What Lamborghini's process taught me about England's World Cup team.

(Apologies for the length and content of this post. There is a lot about football in here but it does build up to a process point so bear with me. It's worth it)

Here in the UK there has been a huge debate over the last few days about England's World Cup team performance.. Throughout the qualifying stage the members of the squad - the elite from Britain's Premier Football league  - have, along with their manager Fabio Capello, played some excellent football against some great and good teams.

With the results they achieved in qualifying they were able to go to the World Cup Final tournament in South Africa with their heads held high, the hope and expectations of the country on their shoulders, and a reasonable chance of progressing through to a good spot in the championship finals.

(A little background for those who don't follow football - or 'Soccer' as it is referred to in certain countries. All teams who qualify are placed in random groups of four. At the tournament each team plays the other three members of the group once in what is know as 'The Group Stages'. At the end of these three games the teams with the top two results progress through to the 'Knockout Stage'. In the Knockout Stage each team is matched against another team in a head-to-head match where the loser is eliminated. This continues until there are only two teams left. The play in the final and contest the cup.)

Looking at the teams England were matched against in the group stages - USA, Algeria, Slovenia - it was felt that this would be a simple group of matches and progress to the knockout stages would be assured.

But it didn't turn out like that.

You see the team that played so well in the qualifying matches didn't appear to be the same team that turned up in South Africa. They played atrociously, lacking drive and application, and managed to progress through to the knockout stage  as a result of some bad play by other teams coupled with one reasonable performance in their final group match against Slovenia - hardly a team recognised on the world stage as a football superpower.

In the knockout stage they were matched against old rivals Germany (against whom we won the World Cup back in 1966 - the last time we reached the final), and were beaten 4 goals to 1 and dumped unceremoniously out of the tournament.

Of course the recriminations are now starting: Who's to blame? Why didn't the players play as well in the group stages as they did in the qualifying? Should the manager be sacked?

But I started thinking if there is a process analogy here. Is it possible that the process that was followed by the England team during the qualifying was not the same process followed during the tournament itself? Could it be that they did follow the same process but were actually meant to be following a different one? Let's examine this and see shall we?

In actual fact there were a number of differences between the qualifying and the tournament itself. Qualifying takes place over a much longer time span. The Group stages took place over a period of two weeks. But that shouldn't have been an issue - after all the Argentine team reportedly played 8 games in a two week period prior to coming to the tournament and they are hotly tipped to be finalists. So it couldn't have been the fact that the team were too tired?

The other difference was the team itself. Top players who had participated in the qualifying rounds such as David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand were injured and unable to participate in the Group games. But these were two players out of a total squad of about 23 players. Could they have made such a difference?

In the press today blame is being heaped on the manager Fabio Capello. He is being seen as being the architect of the England demise. But he was the same manager who took England to the World Cup finals. He was the man who presided over the qualifying games that we won so convincingly. In fact he was so well thought of by the England football executives that his contract was renegotiated just prior to the World Cup to give him a £6m fee.

So if the players aren't the problem, the manager isn't the problem and the schedule isn't the problem, what is?

It's the process.

England has very rarely played well in a tournament which involves 'group' and 'knockout' phases. Occasionally they will have flashes of brilliance and produce a performance which will get them through to the next round of a tournament. But generally they are not good at playing 'pressure' football where they have to win.

The qualifying games are seen to be individual games played against individual opponents. Each game is an entity in itself with minimal effect on the bigger picture. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. If we accumulate enough wins over a given period of time we will progress to the tournament itself.

The tournament itself is a pressure cooker. Each game is vitally important. A win is needed every time. A draw is allowed occasionally. A loss could mean going home - especially once the knockout stages are in progress. England can't get into that mentality. They play these games every week (sometimes twice per week) in the Premier League where overall success is judged on final results after playing a full season. Minor adjustments can be mad after each game, but a loss is just marked down as an entry in one column. It isn't the difference between life and death. In a tournament this mentality doesn't work. Each game is the difference between continuing and going home. Each game is as important in the final result as the final game itself. Argentina know that. Brazil know that. Germany know that. English players can't work that attitude into their mental preparation. It's the same reason why in the FA Cup (A league wide knockout tournament played alongside the regular season games every year in England) it is almost impossible to predict who will end up in the final. It relies on who is better prepared for each given game rather than who is the better team. (The winners of this years FA Cup final played so badly during the regular season they were finally relegated to a lower division)

In a given organisation you can define the method of working. On a typical car assembly line, for example, we have a constant stream of vehicles coming along. This never ending line has to have bits and pieces attached to it in a given length of time. Quality has to be maintained - but if something is missed it can still get through the process. Ford, Honda, GM, Volvo, Toyota, VW etc.  all work on this basis. It dates back to Henry Ford and his insistence that moving the car along the people is more efficient and a better process than having everyone work on a stationary car. I remember going in a school visit to a Peugeot factory in France once and watching brand new, completed cars roll off the end of the production line one every 30 seconds or so.

