Lessons from the Somali Pirates

You may have heard about the Somali pirates who hijacked a huge oil tanker and are holding it to ransom. (The story is here on the BBC website).

Anyway I saw this great article about why the Somali pirates are actually great models for business. The author states 14 lessons your business can learn from the illicit but profitable Somali pirate trade. These include such great entries as 'Dominant Market Share', "Low Overheads", and - my favourite - "A repeatable business process"

You may not agree with what the pirates are doing (and in this day and age, the fact that there are still pirates operating is a worry) but a group that - so far this year - has hijacked 90 boats, must be doing something right.

Of course the question is "Are they good, or are they lucky?"

Are there any missing from the list?

(Photo courtesy of Geatan Lee. Released under a creative commons attribution license)

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5 Take-aways for business process work...

Amber Naslund over at Altitude Branding has produced a post based on an interview she did with Scott Monty from Ford Motor Company. The subject of their discussion was Social media and how Ford are approaching it. Amber came up with 5 takeaways from their discussion. I recommend reading the post alongside this one.

The reason I'm pushing her post is because I can see a large number of parallels between her take-aways and the world of business process management (lower case letters, rather than 'BPM' in upper case)

Let's go through them:

Strategy First.

As Amber says:

The tools don’t matter a fig. They’ll change, ebb, flow, and go away. But you have to approach social media from a holistic viewpoint: how is this going to touch and affect what I’m doing across the board, and what do we want to accomplish? (Don’t forget that goal-setting is part of strategy).

I believe the same can be said for business processes. Yes, you probably need some sort of tool to help you manage your process definition and evolution, and yes, Visio may well be what you end up using (although you know my thoughts on "Visio - the Devil's tool"), but at the end of the day it is the strategy for your process initiatives that is more important.
  • Why are you managing your processes?
  • What do you hope to achieve through doing this?
  • How are you approaching the whole area of governance and capability?
These are the questions that you need to be answering before you can even start to think about the tools.

Individual faces matter.
It is a sad truth today that in many organisations the big command from corporate "Thou shallt follow this diktat" is likely to alienate more people than it converts. It's worth remembering with business process management (and with pretty much any sort of human facing change) that adoption of the change is a human process. Faces matter in this case. You need to put a face at the head of the effort. Someone who is approachable and will listen to what people need to say. Not necessarily someone who will completely kow-tow to whatever is asked, but at least a face that people can talk to.

Business Process requires commitment.
A good business process programme will touch many areas of the business. As such it will require good management buy-in. The benefit of getting the management buy-in is that you can then start to focus on commitment from other parts of the business. I've worked in companies where business process change was pushed through in a bottom up approach rather than a top-down approach. Believe me, the difference is phenomenal and huge. it is much easier to push things forward with the right commitment at the top.

Keep your feet on the ground.
Amber says :
It’s very easy to get swept up in the idea that everyone and every business ought to be using the latest and greatest shiny new tools. But those aren’t always the best, or the most practical, especially considering that most customers are operating in the mainstream and have never heard of some of our more fringe tools ..
This is even more apparent when you come to something like business process management. This tends to work on a 'hype-cycle' basis (see this from Gartner regarding the hype-cycle) - where people tend to get caught up in the fever of what can happen and then expect it to deliver more than it will. The ability to keep one's feet on the ground and link your efforts to a reality rather than a dream are paramount to making things like this work effectively.

Measure based on your goals.
I've written before about the issues with measuring processes. I've also written about Comerford's Three Laws of Metrics. So it's easy to understand why I have an affinity for this particular take-away.

It all comes down to the simple question of "Why are we doing this and can we prove that it is adding value?". If you can't measure whether you are being successful in what you are doing, you can't measure whether this is something that needs to be continued. Nobody wants to be in a situation where you are actually removing value from a value chain, or adding overhead unnecessarily.

Again, as Amber states:
The entire point of measuring is to learn. Analyze how you’ve done against your goals, but don’t stop there. Figure out what’s next. Where to keep fishing, where to cut bait. And don’t discount the anecdotal evidence of what you’re doing. It matters, too.:

Sage words, and ones we would all do well to listen to....

(Photo courtesy of Plindberg. Released under a creative commons attribution licence)

Reminder - The Competition is still running...

Craig at The Process Ninja is still running the competition to win one of 10 copies of "The Perfect Process Project". Click here to see how to enter.

