Size Matters.

back 2 school : ruler
One thing I have learned since leaving the comfortable role I held in a huge American multinational and starting my own business is that large companies do not have a clue about how to run a responsive organisation.

They are slow (and very resistant) to change, unreactive and labouring. Their processes are usually large and complicated, and this results in a lack of ability to go with quick changes that are often required.

The governance process I worked with within the multi-national involved tortuous meetings with nineteen interested parties where prospective change agents would plead their case for why their particular affiliate/department/competency was different and required something to be changed. This would all then be discussed, moderated and voted upon. More often than not the stupid, nonsensical ideas would be passed, whereas the ones that would genuinely make a difference to the business were blocked. Sure, we would let the Spanish affiliate have its own, Spanish language, portal. And if we were doing that then we would also let Italy have an Italian language one, Portugal have their own and Germany and France have their own. But would we hold all these and sanction a European (or company wide) portal that was multi-lingual and customisable? No, not a chance.

Why? Size.

An affiliate that deals with its own portal can budget for its own portal. It can manage its own portal and it can pay for its own portal. If we put something in that is cross European (or global) then money has to be found from other budgets and responsibility for maintenance has to be found too. The fact that the money and resource all come, in effect, from the same big bucket is carefully swept under the table. It becomes a political game.

But in a small company, such as the one that I and millions of other small businessmen run around the world, something like this is a simple, no-brainer. Do we need a portal? Yes. Can we afford it? Yes. Do it! The governance is light and quick and the decision is made pretty much instantly.

The same can be said for process. Things work on a process in every company. In smaller companies the process is probably very light and fluid. Checks and balances might not be as necessary as they are in larger companies. But the ability to modify or redesign a process is a lot easier in smaller companies. We can react to the market conditions and change direction/strategy/ market a lot quicker.

So if small companies can do this so much quicker, why are they not ruling the world? Well, when they start to rule the world they get bigger and the ability to react as quickly disappears. Companies like Amazon and Google were once small start-ups. They had small staff numbers, small capital and big ideas. They were responsive to what the market wanted and they could pivot on a sixpence if needed. They could fail quickly and move on. This mentality is now no longer there to the same extent (although a lot of this is cultural. Google’s “Spend 20% of your time on your own projects” ethos has now fallen pretty much by the wayside, for example)

So what are larger companies to do? How can they become leaner and more reactive? The answer is easy (although the implementation is not). To become leaner and quicker you have to.. become leaner and quicker. Remove the levels of bureaucracy that slow down changes. Keep the organisational chart  shallow enough that you can get the decision makers into a room and make decisions quickly. Put the decision makers at the right place in the organisation. I’ve talked previously about process owners and the need for them to be at the board level. This is an immediate example of why.

Sure, size matters. 

But not in the way you think.

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Entrenched Thinking

Prussians of R.I.R. 235 in a narrow trench
I’ve written before on this blog about entrenched thinking “The Way It’s Always Been Done”. But I think the time is ripe for visit this topic because it is still something that occurs a lot more than we would like in companies.

What is it?
The example I give - one passed down from my father - is the dry cleaning business which had a rather erratic and nonsensical route for the delivery truck to take. More details can be found here :

What that story illustrates is that there are decisions which are taken at a corporate level each and every day which are not always based on sound business judgement, but are based on historical reasons for doing things.

That’s bad, right?
Not that there is anything wrong with checking history when looking at why we do things. But businesses must remember that situations change over time and what was, historically, true may no longer by something to consider. My other example is related to the insurance industry and can be found here:

Both of these stories have an underlying symptom which is more relevant to today's working environment: Resistance to change.

Resistance to change
Sure, it’s easy to continue doing things the ways you’ve always done them. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It works. Changing the way something is done can lead to confusion, uncertainty, unfamiliarity, even a decrease in quality of the final product, but all of these things are just temporary. When I was nearing the end of high school, a classmate had an accident which resulted in him severing most of the tendons in his right arm, (the one he wrote with). Overnight he was forced to learn to write left handed. The initial results were not good but by the time examinations came around his hand writing was as good with his left hand as it had been with his right hand.

This shows that change - whilst not always welcome or expected - does not have to be bad. But it does need to be managed.

People need to understand why change has to occur. People need to have help in understanding how to change. Most of all people need to feel that they are being listened to and that their input is being heard.

Of course, this isn’t easy. But research has shown (and my own anecdotal evidence has confirmed) that bad change management is one of the key points of failure amongst projects. 

