first Friday review of the new decade.

Here are some of the links posted over on the Process Cafe Posterous this week1

What is the State of the Cloud? – An Overview « Business Process Management (BPM)-InSights - A quick article from Ian Louw at BPMfundamentals about his thoughts regarding the state of The Cloud. Can you add any more comments regarding supporting the cloud?

A Triage for Hospital Processes (The Process Ninja) - This isn't the usual sort of Process Cafe Posterous link. Usually I link to articles on BPM etc. But this article from The Process Ninja caught my eye as it appears to be very similar to one I wrote on the Process Cafe about 18 months ago. My article was on process improvements in the NHS specifically relating to giving blood. The Ninja's article is on process improvements in the Australian health care service specifically related to triage and emergency services. Might be worth reading the two and seeing if you can spot trends.... My article is here.

Improving a Business Process - 6 simple actions to help improve a business process. They wont all work in every circumstance, but they will cover the baseline you need to improve things. Good little article.

Doing It Wrong - Some interesting, thought provoking comments on the nature of enterprise systems and how IT is doing it wrong. Are there lessons here for process?

Cloud computing will kill these 3 technologies | Cloud Computing - InfoWorld - I know this article is almost a week old - I picked it up from @erniehuber 's twitter account - but it has some interesting things to say about cloud computing. Do you agree?

Enterprise 2.0: it's not about people it's about process. Part 1 | Irregular Enterprise | - Dennis Howlett at Irregular Enterprise has some interesting thoughts on the nature of process vs people. This is always a topic that raises differing opinions. Dennis is on the side that says 'The process is what matters, not the people'. I tend to agree. Do you?

Gartner's Pattern-Based Strategies and BPM - Leadership BPM - Some thoughts and comments regarding Gartner's proposed Pattern-Based Strategies. This commentator is not convinced. Are you?

Incorporating automation into your processes « Andrew One Degree’s Blog - Andrew from Andrewonedegreeblog talks about the possibility of incorporating automation into your processes. Some interesting thoughts, well worth a few minutes of your life to read

1 The Process Cafe Posterous is a place for linking to process related articles written by other people that don't merit a full post on the Process Cafe but are still worth your time reading.

The top 10 articles from The Process Cafe in 2009

Happy New Year to all readers!

After checking my visitor logs recently I wanted to let you know what were the 10 most visited pages here on the Process Cafe in 2009

  1. Your criteria for choosing a BPM tool
  2. Review:  Lombardi's Blueprint software
  3. What's the difference between ERP and BPM?
  4. About me
  5. Gatner's BPM Magic Quadrant - My thoughts
  6. Visio - The Devil's tool
  7. What happens if you win the lottery?
  8. They think of us as being the same as electricians - A discussion with K2
  9. Tim Wilson and Free BPM Tools
  10. BPM in the pharmaceutical Industry
I'm not too sure about to 4th most 'popular' (but if you do want to know more about me check out my Consulting site), but the other articles are generally one's I have written either in response to something I have read elsewhere or which are based on real-life experiences working with clients. Feel free to have a look over some of these articles yourself.

There are also a number of articles which are grouped together under different classifications that you might find interesting.
  1. My recent series of posts on the Unseen Side of process projects can be found here.
  2. Articles that discuss reasons why projects and processes are not always successful can be found here.
  3. My general thoughts and philosophy about process can be found in these posts.
  4. All my posts that link to other articles (Such as The Friday Review) articles are here.

I hope to be able to provide a lot of good information for you this year on The Process Cafe so please keep checking back for more. Or, if you haven't already subscribed please do so by clicking the 'subscribe' icon in the right hand menu bar.

Enjoy your 2010.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford 

BPM: The truly useful capability you MUST have?

As we start the new year I wanted to pose a question that will hopefully make you think a little about the topic I want to discuss today: Why should your company be looking at BPM? What is the benefit?

Well, let’s look at a few statistics to see if there is a financial/economic/ business driver for doing this.
'A recent research report from AIIM,“Business Process Management - are we making the most of content-driven processes?” reported that 72% of organizations using BPM received a 100% payback in their BPM investment within 2 years, with 50% of those surveyed receiving a full payback within 18 months'.1