NOTE: For those of you who have already entered, please make sure that you have followed the instuctions carefully. In order to be considered in this competition we have to have your
express approval to share your e-mail details between both blogs. In
order to gain this approval you should have entered 'The Process Ninja' into the "Surname" field on the subscription page. A number of people have not done this.

This means either:

a) You do not wish to be entered for the competition and do not wish your details to be passed to The Process Ninja Blog
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If it is a case of b) above please resubscribe to the Process Cafe with "The Process Ninja" in the appropriate field and I will ensure your details are forwarded and you are entered into the competition.

Welcome to the new subcribers.

The Process Ninja reviews "The Perfect Process Project"

Craig over at "The Process Ninja" has published a nice little review of "The Perfect Process Project".

We are also working together on a chance to win a copy of the book by signing up to our blogs.

Check out his post for more details. While you are there, read a couple of his other posts. He has a distinct take on process which you will find refreshing.

Thanks for the review, Craig.

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

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

Oops! - Business Continuity?.....

So I'm sitting here in the dark. Not by choice, but because there is a large power cut in the area. Everything appears to be out. I'm trying to work out how extensive the outage is, but for my purposes I'm totally without power.

Which also means I'm without heat. My heating system - although gas powered - relies on electricity to run the timer and to provide the initial spark. So as long as the guys sort out the problem within a reasonably short period of time I should be alright. Otherwise it could get cold.

Luckily the Macbook is all powered up and I can make a few notes ("when life gives you lemons...") although I can't post this immediately because my router is not working.

I figured now was a good time to break out the candles so I can actually see where I'm going. I fumbled my way to the kitchen using the light from my cell phone and found the candles in the drawer. Hah! Now.. matches.

No matches!

I'm not a smoker so I have neither matches nor a lighter. Never fear I'll use the gas ring on the cooker to light one. ... except that the cooker - like the heater - runs on gas but relies on electricity to provide the initial spark. Damn!

I've found a torch in the meantime. It's a small 'penlight' torch which works off a single LED bulb. Very bright but, unfortunately it doesn't throw the beam too far because the batteries are running low.

The other 'big' torch that I have near the front door ready for emergencies is still awaiting the four very large and incredibly expensive batteries it needs to operate.

So, basically, I'm stuck in the dark and the cold using the screen from my Macbook to see by.

Which got me thinking (as these things do) about business continuity planning. I, quite obviously, have an excellent disaster recovery plan (candles, torches etc.) but this has never been tested. (To be fair the house is prone to power outages but this usually occurs during the day when light and heat is less of an issue). As a result I am in the same situation that a lot of businesses are in when it comes to their BCP.

I'm stuck.

A business continuity plan is a set of tested instructions (a process, no less) for managing during a disaster of some sort. The key in all of this is that BCP's have to be tested.

In my case it's no good having a power outage only to then find out that I have candles but no matches, torches but no batteries, and heating but nothing to start it with. In the big scheme of things this isn't a major issue for me. I can sit for a while, wrap up warm and wait for the utility company to sort things out. If nothing is fixed within a couple of hours I can drive to somewhere with heat and power and stay there (assuming this isn't nationwide - and as the trains are still running I have to presume this isn't the case)

But if I was a company, with customers, orders, employees and deadlines something like this could be terminal. BCP's are meant to be plans to allow your business to continue (the clue is in the name). If it comes to the crux of the matter and you can't run your business in a disaster than you are in big trouble. (O.K. in a disaster of Hurricane Katrina levels the last thing on your mind will probably be restarting your servers and raising invoices, ... but still).

Most businesses only find out that their BCP's are not working when they come to use them for real. They find - like me - that they don't have all the resources they need to continue, that the plans they have set up to take over various functions rely on items or people that are not available and that they are now officially in trouble

When was the last time you tested your BCP? Do you even have one? Are you concerned? You should be. Otherwise you might find yourself sitting in the dark trying to find a match.

Marrying social networking with business process transformation

Marrying social networking with business process transformation is all about making the process work with the technology rather than the other way around. So says a new article quoting Cisco Systems.

