Another not-so-meek enterprise software view, stubbornly inviting more head shaking. This time about the rising wave of BPM and similar products:
ERP and other classic "back office" systems could lean on (actual or virtual) physical frameworks - an assembly line, pipes and pumps in a plant, point A and point B in a logistics scenario leaving the choices to be limited to "by sea" or "by air". Stuff happening underway was appropriately termed and handled as "exceptions".
But with such process software pushing maturity while customers calls for systems to help running all the other processes, BPM and similar systems stands out as perhaps the most important "new" offering by the big vendors and small alike. Not unexpected this, as "all other processes" are the processes involving people, massively dwarfing the linear processes in value-added while under-supported by IT.
Again, the current framework as described in my last post (organisational hierarchies, meetings, budgets etc.), is simply accepted as the architectural underpinning for the BPM effort.
Note the M (manage or even modelling) in BPM, a tell-it-all: It sets out to manage (model) the given framework in order to run and control the processes. Budgets, business rules, organisational roles, transactions, meetings - all important parameters for the BPM.
If work was like a water flow and the given framework was the pipe it flows through, then BPM would be the system whereby pipes were shifted from side to side and valves opened and shut to direct changes to the flows. Good enough if the flow is water.
Not so good if the water molecules had a mind of their own and actually were able to make directional decisions underway. Funny thing, people can. And more; it's wanted because people are smarter than machines and that's why you hired them. Ever broken business rules or botched the main systems just so you actually can get your job done? But of course you have. Ever noticed that BPM descriptions mostly are limited to rather linear snippets of the overall flow and never the whole shebang?
Another framework is called for: A framework that allows the participants to choose the best path while still allowing focus on the task at hand - and with no cracks for work to disappear into! The framework must also reflect and describe the overall strategy so all can see beyond their own stretch and into any bend further down the hill. A riverbed with full view to the whole river instead of a closed and managed pipeline.
That's when the full potential of groups of humans with a common purpose - aka organisations - will be unleashed.
And in my view, for that purpose BPM is built on false premises, it will simply not do. Department of blind alleys.
PS: BPM implementation costs of 100 - 500 k $ are mentioned, while still giving 100-200% ROI - and that despite the limitations. Says something about the potential for an alternative path forward that does not end in a wall.
[The Obvious Disclosure: That's the stuff I'm tinkering with, a framework in itself running any process directly.]
Been itching to jump into the 2.0 discussion but have held back as I am a bit counter-every-theory... but why the heck not, risking much head shaking allow me a quick brain dump on one aspect of everything 2.0:
Work is a process, tasks in a sequence. Any type of process requires a framework, just like water will have to find the riverbed to become a river. No framework no process, even if the framework only resides in your head when doing the weekend chores.
The framework we have for people processes/manual processes/knowledge work/Barely Repeatable Processes is first of all the organisational hierarchy to distribute and control work, plus the usual building blocks like deadlines, budgets, meetings (the most important cornerstone) and double-entry-bookkeeping (basis for the ubiquitous "data models").
With that framework controlling the processes, delivering work and organising feedback we have system which youngest part is only 514 year old, oldest harks back to before pen and paper. And the framework-science; management theory, has not made huge strides since the Roman Army despite Harvard Business School, McKinsey, BCG and 40,000 management handbooks in print at any time. Dilbert is not the only one unhappy with that framework.
With Everything 2.0 hope arrived, and many threw themselves onto it seeing how these methods often allows work to happen outside the hierarchical framework. It felt good for awhile, and everybody talked about the dawn of something new.
In 2005 Hughtold us "somebody asked me to explain why corporate blogging works" talking about the membranes surrounding different parts of the organisation and suggested that "Blogs punch holes in membranes like like it was Swiss cheese". Precisely.
There is one thing missing; such methods do not deliver a new framework. And without a framework no process. And without process, no enterprise.
Take a wiki - I often use the term "sandbox", fascinating place to be, but not much process-wise; little or no process ownership and thus no progress accountability. Excellent though as single task, single question, single write-up methodology - Wikipedia, SAP's SDN/BPX and in my early Linux days; the butt-saving newsgroups.
