Who wants free consultancy? - We all do, right?

I'm feeling generous today. Very generous.

I'm going to give away some of my time : Gratis and for free.

Here's the deal:

I consult to organisations that want to get better. Companies who are in the grip of an economic downturn and who want to reduce their costs and overheads to increase and improve their bottom line. A lot of companies know how to do this (or think they do). But a lot of them don't know how to do it and need help.

According to Gartner, BPM is the most important business initiative on CIO and CEO plates this year - maybe in a big way, maybe in a small way. Presumably this means that a lot of these executives are looking to get started in this. I believe that this is not just big businesses, but smaller ones too: the companies who are, say, mature businesess with less than 50 people. Or it could be the larger companies that are spread across different locations etc. Either way there is a lot of confusion about what needs to be done, what the potential problems are and how they can be approached.

So here's what I am offering:

If you are either:

a) Thinking about putting some sort of process improvement project together
b) In the middle of a process improvement project and seem to be stalled
c) Wondering what you can do to reduce costs and increase profit

then let me know. I will come in and provide a days consulting for you to help you understand what you need to do to get things started or what you need to do to make things better in your current project.

We can discuss your project and I will offer advice and recommendations for moving forward.

And I will do all this for free! (Considering my daily rate for this is approx £750, this is quite a deal). All you pay are travel expenses - and I'll travel just about anywhere to do this. Globally.

I'll even throw in a copy of my ebook "The Perfect Process Project" for you to keep and use as you see fit.

What's next?
If you want to take advantage of this offer then let me know via an email to G_comerford at GCP-consulting.com. Let me have your name, contact details, and some information about what you're trying to achieve and - if I think I can add some value to your efforts - I'll be in touch to help you.

That's it. No strings attached. No obligation. Obviously I would like it if you decide later on to bring me on board your project for some paid work, but there is no obligation to do so. Yes, your details will be added to my mailing list, but that's spam free and is only used to keep you up to date with developments in the BPM world. But that's it.

Think about it. Do you have anything to lose?

I look forward to hearing from you

P.S. Contact me now and see whether we can get something worthwhile moving in your organisation

What the heck is BPM? Really!

a 3-step schematic description of introducing ...Image via Wikipedia

I'm spending quite a lot of time at the moment on Linked In. Specifically I'm looking at some of the group discussions going on there. One in particular caught my eye.

It was entitled "What do you think Business Process Management is?" and was started by Steve Towers (the instigator of the particular group I was looking at). Whilst it was a blatant attempt at gathering data for his organisation, the resulting comments were quite insightful and interesting.

Without going into detail (and there is quite a lot of detail relate to this including some quite heated discussions between a couple of individuals) the short answer is 'nobody knows'

That's right, nobody is able to provide a single, commonly accepted, and understood definition for Business Process Management that everyone can align behind it. I myself commented that it could be
A capability?
A buzzword?
An acronym?
A framework?
A fad?
All of the above?
None of the above?
Some of the above?

In fact the truth is that it is all of the above. And more. It is becoming pretty much all things to all men. In fact one commentor even mentioned that he thought it was about time to think about calling it something else (which I think is rather premature as it effectively means that though we can't define what something is we can redefine what something is called. Huh?! We might as well rename it 'Throat-Warbler Mangrove'* even though we have no idea what it is.)

I do see this as both a blessing and a curse. The problem with having something tightly defined and buttoned down is that it doesn't allow the ability to expand and become useful in different ways. After all a bird which has long thin pointy beak can only pick small insects to eat whereas one with a larger, curved beak can eat flesh, fruit and grains as well as being useful to defend when attacked by other predators. The same happens with something like BPM: If we define it to mean one thing and one thing only, when the market changes (as indeed it will) we then have to look at other definitions. This is the same thing that happened with BPR. It was defined to mean one thing and, as businesses evolved, they needed something else to cover the capability they were looking at. This is when BPM evolved.

Unfortunately, as you can see, we are now in the situation where we have moved to the other extreme. BPM is now so loosely defined that we cannot, effectively pin it down to mean anything in particular. A vendor will define it in one way. A user will define it in another. A consultant will define it in a third. In fact Garther themselves have recently changed the definition of their magic quadrant contents for BPM so even they are looking at this differently. This lack of focus is starting to affect the niche as a whole and needs to be brought under control.

Hopefully the BPM Nexus as a concept will try to start putting down some foundation work for this in the near future with the BPM Accord. Feel free to join in and influence this if you want. The more the merrier.

*Thanks to Theo Priestley for the 'Throat-Warbler Mangrove' reference

A conversation with Metastorm

(Note this is the first of what I hope to be a regular set of discussions with some of the leading BPM vendors)

Following my ill-fated attempt to speak with another BPM vendor recently, I was fortunate enough to get 30 minutes with Laura Mooney - Vice President of Corporate Communications at Metastorm - and I asked her a few questions about her company, their product and the BPM market as a whole.

