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On dinosaurs and ex-processes

Personally I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of evolution. Something new slowly stepping out of its old self. Take dinosaurs for example. Those great beasts that roamed the earth and over time turned into … oops sorry, because time apparently was the one thing they didn’t have. But isn’t it great to imagine what could have happened had a meteorite/climate change/pollution/an act of god/Liechtenstein winning the World Cup (choose whatever comes close to your personal belief) not put a sudden end to dinosaurs? Maybe Mama Dino should have put her foot down (thereby probably causing a minor earthquake) and told Papa Dino to start accepting that things would be unlikely to stay as they are and that maybe they should spend a little time on exploring the possibility of evolution. Who knows, they might have gotten their act together and started building shelters or whatever. And just maybe the dinosaurs would still be around today in one form or another.

So now we (minus the dinosaurs of course) have to content with business processes as a cheap substitute for roaming the the earth and demonstrating our power. And contrary to dinosaurs our communication has evolved (!) from growls to beautiful terms and expressions like ‘Customer satisfaction index’, ‘Service orientation’, ‘Customer experience’ and ‘Outside-In’. Great stuff and it all seems to suggest that we have actually understood that customers are not only at the center of an enterprises’ strategy but are the sole raison d’etre of an enterprise.

I raise my hat and solute you with a glass of champagne if that’s the case with your company. And I can well afford to do so because I won’t be needing too many hats and open that many bottles of France’s finest.

My hypothesis (being very careful now) is that we have over the past 10 years not nearly done enough to be able to make the leap to customer experience and Outside-In. In general, employees (the process workers) are too seldom involved when it comes to process improvement, have mostly too little knowledge about the processes they work in and how their actions interact with other processes and the so-called process managers are often simple process administrators. As one CPO (that’s Chief Process Officer hey, another pointer in the right direction?) said at a conference last year: ‘Good process management should not be left in the hands of our current process managers – they are not qualified.’ I might add that even if they were qualified, their skills would probably cover tools and tricks but certainly not how to evolve a companys mindset towards customer-oriented thinking and lets not even mention Outside-In.

Being in a lucky position to have been able to closely monitor several companies over the past 10 years I can barely count the number of service initiatives and improvement drives they have started and which were ordered by the top management. Glossy brochures for the employees, posters and multi-coloured charts lining the walls is about all these programmes managed to produce. Because if you take todays processes and substract the IT that supports them what remains are basically the same processes with the same kinds of objectives defined from the same internal (!) perspective as 10 years ago. It’s just that IT has provided a comfortable – if rather expensive – veil to cover the fact that nothing has really changed.

Understanding where you are is just as important as creating a vision of where you’d like to go. Once you have those two elements in place – and only then – can you really come up with something like a planned evolution. It takes just one single competitor in your market who has managed to develop a workforce and processes entirely fixated on customers to start a process that will leave you looking like dinosaurs (and end up like they did). And before you know it, your customers will be hitting you over your head – probably with the odd dinosaur bone they picked up along the way.

Of course, many will say that my hypothesis doesn’t apply to their company (and in that case I sincerely apologize to them), but take a look at the quality of process documentation we’ve seen at the Process TestLab and you can’t help but wonder how we want to evolve if we can’t even properly describe where we are. Like John Cleese would have said 40 years ago: ‘This is a (future) ex-process, it has seized to be, it is no more and the (IT-)plumage doesn’t enter into it’.

Process evolution begins in the mind and might end up in IT as well, but never the other way round.

(Written in a grumpy mood, last nights World Cup game wasn’t much to shout about)

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One Comment

  1. John Owens says:

    Well said, Thomas,

    Sadly all too true. Evolution and survival of the fittest seems to have bypassed both IT and BPM. One defective processes is simply transformed (at great expense) into yet another defective process every five years or so.

    When IT comes to the party it brings ever more complex and expensive technical solutions in an attempt to get the ever more convoluted processes to perform better.

    When concrete solutions fail, they invent nebulous one with nebulous titles – none more nebulous than The Cloud!

    Regards
    John

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