Actually, being even more "counter" than Dennis who in a guest post solicited this comment from Tim O'Reilly: "Dennis, this post demonstrates a shocking ignorance of what Web 2.0 is really all about. It’s the move to the internet as platform..."
In my reality Dennis understands very well what it's about - an ignorance for what enterprise is about; a social group with a purpose that requires sequential tasks. An environment that is fully dependent on a process framework - the context and process he calls for - and the Web 2.0 does not deliver that. At best it is a set of nice and useful single-task tools and the "internet as platform" is pretty much a non-core issue and beside the point.
For the newshounds among us it might have been a less interesting TechEd than usual as last minute mails stated that "The event has undergone some changes in the past few days as a number of SAP executives that were planning to attend will no longer be in Berlin". Thus not many "fireside chats" with executives for us bloggers.
But over the days, having more time with all rungs of management and the usual suspects with ears to the ground, an interesting picture started to take form in my head. By all means probably not entirely right, but still...
There's a "spring cleaning" taking place, new world situation adaption seen as an opportunity and not entirely a bad thing.
The maturity level of the platform is accepted, defence of the old seems to be shifting towards a new openness to the future.
Invigorating - spring cleaning always is.
When I first saw the messages about instant and dramatic budget cuts my first thought was "typical panic button, put on the helmet and duck behind the desk hoping for better times to return". But not so much when I started to poke around, seems the "freeze" can be seen as a natural extension of changes set in motion this spring.
"This is the best thing that could happen, at last an excuse to clean out bad (and expensive) habits, move people around perhaps even loose a few" was mentioned in hushed voices, eyes roaming around for unwanted eavesdroppers. First one voice, then another and soon I sensed a hushed chorus happy with what was happening.
But it did not start or stop there, seems this has been going on since Sapphire this spring, gathering speed in the current financial crisis.
"This is not a reorganisation!" - was made abundantly clear - "re-allocation of resources" is better. That might explain the lack of dramatic messages from within and why I really did not "get it" until business cards were swapped and new interesting lines of reporting were described. New and fresh and smart faces popped up all over the place, and many of my old friends (I only have smart friends ;)) could report about changes to their immediate org structure and much new energy flowing.
Surprising - no more blind defence of status quo, rather a keen willingness to pose questions and listen.
Sucking in and analysing a combination of Léo Apotheker's keynote, browsing the sessions programs and just walking and talking my way through the halls - I would say the current focus seems to be some kind of "pluck the lowest hanging fruit": New and nifty UIs, more and more useful composition tools, flexibility added where none existed, but as a "big path" forward it hardly makes anyone wide-eyed.
Looking for some signs of new "big pictures' being painted the only brief moment of "aha!" came with Leo's last slide regarding the "future architecture" that included a full width blob named "Semantic Layer". That sent me (yet again) out on a chase to look for real radical core stuff. After much running around I found Gunther Stuhec, the same chap I found one year ago after even more journalistic footwork. He has now been elevated to a full quarter of the "future architecture" slide!
Although, when drilling down, not quite a "Dramatic Future Technology": Even if W3C's standards are used,and some very cool stuff regarding the semantic part of the "semantics" is delivered, it still does not question the underlying data-model - which would have been truly dramatic of course - an area where I think the real value of the W3C methodology lies. Translation and better handling of different semantics is the name of the game, don't touch the existing base, a layer as in a "coating" or at most as in "glue".
At last SAP and I agree fully that what they call "manual processes", others call "knowledge worker" and I term as BRP is in fact a bigger (and barely explored) market than the Easily Repeatable Processes - thus much good work is put into the BPM area. In fact it was when I dipped into that area that I started to have real fun (thanks Marilyn for all the nudges!). Here I found people open for radical views, here I found a former unheard of willingness to explore and discuss. Not much need to defend status quo as this area is reasonable new to SAP, combined with some interesting changes to the organisation mentioned above in the Spring Cleaning section.
I think the credit crunch came in the nick of time, it seems to have given SAP an "excuse" to reinvigorate the important parts of their organisation and opened up for a new and unheard of willingness to drop the defence mode and start talking reality with an open mind.