Laura is a veteran of the BPM market having worked with IBM, Manugistics and smaller startup's in their sales and marketing function. She has been with Metastorm for a number of years now and was there during the recent rash of purchases including the one which brought the Provision toolset on board.

I started by asking her about whether she feels that Metastorm will take over the BPM market. Laura told me that Metastorm are the only vendor in the sector that can do the complete 'Enterprise Architecture - process definition - process execution' jump and close that loop. From that point of view they are in a great position within the marketplace. However there is currently a lot of competition in the sector. Newer players such as IBM/Oracle are investing a lot. This is creating a lot of opportunity but also lots of challenges. The problem is that some of those other companies can use their existing tools to integrate together to provide a solution which is 'familiar' to existing customers. Pure play BPM, though, has agility and speed. It allows the focus to land on the business users to provide solutions. This in turn reduces the burden on the IT function.

We moved on to discuss some of the key points that customers should be looking for when focusing on a BPM tool. This follows on from my recent post about the selection criteria for customers choosing a BPM tool. Laura said that their product is not sold on price. They have walked away from potential customers who were not willing to be realistic on the price it costs to implement an enterprise tool. She also said there are other smaller players in the market who can accommodate lower budget projects or smaller companies. In fact Metastorm have rarely lost a competitive bid based on price. The criteria that Laura believes customers use include items such as:

• The ability to support roundtrip process lifeycle with integration
• Creation dashboards and control mechanisms
• Existence of analysis tools
• The use of a proven vendor
• Existence of customer references
• Scalability of solution

Most importantly she quotes the need for a Proof of Concept. Laura is quite adamant that a proof of concept is important for any company wishing to implement a BPM toolset. It satisfies the need to understand whether the tool is entirely appropriate for the requirement before a large and costly purchase is made.

We went on to talk about the evolution of BPM. In a recent post I quoted Dr Geary Rummler as saying that he thought BPM conferences were turning very much into vendor fairs and that the technology was taking over the whole sector. I asked Laura how she replied to comments such as these. "I somewhat agree with that. Process improvement purists would say that BPM does not focus on technology, but this is the world we live in." She went on to say that she thought technology is needed to help with this. In today's environment, manual and paper based systems are usually messy and can only be appropriately managed through the use of a technology solution.

One of my concerns is that with the evolution of certain key tools in the space there has been a tendency to take what was, essentially, a great little 'niche' tool and expand it to meet lots of needs, but in the process of doing so to lose what made the tool great in the first place. Laura replied "I disagree with that : Metastorm has been reacting to demand from customer base about what they wanted in the tool. In conversation with Gartner there has definitely been a difference of opinion about where the market is going. Metastorm is trying to invest in areas where there are gaps in the market not where there are existing systems that can fulfill the task already. Document management systems are an example of this. Metastorm provides the linkages into these".

Those of you who read this blog and my 'Musings Cafe' blog will know of my distrust of the corporate behemoth that is Microsoft (I've been quoted as saying that I think Visio is 'The Devils Tool'), and I know that Metastorm are a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner so I was interested to know what the future direction is for Metastorm and "The House of Redmond". I was told that Metastorm is a member of the Microsoft Business Process Alliance. They have regular communication with Microsoft. The relationship with Microsoft is a very strategic relationship, in act Laura went so far as to say it is THE key relationship. Metastorm get early copies of specific new software capabilities to allow them to work those into the tool. In addition Microsoft are very supportive of their work: They have invested money in the Metastorm organisation to include Microsoft technology into the Metatstorm BPM tool, they provide marketing resource and they help with webinars and at analyst conferences. So there's probably no possibility of a Mac based version soon then..

We talked about the next BIG development in BPM (either from a technology or a capability POV?) Theo Priestley is looking at BPM linked with virtual worlds for simulation etc. I asked if Metastorm are looking at anything like this? Laura said "Its fun and interesting thing but ultimately something like this will rest on the results not the execution. It's like the simulation functionality. Previously customers were telling Metastorm they needed the animated displays to show the throughput of work but when it was provided they didn't use it, merely wishing to see the final output. People are not there yet with things like this virtual world technology. There is not a lot of value in something like this right now." But Laura did go on to say "However there is potential within the world of Social Media. The value is on the collaboration side. Imagine using Twitter etc. for business decisions and having this integrated into the business process. Linking strategy to execution is the ultimate value for customers. Marrying organisation structures with the process execution and feedback loop to understand where objectives were met and why - if they weren't."

