Process Is The Main Thing

@ Anatoly Belaychuk’s BPM Blog

Laws of BPM Robotics

One of our BPM project’s sponsor said at the very beginning, when we discussed the possible project: “my employees don’t need a control, they need help”. I argued at the moment, but later I realized that he was right.

What do we mean when we are talking about controlling a business process? Should we consider paranoid participants suspecting that the ultimate goal is to control them?

After all, the prevailing view of a process management is this: let’s draw a process diagram and make everyone do what’s written in a box assigned to him. And a manager will get a nice picture: the speed of the corporate machine is running and the amount of fuel it consumes.

But the real life is much more complicated: it’s always about a network of processes communicating via data, signals and messages. In the absence of computer-aided control it’s people who control these processes: they watch the bills to be paid, the orders to be delivered timely and in accordance with specs, the capacity and materials to be synced with orders accepted. They also deal with non-standard situations: customer revoked the order or paid several bills with one transactions, supplier changed delivery date etc.

These are complicated tasks. Really complicated.

And now comes a business process specialist who doesn’t know how to do anything yet knows how to do it better. But if he only knows how to draw a primitive workflow then it’s no use.

Example:

  • A small company reselling “cool stuff”: gadgets, special gifts, designers’ accessories for bathrooms etc.
  • A group of processes “Assortment Management”: several employees permanently monitor internet, visit trade shows, get into competitors’ stores looking for new ideas, brands, suppliers. On one hand, due to the business profile, the assortment must be updated by trendy things regularly but on the other the product line shouldn’t be too large, it must be trimmed also regularly.
  • These several people assess up to a thousands of candidates per month. The company developed a three-stages filter: first an express assessment made by an expert who throws away most of the income. Then negotiations with vendor, logistics work-out and possible profit estimate. And finally all ideas that passed first two stages are ranged once per month and the top candidates are selected for sample purchasing with the total available budget in mind.
  • In parallel, the whole current assortment is analyzed also monthly in terms of diversity, profitability etc.

A lot of aspects are taken into consideration both during selections and assortment revsions. E.g. a number of items within a single assortment group shouldn’t be neither too small (a buyer doesn’t trust when there is no choice) nor too wide (the buyer becomes confused and goes away). The assortment is limited by the physical dimensions: all goods should be placed on the shelf which is limited in size. And other completely informal things like an intuition saying to the expert that particular good is going to be a top-seller.

What can be done here if the path of the least resistance is taken? Well one may automate the assessment with a five-steps process:

  1. Get the quotation from the vendor
  2. Find out logistics terms
  3. Evaluate merchantability
  4. Assign rating
  5. Make a decision about sample purchasing

But to start with, as was shown in the previous post, when the budget is constrained the purchase decision may only be made on the basis of the whole set of candidates and no way in the frame of a single candidate assessment process.

Next, what’s the use of this scheme if all steps are performed by a single employee? This is pure micromanagement. Is it the issue here to control the sequence of tasks? Of course not - the issue is to control the bunch of processes running simultaneously and asynchronously: hundreds of first stage assessment instances, dozens of second stage assessments, selection into and trimming from the assortment. What we need for this task is not a workflow but a complicated enough interprocess collaboration.

People don’t want to be controlled, they need help in controlling really complicated processes.

If you give it to them then there’d be no opposition, people will gladly use a BPM system. Verified by practice.

Yet you’ll need to overcome their distrust on the way - no one at the shop floor a priory expects anything good when “business process” is mentioned. Here is how I break it talking with people:

Imagine that you’ve got a robot assistant. Trouble-free and error-free. It will take the most tediuos, clerical part of your job. You’ll be able to tell it:

  • «Robot, make sure this application got the right desk.»
  • «Robot, prepare an invoice using these data and post it into accounting DB.»
  • «Robot, let me know when we got the payment by this invoice.»
  • «Robot, what is the production schedule for this order?»
  • «Robot, calculate this client’s rating by our standard procedure.»
  • «Robot, watch this order and let me know if it stucks.»
  • «Robot, give me all payment requests for tomorrow sorted by contractors.»
  • «Robot, what did the boss say last week about this complain?»
  • «Robot, the client revoked the order - withdraw it from production if it’s not too late.»

Now tell me - who would not accept such a helper?

Besides the BPM robot is safe because it obeys the laws. Not the Asimov’s law however.

The Laws of BPM Robotics:

  1. A robot will never be able to do what you are able to do.
  2. A robot will do only a part of what you are doing.
  3. A robot will do only a part that you won’t like to do yourself.
02/11/11 | Articles | ,    

Comments (6)

  1. Андрей Гордиенко 02/28/11 02:40 PM

    My opinion of this subject is not so simple.
    On the one hand You are right. People don’t like them being controlled so they may resist against of growing a control. And attempts of using an excessive control may cause to the negative results, aspeccially in creative activities.

