Alec Sharp: Avoiding the Pitfalls – 7 Common Mistakes in Working With Business Processes

Earlier this year, on a long flight from Brisbane to San Francisco, I had the good fortune to sit next to Charles Follett, a process analyst with the Stratam Group . I had noticed the book he was reading on management thinking, and that led to a lengthy discussion on coaching and the similarities between the agile methodology and business process re-engineering. After that discussion I had a made a note to learn more about this, especially given some of the tasks I undertake as an agile coach involve process change (either directly with the team or the project they are undertaking).

From Miscellaneous

Last week I had the good fortune to get invited to see Alec Sharp present in Brisbane on business processes, thanks to my friends at Software Education. They had mentioned that he has been the highest rated speaker at previous Software Education conferences, and after seeing his presentation style I can see why. The following are my notes from this course, however if you have any interest in business processes, I highly recommend getting along to one of his classes.

1. Clarity on what a business process really is

  • can be anything from product lifecycle management to writing business processes
  • an end to end business process, more than the activities, flow, documentation and efficiencies
  • sometimes important activities are seen as separate processes, sometimes the sequence, metrics and rewards work against the original intent
  • don’t focus on the work but the result
  • name processes in verb noun form, flip to understand intent, the process must have an output that can be counted eg.  issue permit vs handle application (flipped you are issuing a permit whereas handling an application says nothing)
  • avoid mushy verbs like manage, monitor and administer
  • name a process from the customer perspective
  • management kiss of death is “improve efficiency”, usually efficiency goes down and yields little or no benefit
  • telco example – didn’t identify the true overall process, confused organisation with process, ignored the customer, didn’t measure what the customer cared about (time to provision a service)
  • usually a trigger has two or more results (at least one for the customer and one for the organization)
  • “local optimization yields global suboptimisation” (Eliyahu M. Goldratt in The Goal)
  • when making change you need to demonstrate not convince
  • three types of triggers – external event, time, condition
  • look for boundaries – usually a token change or one to many event
  • keep focussed on the happy path
  • sometimes useful to start at the end result and work the process backwards
  • three types of processes – governance, core enterprise and enabling processes
  • doesn’t always look like a “linear noodle”

2. Recognise negative reactions to process

  • people get nervous when we look at process
  • it’s not about downsizing, its about eliminating friction, etc…
  • backlash against labels – “sick sigma” and “six stigma”
  • use the right tool for the problem, the wrong tool might sour the organization

3. Address cross functional issues, make it blame free

  • Freakonomics – best seller, about the underlying reason as to why things happen – the law of unintended consequences
  • different functional goals – sales bonus, maximize machine utilization, lower shipping costs, etc – collectively harms the entire process because nobody is really looking at the entire process
  • Boeing – planes always move when being built, everything is about the plane
  • functions are good – align expertise – just need to coexist with the process
  • criticism is hard to take – make the process clear, visible and blame free
  • figure out what the processes are, align performance goals, processes need an owner to set direction

4. Clarify business process to information system linkages

  • success is usually process first and IT secondary
  • process success – consistency and repetition
  • configure software in a process aware fashion

5. Avoid the deep dive into complex, detailed models

  • make the process visible
  • process decomposition – visual overview of process, good for high level, clarify scope, no more than three levels
  • swimlane diagram – a workflow diagram should should show the flow of work, tell the story, simple
  • BPMN – Business Process Modelling Notation – made for manufacturing so 95% of notation is useless in business, but recognised standard and tools
  • common errors – misunderstanding the process, hiding parts of the process through sanitisation, too much detail – need a balance of sanitisation versus detail
  • simple diagrams! – who, what and when – show time (arrows only out from right and in from the left), simple symbols (boxes and lines only), many cases for a process may need multiple diagrams (simpler)
  • progressive detail – scope –> content –> detail
  • successful techniques will always be used outside their area of domain
  • workflow modelling good for requirements – stop workflow modeling when the work stops flowing – drill down to use cases and service specifications and then data modelling
From Miscellaneous

6. Take a holistic view to understand all requirements

  • workflow and systems are important but are only two enablers – also motivation and measurement, human resources and policies and rules and facilities (consider these for every step)
  • 55% of knowledge workers spend their day on administration when support staff are laid off (Slack by Tom DeMarco)

7. Why would they choose your process – differentiator

  • strive to be great at one and good at two – operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy (Discipline of Market Leaders)
  • no clear differentiator usually means not good at anything
  • silos with differentiator differences is the classic Dilbert sales versus marketing
  • different processes can have different differeneiatots

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