End users are not often told why things need to change. They are not told what the benefit is of changing. Mostly, though, they are not compensated for following the new behaviours

It has often been said that what gets measured gets rewarded. If this is the case then measuring adherence to implemented changes and rewarding users  for that will certainly increase uptake. Conversely, punishing users for adherence to the old way of doing things will have a similar affect, but will be viewed in a slightly less positive light.

Change is good. At least change with the intention of improving things. Entrenched thinking can be a source of inefficiency, resistance and cost and needs to be overcome to improve process. The opposite, of course, is true: needless change for the seek of it isn’t going to win you many friends either.

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Filming for TV: Some thoughts on process ownership

2007 WKAR TV Auction
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will realise that I do, occasionally, like to look into things that happen in every day life and try to understand the process issues inherent within them.  I want to move onto something related, but a little different.


I was fortunate enough recently to spend time working on a new comedy series to be produced for UK television. It was filmed (as many comedy programs are nowadays) in from of a live studio audience.

This is different to a lot of things I have filmed in the past for two reasons
1) There is a live studio audience!
2) The dynamics of command and control are very subtly different.
Let me explain.

In ‘filmed’ television (‘Downton Abbey’, for example), the director is in charge of the filming production and the first assistant director (1st AD) is in charge of running the set. The chain of command goes Director --> 1st AD --> heads of department. It’s a little slow, but it works and it keep the unions happy. Filming is done with one camera at a time (usually) and the final footage is edited together separately for transmission.

Television works quite differently. For a start there are more cameras. On the show I did recently there were five cameras running independently. These were big broadcast cameras which didn’t have on-board recording facilities. The signal from their feed was sent to a control room where they were mixed together by a producer. He is - effectively - editing the show as it is being filmed. 

Takes are quite long and complex involving a lot of camera movement and choreography. If a camera isn’t in the right place at the right time the take is blown and we have to go again.

So far, so good. But here’s the rub. I couldn’t work out who was in charge on the set. Sure there is a director and 1st AD. These two worked together in a similar way to on a film set. But there was also the producer character who was involved in all the artistic decisions because he had to make it all work in the control room. The issue came when the Director wanted one thing and the producer wanted another. It became a case of review & decide, cajole & threaten in order to reach a compromise. And a compromise is never good, artistically.

But the whole discussion got me to thinking about a topic which is close to my heart : Process Ownership. I think it's accepted that processes need to have somebody responsible for them. But is it accepted what the scope of process ownership should be? I don't think so.

I think that process ownership is oftentimes equated to project ownership at the senior level. In many cases someone is allocated project ownership at C-level purely as a way of ensuring that the project is seen as having “clout”. In reality the assigned C-level executive has minimal, if any, ’skin in the game’ for this project.

And so it is with processes.

An executive Vice President for finance might be nominated as the process owner for a process in the finance department, but - in the big scheme of things - has very little, if any, involvement in the day to day running or execution of the process. Some would say that this is fine - after all, why would a senior executive need to be involved at that level?  But I have a different opinion. I am sure that the are arguments that can equate the ROI of having the exec manage a process vs delegating, and these are all totally valid calculations. 

But they miss the big picture. 

Process is not something that happens in parts of an organisation. Process is something that happens across the whole organisation and having someone who can manage that at the organisational level makes a lot of sense. Any lower in the organisation and you start to suffer from the problem of silo mentality and not invented here syndrome. But at the senior level you have someone who has both the executive clout and the mandate to manage a process from start to finish right across the organisation.

However the logical extension of this is that there are going to be senior executives who mange processes but who will not manage them appropriately. Take, for example, a senior Vice President of Finance who is managing a process which touches more areas than just finance. If a change needs to be made he will, most likely (and politically) favour his own department if anything needs to be done that is positive, and favour other departments if negative changes need to be made. This is human nature. Of course the simple way to do that is by following the old guideline of “whatever gets measured gets managed”. If you recompense the finance executive on his ability to appropriately manage the whole of the process rather than on the results of the finance department alone, this will start to remove any political bias that may exist.

On the other side of things is the issue we experience in the TV studio where the process owner is not adequately defined and this results in two people having differing idea related to a change. They end up with a compromise, and this is - by definition - less than optimal.

Of course this isn't easy. Nothing at this level ever is, process even more so because it covers a larger part of the organisation. But these are the challenges that need to be addressed to make process management as a competency work in your company.

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In the style of Seth Godin.