    On the other hand in some situations it may require growing a control.
    When the functional management replaces by the process management some of the functional manegers loses a part of their previous control. The management changes bring consequences in wich executers carry out the requirements of the process logic but not the managers’s orders. It may entail the resistance of middle management. But it may need for top manegement because it decrases cost of management. And in such situations the top managers have to be assertive if they want improve business efficiency.

    P.S.Sorry for my english

  2. Anatoly Belychook 03/01/11 12:38 AM

    Andrey

    Your input is much appreciated here.

    But what do you mean by the process management replacing the functional management? I’d speak only about addition, not replacement. Or better as Geary Rummler wrote, there is no such thing as process management separate from “normal” management. It’s another aspect or dimension.

    Regarding your argument about the middle managers - it’s a good point but again, instead of taking control from them let’s better help them in gaining the control over the things they are supposed to control but do not in reality.

  3. Андрей Гордиенко 03/01/11 10:30 AM

    Anatoly

    I agree with You. My remark isn’t related with situations in wich the process management does not replase the functional management. But an appliance of BPM-systems usually results in increasing the process part of management. Even when employees expect from BPM-system help only they automatically give control growing in additional. Information that was only accessed for them before becames to be accessed for their managers too. And if executers have any reasons for hidding something they may resist against using the BPM system. IMHO, when managers notice something like that they have to be assertive in growing a control.

    Using any computer-aided system may cause to growing a contlol and bringing a help for executers at the same time. BPM-systems are not exclusions. I think that only using BPM systems for help executers considerably cutting down their scope. Edvard Deming said that 98% of the improvements depended on top managers and on busines system and only 2% on employees. If we want to improve the system we have to analyze processes in details. We have to bring to light reasons of losing production time. It can’t be done without growing a control.

  4. RE: Controlling a process - with Six Sigma?
    Six Sigma works in maufacturing because processes are repeatable. In customer facing applications SS can never work because consumers have something machines don’t - emotions and you can’t control that variance.

    Quotes from the press:

    Six Sigma: So Yesterday?
    In an innovation economy, it’s no longer a cure-all
    JUNE 11, 2007 Bloomberg Businessweek

    Austed Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli was devoted to Six Sigma. … Profitability soared, but worker morale drooped, and so did consumer sentiment. Home Depot dropped from first to worst among major retailers on the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2005. Now Nardelli’s successor, Frank Blake is dialing back on the Six Sigma. … The story unfolding at Home Depot echoes closely what’s happening at 3M after James McNerney’s reign. At Young & Rubicam, where GE board member Ann Fudge flamed out as CEO after she tried to sell ad execs on Six Sigma.

    At Raytheon, Robert Carter as a Six Sigma expert, acknowledges the “define, measure, analyze, improve, control” mind-set doesn’t entirely gel with the fuzzy front-end of invention. When an idea starts germinating, Carter says, “you don’t want to overanalyze it.”

    ———————

    Bloomberg Businessweek June 11th, 2007
    At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity
    How CEO George Buckley is managing the yin and yang of discipline and imagination
    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_24/b4038406.htm

    “Invention is by its very nature a disorderly process,” says current 3M CEO George Buckley. “You can’t put a Six Sigma process into that area and say, well, I’m getting behind on invention, so I’m going to schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday. That’s not how creativity works.”

    “If you take over a company that’s been living on innovation, clearly you can squeeze costs out,” says Charles O’Reilly, a Stanford Graduate School of Business management professor. “The question is, what’s the long-term damage to the company?”

  5. Anatoly Belychook 03/08/11 11:03 PM

    Max

    Nobody was talking about Six Sigma here nor had it in mind.

    Guess you missed the window :)

  6. Mark Norton 03/09/11 11:41 PM

    Hi Anatoly, you raise an interesting topic when you separate the concepts of control from process. Idiom’s view is that the process infrastructure (whether defined as BPM or not) is more or less a collection of dumb ‘capabilities’. The control aspect comes into play when those capabilities are put into action to respond to an event in a way that is optimal for the process owner.

    Most process led approaches seem to assume that control is an attribute of the process. Our view is that this is upside down - control needs to be detached and used to independently orchestrate the process. The process is simply an enabler for the control function (at Idiom we use the term ‘decision model’ to describe the logic behind the control function).

    It is interesting to contemplate which bit (process or control) most reflects the corporate intent. My money is on the control part – the process is usually alike across all organizations in the same domain, whereas the decisioning is always personal to the organization.

    Interesting article. Thanks and regards, Mark

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