SAP, despite budget cuts, were kind enough to cover my, and my fellow bloggers, travel and accommodation costs, then allowing us unfettered access to all and everybody - thank you SAP and in particular Mike (and Stacey) that works so hard while putting up with us! It certainly displays an organisational self-confidence and maturity not found in many other large organisations, especially in times like these.
Add openness to new realities and a new energy emerging, my belief in SAP is only strengthened. Gonna be interesting this.
We all take deadlines for granted. They're annoying of course, but unquestionable and untouchable.
Forget that. Deadlines are bad, foolish and in most cases basically counterproductive. And there are better ways.
Does a farmer have deadlines? Nope, he knows the sequence of things very well, and all activities are initiated by weather, the growth and whatever else nature has in store for him. Rising early; first thing is to check the weather to allow ploughing or harvesting, then he checks his crop for growth and infestations. No deadlines, milestones of Gantt charts - only a starting point immediately followed by a get-the-job-done.
(Note though: He's well prepared, just waiting for the start signal, it being a weather window or a change of hue.)
Spending a weekend on a spring clean, do you organise by project management tools? Gutters cleaned by 10:35, Saturday?
What do you think happens when somebody has a deadline in two weeks? He'll deliver on deadline, if good. Rather a chance that it will be later.
How do you think that will affect your bottom line? No chance in hell it'll be better than planned-by-deadlines-resource-use, only some chance that it'll be worse.
What does a ten days out deadline do to you personally? More often than not it might play out like this: Two days of "got plenty of time", six days of ever increasing bad conscience that you have not started yet, culminating in two days all in a fluster.
Stop the folly. Now.
OK, I hear ya; trains have to be met, product delivery have been promised, people have to meet up, so what's the alternative?
First step: Rewire your brain back to natural mode; think start not end.
Things always begins with the start, duh. Focus on the end is like focus on the ditch when you're out cycling, you'll end up in it. Then when a task ends the next one in the sequence starts, that's how stuff happens. Unless you're in an organisational setting. Or have to catch a train.
Second step: Ask questions.
Do not take a deadline imposed at face value, find out what's the real need. We're so used to deadlines that we invent them all the time. I need the curtains to be finished by Wednesday, production will start on the 11th, sometimes for real, sometimes estimates, sometimes pure fiction. Find out what real and not so real constraints are.
Third step: Have a "Conductor".
Let the process be a live one with a "conductor". Just like an orchestra where each violin or oboe will follow the given sequence and speed as conducted. Trust the conductor to have experience to know roughly what's required, let the conductor speed up things knowing well what it takes in changes to priorities, path or sequence and what should be cut. Be the "farmer".
Fourth step: Real-time run and transparency tool.
Have a real-time tool to run the process for real-time feedback and change distribution - just like a conductor would stand in front of the orchestra will full overview and ears all open while all can see him and all his signs. The good old hierarchy, budget, management system or Gantt chart will not cut it - real-time running with real-time transparency and reporting is a must.
Once again, deadlines are bad for profit. Deadlines are not needed. Awast ye scurvy "deadlines".
Suddenly things changed, buyers are holding back, budgets are frozen, projects are moved into "next year" - and to add insult to injury this happens when most start their budget cycle. Not the expansive mood to create a supplier-friendly next year's budget I would say.
Bad? Sure, but hang on:
That buyers says "stop" does not mean that they have no needs anymore, it simply means that overnight their needs have changed.
That you suddenly ditched the idea of a new car, that the expensive family summer cruise is now on hold does not mean that you do not need transport or a family vacation anymore. Sitting down you now think taking the train instead of driving would be good, that a camping trip would do the family even more good than stuffing your face on a floating restaurant.
And that's where the "great" part for the entrepreneur lies - the needs did not disappear overnight, they simply shifted while your competition is geared towards the products in vogue two weeks ago. Suddenly they are bewildered and succumb to the tendency to say "the market will return when all this is over", cutting costs, holding their breath and in general thread water.
There is suddenly a shift to needs that few, probably unprepared, caters for.
That things might not turn back to "normal", shifted needs means new solutions that may end up as the new "normal".
You could end up doing camping trips for many years when you found how much you all loved it. The cruise folks will sit there while the camping outfitters will thrive.
This is what you must do now:
Find out, as fast as you can, to what have your customer's needs shifted to, and if there are other potential customers looking for what you can deliver.