If process is so important, and everything that happens in a company is a result of process occurring, why doesn't every company have a Chief Process Officer?

Reason: We haven't built a compelling, cost-effective, and succinct reason to install a CPO.

But the bigger question is : Why haven't we?

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BPM Disruption

"asao al palo"
There are certain individuals in the BPM stream who seek to disrupt the status quo. Some of them are blatantly provocative with what they say, others are more subtle and seek to try and influence people. They have made it their mission in life (sometimes as individuals, sometimes as heads of companies) to be deliberately inflammatory in their comments. Usually this is done to provoke a reaction and start a dialogue or a conversation. 

This isn’t to say that they are wrong. Far from it. Many of the ideas they espouse are just what the discipline needs to move itself forward. But in this post I’d like to talk about this disruption and analyse what it means for our particular skill set.

What sort of disruption are we talking about?
Disruption in this sense refers to those bloggers who advocate completely rethinking how we work. They turn accepted principles on their head and attempt to make us consider things from a different point of view.

Some bloggers are less forceful and will suggest alternatives to commonly accepted practices in areas such as workflow design and case management, for example.

The tone taken by these individuals can vary from the basic “Maybe we should be considering…” right to “Why the hell don’t you just wake up and smell the coffee!”.

A simple example of this is the basic ‘What is BPM?’ conversation. It is one that I have had with several people both as an individual blogger and as the head of the now defunct BPM Nexus. We were looking to define BPM as a discipline and unite several different factions within the industry. Sadly it never came together. Others have tried to deal with this with manifestos and similar. But there are bloggers and practitioners who will look at this and say ‘Now isn’t the time to start defining what BPM is currently. We should be looking at what we want it to be and completely redefining the whole concept.’  An excellent challenge, I think, and one which perfectly fits the concept of disruption.

Is the BPM industry in need of disruption?
The question then arises about whether the BPM industry needs such disruption. After all it is an industry which has been in its current state (or very nearly) for several years. Standards have been defined (BPMN, for example), market leaders have been established for software provision, and lots of System Integration companies have made a healthy living from implementing solutions for companies that probably have no idea whether the correct solution is being advocated or not. Does this need disruption?

It’s a great question. History has shown us that industries which maintain the status quo are apt to be swallowed up by those that attempt to disrupt it. Only recently in England two major high-street shopping chains (HMW and Blockbuster Video) have filed for bankruptcy protection after their underlying business model was eroded by companies such as Apple and Amazon. The disruptor identified a potential niche, filled it and expanded to the point where the incumbents were forced to react. Those that reacted were able to survive, those that didn’t, failed. More recently Microsoft - once THE major player in the world of personal computers and technology - is now languishing as an also-ran in the world of tech, its recent hardware/software launch with Windows 8 and the Surface failing to excite consumer attention. Indeed, Microsoft (and computer manufacturers such as Dell) are barely mentioned as tech players nowadays with companies such as Google having taken much of the wind out of their sales (sic). No doubt, as we move on, Google will become complacent over time and be usurped by another company with a different business model that attracts user attention.

Is the BPM industry in need of similar disruption? Hard to say. One thing is for certain, if the industry sees itself as immune to innovation there is every chance that it will follow the likes of HMW, Blockbuster and Microsoft and be overtaken by some now innovation.

Is at appropriate - should we tolerate this?
So the question arises ‘Is the disruption of BPM by such bloggers something that should be tolerated?’ On a base level there’s nothing we can do about it. The First Amendment in the US, and similar laws in free countries around the world, allow for anyone to say what they want both in person, on broadcast and print media, and on the internet. So there’s nothing we can do to stop them saying what they want.

But should we listen to them?

That’s the important question. Whether you agree with what they say or not the key factor is always ‘Do they have anything interesting to say?’. They may be seeking the removal of workflow diagrams, for example, or advocating the dissolution of non-standardised training certifications, or any of a hundred other bug-bears that bloggers (myself included) have written about. You may not agree with any given idea, but if the idea is something which has merit to someone then of course they should be heard. A true civilisation is one where all voices are listened to and all voices are heard. Once we get into the practice of suppressing opinions we are on a long, slippery slope

Voices with dissenting opinions have always been around in free society. One of the key definers of a free society is how it treats people who differ in their views to those advocated by the leaders.  We may not like what they say, or we may like what they say but not how they say it, but as has been shown  time and time again “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it”.

Can there be too much inappropriate BPM disruption?

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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.

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