I changed tack slightly and asked about BPM best practice in the following cases: 1. "Managing the Change" 2. "Changing Management". Specifically I wanted to know whether there is any form of best practice to manage either in terms of streamlining such activity under the framework of "Business Process Management"?

Regarding "managing the change" Laura talked about the following factors: From a change management point of view the benefit is in being agile enough to adapt. BPM can help you do that. It empowers users to participate. They become engaged early on. This reduces their frustration. Ultimately it frees them up to do other things. This then becomes viral "We can do this on Metastorm too" she says

"Changing management" is a more difficult prospect. The best implementations have an exec sponsor to push this forward. He or she is aligned with the strategy and sees the value and benefit. "Furthermore if you implement your tool and ensure you measure both before and after your implementations this will enable you to gain a value for ROI. This will get management attention." Laura concludes.

I was interested in the Metastorm position on Open source. Laura was of the opinion that Metastorm may leverage open source but had no big plans with the development team to do anything at the moment.

Dropping back into my old auditor mode I approached Laura with two questions that I always asked in interviews whilst performing an audit. These are "What keeps you awake at night?" and "What would you do if you were King or Queen for a day?". In response to the first question Laura was worried about whether or not people are going to see the opportunity of BPM. She believes that whenever you are making process improvements a BPM platform will make you more efficient and improve accuracy and it should be something that is leveraged by everybody.

Regarding being Queen for a day Laura would like to mandate that everyone implement a BPM technology. She also stated an opinion that President Obama should mandate that all bail-out companies implement this to ensure appropriate use of the bail-out money.

Once again I would like to thank Laura (and Nisha from Merritt PR) for providing their time to help me with this post. Hopefully there will be other vendors out there who would submit to a few pertinent questions about their company and it's products.

The Common Book of Knowledge - How common is it?

I saw this interesting post over at the Bleeding Edge Of BPM. In it Theo Priestley (The Process Maverick) details his issues with the ABPMP Common Book of Knowledge (which, to be honest sounds like some sort of beginners encyclopedia I would buy my 7 year-old nephew), and believe me he does have issues with it.

Having recently read the CBOK myself I would say that I am pretty much in agreement with him about it. In particular I think that anything positioning itself as 'common' should include input from a wide-ranging field not just a tight, paying community.

I suspect the ramifications of Theo's post will go on and on. In the meantime why not head over there, read the post and leave him a comment?

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

Rumours of the death of BPM are very much exaggerated . .

A recent post by Steve Towers posits that BPM is heading the way of the old BPR and potentially self destructing. I don't see it that way.

Steve thinks that inter-factional fighting threatens to destroy what Research and Markets describes as a $32 bn industry by 2012. He sites the following factors in his argument:

  • A decline in the number of Google searches on Business Process Management - down 45% from 5 years ago - although, funnily enough, 'BPM' as a search trend has remained pretty constant over the same 5 years and 'BPMN' is up almost 150%.
  • A specific training and certification organisation is behind its own schedule for producing BPM training
  • Steve's own organisation has identified 3 different 'flavours' of BPM, the existence of which could cause confusion and lack of understanding.
  • A large number of LinkedIn groups focused on BPM, many of which are vendor led

Well, call me old fashioned, but a selective search statistic, a lack-lustre (or maybe just thorough and detailed, ergo 'slow-moving') trade organisation and some biased internal research do not convince me that this draws parallels with the old BPR and is likely to suffer the same fate.

Having said that, I don't want to dismiss Steve's comments completely out of hand because I think at there is a potential for confusion and misunderstanding with BPM that we cannot ignore. It isn't based on search statistics, or on self promoting 'research' but it does go back to a key underlying human trait:

People don't like change.

BPM is a capability which every company should be looking at implementing in some way, shape or form. It doesn't have to be a huge vendor-led implementation with third party implementers and system integrators, but it should be something which is recognised and focused on within the organisation. The benefits have been detailed elsewhere. But doing this is something that a lot of organisations will pull back from doing. The business case for BPM has not been sufficiently well defined in terms of actual impartial results (rather than some vendor case study showing a particular project that has been successful), but more important than that is the fact that there doesn't seem to be a single, commonly-accepted definition of BPM as a discipline, a capability and a skill that everyone - vendors and customers alike - can discuss and work with on a level playing field. "Business Process Management" means many things to many people. I think even Steve - who apparently coined the phrase BPM back in the 1990's - would be hard pressed to produce a definition which is all encompassing and widely accepted.

Many small vendors are now producing software packages for 'BPM' which are little more than discovery tools. Some niche vendors are focusing on a particular aspect of managing a process such as business rules engines and decision management. But at the end of the day it all boils down to the fact that 'BPM' is something still relatively new in the IT world and there is fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what it is, what it does, and what the benefit is of it. This fear is the fear of change and is a contributing factor why a large number of BPM (and other) projects fail.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that BPM projects are doomed to fail. Nor am I saying that I don't think BPM is well understood. What I am saying is that it isn't widely understood and this lack of comprehension is a factor in a numer of project failures.