Change your own offerings to that and deliver now.
It's in "bad" times that the basis for big fortunes are laid. Good luck!
In business "change" is a part of life, as in life itself. It's prompted by new ideas, a changing environment, new competition and sometimes the healthy and simple need to move on.
So, what happens the day when the issue is raised?
One word - "organisational change".
Analysis of organisational structure ensues, roles, positions and hierarchies are scrutinised, boxes and interconnecting lines on a white-board are erased and drawn and erased and drawn.
Once a consensus is reached plans are set in motion and hapless employees are sent offsite to dangle from ropes and devise clever ways to cross rivers with a nail and a tooth. Seventy blue baseball caps have been ordered and a big kick-off party tries hard to drum up some enthusiasm.
Here's an even worse situation: Try to merge two different organisations that in principle are doing the same thing.
Reshuffle the org charts, streamline the lines of responsibility on the white-board, implement. What happens? The well made plan hits reality, i.e. when the top-to-bottom theory is merged into the bottom-to-top reality: Grinding of gears, and even longer "team-building" outings in the damp woods for the reluctant troops.
An extremely expensive, time consuming and amazingly inefficient way to change what is basically "how we do things".
So why is "business process change" equal to "organisational change" in most people's minds?
Because the organisational hierarchy is still seen, and used, as the framework for business processes - the mechanism that distributes, controls and measures work in most organisations but pure assembly lines.
But, times have changed: It is not the only available framework anymore. It is only the old framework. And it is the most inefficient framework. Full stop.
Do I need to mention the Thingamy work framework as an alternative? Nah, done that before.
In order to understand, simulate and reproduce any natural phenomena we need a model, a theory. With that established, simulation can happen, understanding of cause and effect may occur.
But sometimes something unwanted happens: If the model is only approximative and there is money involved a tendency to game the model itself becomes very strong. We are after all humans. Homo Ludens that is.
To understand commerce, and even run commerce and industry we have developed a model, or rather a set of models where the most important one is called double-entry book-keeping, a 514 old model that tries to represent the transactions. Being rather coarse it soon required rules, regulations and referees - after all money is involved so the participants soon found ways to adjust, tweak and even cheat for their own gain.
And with rules duct-taping a two-pages-at-a-time paper based model representing reality what do we get? An increasing tendency to game the system of course. How much of the activity on Wall Street and in the City of London would you think is focused on gaming the system and how much is focused on fulfilling real life tasks like creating new products or repairing bridges? Anybody's guess I would say, but if you ask me, quite a substantial part being gaming the system. Certainly more money in gaming a system than in actually delivering a tangible value. Tangible values have the bad tendency of keeping the margins down, gaming the intangible and invisible has no limits.
Adding more rules will never change that reality. Deregulation or not, no real difference but the time-span before the model functionality is messed up again. Fair-value measurement standards, leverage ratio limits, no skin off my nose - it's all about the referee adding rules. Bailout, new rules, new referees and scared participants will forever be a part of it all. We'll sort this one out now, then we'll sit back and wait for the next one. And mind you, this is no Black Swan, this one is a Plain Goose returning from it's winter habitat. They fly off every now and then, then they return, that should not surprise anybody.
The current crisis is a game crisis, the best way to solve it is to stop the game, simply by moving the activity off the game pitch.
For this you have to look for a new model to represent reality more directly leaving less opportunity to game it. As you cannot create new models based on the old ones one has to start by dumping old models. I would suggest killing off the old Italian model as a good start and replace it with something slightly more modern.
Then of course, accepting the reality that we have the tendency to game any model, keep on refining the models instead of adding new rules.
Apologies extended to my old chums in the investment banking industry, it's not your fault, you've been in it just for the game.
"Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are financial and non-financial metrics used to help an organisation define and measure progress toward organisational goals - The act of monitoring KPIs in real-time is known as business activity monitoring (BAM)."
Usually applied to individuals, but why not one that can be applied to the organisation proper?
A friend of mine (suspect he'd like to remain anonymous) in a large organisation told me the other day about his own little experimental KPI, the best ever for unadulterated measurement of real organisational effectiveness:
"The number of hours, days or weeks one can do absolutely nothing before being noticed".