Contrast that with manufacturers such as Lamborghini, Bentley, Morgan, and Aston Martin. They produce an end result which is identical to Ford, Honda, GM etc (a motor vehicle with an engine, four wheels and passenger space - albeit more expensive) but they use a different process. They work on a quality ethos rather than a speed ethos. 2.7 new Lamborghini's rolls off the end of the production line every week and take 50 hours to manufacture.

Now try and make a Lambo in the 3 hours it takes to make a Ford and you will not end up with the same thing. Take the Honda people off their production line and slip them into the Aston Martin production line ethos and they will struggle to produce a car with the same quality.

In short they are using different processes to produce the same thing.

But take a Honda guy and drop him into the GM line and he would fit right in. Likewise a VW guy working at Ford. (Obviously there are some training issues here, but that's secondary to the main issue of different processes)

Would you spend your money on a new Murcielago knowing that it had been made - along with several thousand others that week - on a GM-style production line? Likewise would you want to pay Lambourghini prices for a Honda that had taken 4 hours to make?

The answer is probably 'No'

But still we insist on taking an organisation that does things one way and putting them into an environment where they are expected to perform a different way and we get annoyed when they fail.

If England are to progress any further in tournaments they need to change they process they use. They need to work on being the Bentley of the football world rather than the Honda. Focus on quality results rather than just pushing things through the production line.

Now look around your organisation. Are you trying to be a Honda production line when you should be Bentley's? Or vice-versa?

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

Is it OK if you 'almost' follow the process?

In a former life I was an auditor. Naturally that led me on to being a process consultant (!) But in one of those bizarre 'it could only happen in a movie' situations I found both these lives coinciding recently at an Annual General Meeting for a group I am involved with.

The AGM in question had the usual agenda, one item of which was the presentation of the accounts and approval by the auditors.

Except this time the auditors refused to sign off the accounts.

We got into a big discussion over this and there were many factors and reasons that were quoted (or inferred). But the main reason seemed to be quite straightforward: The accounts folks were not following prescribed procedures. Mainly this related to expense payments. There did not appear to be a sufficient audit trail stretching back through the system to satisfy the auditors that funds were being appropriately distributed.

We had cash payments being made for (legitimate) services but no record of that payment ever having being received. The auditors (and the committee) did point out that there was no implication of wrongdoing anywhere down the line but the auditors pointed out, quite rightly, that lax accounting controls did open the group up for accusations of misconduct or fraud.

So what went wrong?

Well in an earlier incarnation I was actually a senior person in this group and I had cheque signing authority. I made it a point when signing checks to only sign them when I was sure that the appropriate document trail existed (that's my audit background coming through). During my tenure there was never a bad comment from the auditors.

However in the interim it appears that things have started to get a little lax. Cheques were signed based on 'goodwill' (i.e. 'we know the person submitting the claim, we trust them and we know they made the payment they were talking about') and whilst that is an appropriate human sentiment which results in better relations with the membership and speedier payment of expense claims, it just doesn't wash with the auditors.

Overall the sums in question  are not huge - not by any means - but that is no excuse for not following appropriate process. After all nobody can legitimately say 'This is the process for doing something  - but you only need to do it if you think it's important' The process is the one that is followed in all circumstances. Granted, you can have a process which has multiple levels within it (say for enabling different types of authorisation for different levels of payment) but this is still a process, and it still needs to be followed.

I think this is indicative of a lot of process issues that occur in companies.

Processes are put together (sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially) but over time things start to get a little 'lax'. Shortcuts are taken. Personal relationships are exploited. Corners are cut. Over time these little shortcuts start to become the norm and pretty soon you are running with a process that is no longer robust and auditable, and you are opening yourself up for the potential for loss, fraud or corruption.

How many times have you, for example, had a PC issue and - rather than ringing the help desk - you've gone directly to your friend who knows about these things and had he or she fix the problem directly? I bet you know someone who's done that. Or what about trying to get authorisation for a project, or an initiative, or something similar to that? Have you ever 'massaged' the figures to make the ROI look a little better just so that you didn't have to follow a more in-depth approval process? What about splitting purchases out into smaller ones so that each payment didn't cross an authorisation threshold but could be approved within your own payment band? These are all items I've seen or come across which are 'shortcuts' in a process (You can read about another incredibly simple, but potentially damaging one here).

We all know it goes on. We probably all do it as well.

So how can we stop it? Suggestions please.....

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 

Friday Review - 18th June 2010

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

Productivity Improvement Calculations: Where Stupidity Pays Off - Craig Roth from Gartner on why a lot of "productivity improvements" are actually a result of spectacularly inefficient processes to start with. Worth remembering next time you see a case study with a large ROI.