So what can we do? Well Steve mentions The BPM Nexus in his post which is an initiative I am part of to help define a BPM Accord. This Accord will, hopefully, seek to address a numer of the issues and problems that BPM is facing today as well as creating a non-partisan, wide ranging community space to help define and refine the BPM capability. Hopefully we will get vendor and practitioner alike involved in this and I hope my readers will step over and have a look at the site itself. With over 200 members in a little over 5 days it is starting off with some excellent support.

My thanks to Steve for his original post but, with all due respect Mr. Towers, the rumours of the death of BPM are very much exaggerated.

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

Welcome to "Because Process Matters' readers

A big "Hello" and "Welcome" to those readers who are here because they have followed a link from my article on the Metastorm 'Because Process Matters' blog.

I was lucky enough to get in contact with the good people who are responsible for that blog and offered to put together a couple of articles for them. These will, hopefully, be coming out over the coming weeks.

For those of you who are new to this blog, The Process Cafe is a quick look at some of the key issues affecting the process world as we head deeper into this economic downturn.

On here you'll find articles about whether CIO's are more concerned with BPM than with cost cutting, Why processes can't be stalked and captured, Golf and Process - separated at birth?, and a couple of posts which illustrate the problems with the 'That's the way it's always been done' mentality.

You'll also find reference to my book "The Perfect Process Project" which includes articles on "Comerford's Three Laws of Metrics"

Feel free to look around and read the articles. Hopefully you'll find something interesting (or even controversial enough to provoke a discussion!).

You can subscribe to this blog in either e-mail or RSS using the form at the top of the right hand column or learn more about me 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

What happens if you win the lottery? (or 'The Single Point of Failure')

Recently I did some work with a small distribution company operating from the South of England and Belgium. We looked at their general process set-up in an attempt to understand exactly how well they were organised to manage and improve their processes capability.

I was working with their head financial person who, it appeared, wore many hats. She was responsible for running the whole financial department, approving expenses, managing suppliers, creating monthly reports and even helping recruit and train new employees. It seemed that every question I asked about how the company operated appeared to come back to this single individual.

Alarm bells started ringing in my head immediately for many reasons. As an ex-auditor this situation was prime for an exploitation of 'segregation of duty' control failures. With a little bit of application this single individual could raise a phony invoice from a 'new' supplier, approve the invoice and pay the money directly into her own bank account. A little bit of judicious accounting or an unfortunate 'lost document' or two would leave her tracks completely covered and enable her to continue this for some time.

However this wasn't what worried me most. The fact of the matter was that she was a single point of failure in the company. I asked her the question "Who would take over your role and run this company if you won the lottery and left the next day?". There was no answer to this question. (Actually the question I used to ask in this situation was "How would the company cope if you got run over by a bus?" but this is now deemed to be politically insensitive..) The real answer to this question is that companies will, generally, cope, but their efficiency and effectiveness will suffer in the short to medium term, as will their customer service and, more importantly, their financial situation. Imagine if one individual knows the bank account details, the cheque book locations, the outstanding creditor balances and the key contact numbers at creditor organisations, and then all this information is lost. As bills fail to get paid creditors will start to withdraw lines of credit, causing cash-flow problems. This can lead to further inability to pay creditors and staff and, ultimately, lead to the companies failure. Granted this is an extreme example, but it can happen.

I've come across situations like this before and they are usually a result of rapid expansion in a smaller company where the supporting back-office infrastructure growth hasn't matched the rest of the organisation leaving small groups of people (or single individuals) with lots of knowledge and power. For the companies it is usually easier just to rely on the key individuals rather than to bring in and train additional people to help spread the workload. The results (as we've seen above) can be disasterous.

If we translate this situation into a process one, what we efeectively have is a very human-centric process where multiple workflows route through a single individual. This individual performs key decision making as well as holding knowledge of key business rules (and business relationships). The impact of removing this knowledge is easily imagined.

So how can we make sure this never happens?

1) Ensure every individual in the organisation has a back-up. This person has the same access, information and span of control and can take over the role in an emergency
2) Regularly hand responsibility over the the back-up individual to ensure they can cope with any issues that may arise
3) Re-design your business processes to allow multiple processing routes rather than channeling everything through a single person.

Now look at your own internal processes and imaging what would happen if everyone there were replaced by someone else in the organisation. Would your company survive? If it wouldn't, where are your single points of failure in the process?

Find them and fix them.

(Photo courtesy of Sergis Blog. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution licence)