This article from the Seri Atina blog discusses the issue around this. A key quote from the article is that "to be truly transformative social networking alone won’t cut it: business process transformation is a key factor" The article goes on to say "While the technology tends to get the attention,..... it’s the business process change enabled by social networking, when properly managed, that drives productivity gains. Just 10 per cent of the effort that goes into a successful social networking implementation is technological"

Being an old fashioned process person, the question I now have is "Should we change the process to leverage the technology?" Traditionally the answer on this has been "No", and I still maintain that if you design your process around your technology then whenever the technology changes your process will have to be re-designed. This is not good process management.

However, I believe that what we are saying in this case is that the process is being defined by the technology - which is a different thing altogether. I believe that the process as it is defined would probably not exist without the social media needed to make it happen. In this case I think there is a case to be built for using social media to leverage the process and to define it accordingly. However this still calls for ensuring that the process is not solution dependent (i.e let's build this process to work around Friendfeed or Yammer, rather than saying let's build the process around a generic social networking application that allows messaging and link sharing). At the point you get to the procedure, it is then appropriate to detail the application that will be used to make this happen.

Some interesting thoughts in the article. Well worth a quick read.

It also fits very nicely into my series of posts discussing the interaction between social media and business process management.

New Course Helps Executives Improve Corporate Processes -- Starting at the Top

I'm always in favour of anything that can help businesses (and senior management in particular) understand the need for process mapping in an enterprise

With its recently introduced Strategic Process Management for Executives course, Scottsdale's Business Enterprise Mapping, Inc. is addressing the need to improve processes in all areas of an organization.: Here is the link

As the course is described:

The objective of the Strategic Process Management for Executives
course is to help company leaders begin looking at their organizations
holistically from an enterprise point of view, thinking in terms of
developing a process-based organization that starts with improving
executive processes such as strategic planning, risk management,
resource and capital management, leadership review, enterprise wide
improvement and other areas that are vital to the success of the

My only isue is that courses such as these are not available elsewhere - this one is available in Scottsdale, Arizona and Dallas, Texas (although on-site courses can be scheduled on request).

Anybody know of any other similar courses like this?

Why Some Business Innovations Can't Get Off The Ground

I want to draw your attention to an excellent article by Andrew McAfee from the Harvard Business School about the interaction between IT and business process.

Andrew gives a great example of a business process that has been altered, implemented, and failed all as a result of the lack of user involvement and ability to manage the change. As a result the situation is exactly the same as it was before the change but now with a higher overhead.

His contention is that IT is an enabler for business process implementation in as much as it allows changes to be made which don't stretch the user base enough to cause non-compliance - in this case adding an extra layer of segregation to airline passengers at the gate.

So let's play with this a little: Is he saying that business process change can only occur through the use of IT? I don't think so (at least I hope not). Whilst it is obvious that using IT as a means of enforcing a business process change is generally a sound thing to do, there are occasions when only the human intervention will suffice. This is the time when the human touch is needed to ensure good customer service for example. This is the time when following process is wrong. This can also lead to process glitches occurring.

On the other hand it is also worth remembering that a large majority of process improvement through product innovation occurred as a result of implementing systems to speed up production.

Ultimately the use of IT to support a business process relies on understanding the potential impact of the process change on the customer and end user to ensure that negative results do not occur.

Business Process and Social media [...continued]

Following the previous post on 'Business Process and Social media - Good Bedfellows', I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of uptake in this topic.

It seems to me that there should be an opportunity to merge two key capabilities together to create something which is greater than the sum of the individual components. Perhaps now is the time to start looking at how we leverage social media in the organisation to make business process definition and implementation more streamlined and easier. This will reduce overhead, decrease costs and increase efficiency.

However of the various discussions that occurred around this topic the only one that was written as a comment on the previous post was from David Stephensen from Australia who said
I have to admit that Twitter seems like a bit of a stretch for doing actual projects unless your client is someone who naturally uses it (then it would be interesting).

I firstly want to use SN as yet another method of driving traffic to my site and getting a reputation as an expert, but that would apply to marketing any business.

I shall ponder this further as I play more with it.

When I think about it, it is true that the power of something like Twitter is in driving traffic (or at least having conversations) regarding various topics.

I'm more interested, though, in whether social media/social networking tools can be considered a tool in the process management arsenal. How can we leverage the power of a tool such as Twitter or Friendfeed/Plurk etc. to help better define and run our internal processes..?

People, obviously, are involved in business procedures - which I see as a lower level of detail to basic business processes - so their perspective on this would be very interesting.

Any further thoughts?

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