Coming Monday on The Process Cafe 'Another example of not following a process'. What happens when finance processes are 'loosened'?

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.

Are your processes well designed?

If you've spent any amount of time and effort looking at your processes you will no doubt like to think that they are now well designed and running at optimum efficiency (Or at least running better than they were prior to you starting to review them). After all if you've gone to the effort of looking at them, documenting them and modifying them - even if it was through the implementation of an EA or BPM tool - then you have to hope that they are in a better state than they were before. However data shows that this may not result in a working process.

Teraneon Consulting Group in Germany - which is run by fellow BPM Nexus committee member Thomas Olbrich and his business partner Dr. Norbert Kaiser have just released information relating to their Process Testlab.

The Process Testlab is an environment created to fully test a process prior to it going live. The test lab consists of four major steps:

Test 1: Validation – Completeness
This is where we check if the process description is in itself complete (are all necessary steps/tasks included in the process design, likewise roles, IT-systems etc.)
What we actually do in this step is to implement the process on our test systems and see where they come up with warnings.
Test 2: Validation – Content and Objectives
Once the client has updated his process to get rid of the warnings from Test 1, we let various teams from the client experience the process by running it on our systems with distributed roles. The fun part of this is that this is done on the basis of workflow and BPM technology, so the routing of the process across distributed roles and systems is comparable to the final process solution the clients would like to implement…but as this is done ‘only’ on our system system, the client doesn’t need to risk implementing the process before checking if it truly does what it should.
Test 3: Simulation
All process designs are based on assumptions. Assumptions about workload, about ressource availability, system response times, influences of other processes and not forgetting customer behaviour (for those who regard this as an essential design input). What the Process TestLab does is to take these different classes of assumptions and build scenarios around them by varying the assumptions. Then we subject the process to these scenarios to determine how the process will behave and perform.
Test 4: Stresstest
This comes in two parts. The first stresstest is rather like an extreme simulation to determine the limits or breaking points of a process. Sounds like a lot of theory until you think back to the latest case of birdflue, volcanic eruption etc. It’s all about the question of how much stress your process and its resources can take before they seize to be functional any longer. The second stresstest has turned out to be a real eye-opener for some clients: While during the validation test we looked only at single processes instances to determine the quality of the process, this stresstest puts the clients team under stress by producing increasing workloads. Not only does this tell where the cut-off point lies, the point at which the process and the organisational structure cannot provide the required support but it also offers a preview of the conditions employees would face after implementation.

Data from the first few months of running the test lab has indicated that no single process checked in the Process Testlab was complete and could have been implemented and 80% of all processes that reached Test 2 contained logical errors, errors of routing and other types which would have led to unwanted and even wrong IT implementations.

As Thomas says in his blog entry: "Faulty process design will inevitably lead to faulty processes. And it’s no secret that repair work on processes and process systems is always more expensive after the fact than the avoidance effort one might have invested before implementation"

How well designed are your processes? I've talked about this before when I talked about 'Exceptions and Problems - The Non-Standard Process' and 'White Space - The Invisible Problem', but basically there is a tendency to design processes around an ideal state and not worry about what happens in real life. Furthermore there is a tendency to ignore the fact that processes need to talk to one another and hence either forget to make the link or - more likely - to create a simplistic link between two processes that has little relationship to what happens in real life. In either case you will fall into the trap Thomas has mentioned here.

The statistics shared by Thomas are quite scary. What's scarier though is that I think they may be painting a brighter picture than the reality.

Things might actually be worse.

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

Top posts on The Process Cafe for the month of May

Here are the top 5 posts on the Process Cafe for the month of May. These are classified according to number of visitors.

1. Your Criteria for choosing a BPM tool
2. Silo Thinking and why it is bad
3. Review - Lombardi Blueprint modeling tool
4. My thoughts on Gartner's BPM Magic Quadrant
5. Is a process model more than just its picture?

Just incidentally, a favourite post of mine which got a reasonable number of views last month was 'The Pregnant Woman Thinking in BPM'

Additionally to that, the posts I have written which are my thoughts or personal opinions on matters of process can be found under the tag 'Thoughts' on the site. If you're relatively new to this site (or BPM) I would recommend a quick search through some of the entries in there.

Thanks to everyone who visited the site last month. I hope you keep coming back and finding interesting articles to read and comment on.

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 - 4th June 2010

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

Implementing BPM - Nothing new in this article but a couple of common sense suggestions. However as with a large number of BPM related items these success factors are related more to the project itself than BPM as a concept.

Elastic Behavior: The Bane of BPM - Good catch, Jim. As I say in my book you have to measure the process and you have to make people accountable. There are two ways to do this: reward them for exhibiting the right behaviour or penalise them for exhibiting the wrong behaviour. It's not rocket science. Tying process compliance to somebody's performance goals is the ideal way to do 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.