SNw 055 Business Process – irrelevant, distracting and dangerous Created by James on 9/10/2014 9:30:18 AM
Business process is the focus of most business information system implementations and is highly ineffective, this article goes so far as to suggest that business process is irrelevant, distracting and dangerous and that there are other much more effective techniques that should be applied
Business Process – irrelevant, distracting and dangerous
Wikipedia states “Business process management (BPM) is a management discipline that focuses on improving corporate performance by managing and optimising a company's business processes”.
“Business Process” is arguably THE buzz word of the Business Information Systems world today. Every major ERP product provides comprehensive support for Business Process including comprehensive workflow management and related capabilities.
However, this focus on Business Process, the vogue for at least the last ten years is associated with rocketing system implementation costs and escalating levels of project catastrophe and write off, see my Failure Catalogue. Yet it seems that the industry does NOT stop to examine the correlation, let alone draw the uncomfortable conclusion that that consideration of this correlation calls for.
That Business Process, is, for the most part irrelevant, distracting and DANGEROUS!
Why should they?
BPM is a license to print money!
Bridgestone versus IBM
An example – Bridgetone Tires are currently engaged in litigation against IBM for damages resulting from a botched integrated business systems supply, development and implementation based on SAP technology. See "IBM Rips Into Bridgestone Over $600 Million Lawsuit"
The name of the project? OTC – “Order to Cash” – a classic example of the meaningless gobbledygook that BPM proponents use to describe process orientated project activities. Once one understands the implications the very use of the name “Order to Cash” is a pointer to a project with massive time overruns and high probability of damaging business outcomes – exactly what happened at Bridgestone.
In 2009, with a number of highly successful implementations under my belt – see the ASCO and V3 Case Studies, as evidenced by joint conference presentations with clients, the highest form of testimonial possible, I found myself confronted by a client who claimed that I did NOT know what I was doing because I did NOT “DO” business process.
They advised me that they would need to replace me with a consultant “who understands ERP”, which translated meant “a consultant who does business process”. I did NOT know how to respond, YES, I did NOT do Business Process, I never had and it had never been an issue. Eventually, humiliated, I walked away and started to investigate and consider business process and BPM generally.
In the years that followed I have investigated and diagnosed (see “Pulse Measurement”) a number of disastrous Business Process centric ERP and other business systems projects with massive time and cost overruns, stalled projects, damaged client business being the regular experience. In that time I have NOT encountered a single high value outcome or, for that matter, a single outcome that has met client expectations. Some mediocrity? YES! Success by my standards? -- see my article “What does a HIGH VALUE Business Information System Solution look like”? – NO, most certainly not!
Outcome of a successful business information systems project
Let me define success for an ERP or other business systems project in my terms:
1. It goes in flawlessly without drama and works effectively immediately;
2. It enables the business to run more smoothly and efficiently than it did before;
3. It strongly supports competitive strategic decision making and effectiveness such that three years on the client company is measurably more competitive and more profitable and is growing significantly faster than it was BEFORE the new system.
In other words, a quick call OFF the record, to the CEO results in a strong expression of satisfaction and perhaps some superlatives.
Why off the record?
Because many executives and managers LIE on the record and claim that their system is just fine because they do NOT want the shareholders to know what a mess it is and how much money they have wasted for little or no return. I know of one multi-national with a SAP implementation on which they have spent over £50 million that is so useless that almost nothing is being done in it and yet executives have been led to believe it is working fine despite the army of contractors and staff who keep things running outside of SAP.
BPM over rated and overstated
Two years ago I presented a paper titled “BPM over rated and overstated” at the BPM Summit 2013 in which I criticised BPM severely – NO ONE objected and a few people agreed – an interesting experience.
In the ensuing two years I have seen further failures, including studying the Court papers of the Bridgestone – IBM case. And I have finally concluded that in the context of business system, BPM, processing mapping and process language are irrelevant, distracting and dangerous!
Irrelevant because most parts of most organizations do NOT follow any relevant or meaningful workflow (the accurate meaning of process). We have functional units that perform tasks to agreed standards, policies and in some cases procedures but generally NOT in terms of any discernible “flow”.
There ARE cases where workflow IS important and in those cases it should be optimized (or dictated by senior management), but most of the time we rely on the intuitive initiative of well trained and responsible personnel to perform tasks in response to whatever circumstances life throws at them from minute to minute.
To perform these tasks staff work on computer screens that are logically organized with packages of related information and collated with menus or desktop icons that allow the staff member to gain quick access to whatever function they need to make use of in the moment.
An example – Workflow solution where flow charting was a waste of time
Some time ago I was involved in a project to implement a workflow management solution.
The consultants commenced by drawing flow charts and doing business process stuff – seemed reasonable at the time, after all we WERE implementing a workflow solution and I assumed they knew what they were doing!
However, once it got down to actually configuring the workflow software the fancy drawings that had taken months to perfect had to be all but totally discarded and the work redone because the REAL workflow was MUCH more complex, varied and finicky than the two dimensional diagrams could cope with. The much more flexible and powerful workflow software was able to cope with this complexity, the text book process techniques not.
A powerful lesson that conventional workflow diagramming techniques with flow charts, etc as typically used are NOT sufficiently precise or accurate to in actual fact do anything but produce conceptual sketches of ROUGHLY how things work round here! EVEN in the case of a process project!
From my engineering perspective, a total waste of time – a conclusion supported by a number of failed and sub-optimal projects I have investigated.
Hence I conclude that traditional business process mapping in whatever shape or form it takes is IRRELEVANT!
Distracting because management consultants spends days and days in intense workshops producing diagrams that are difficult to understand because they are so abstract and inexact and try and capture real time “Process” that is multidimensional rule based, complex, variable, discretionary and varies from person to person, situation to situation and day to day.
Flow Charts, Swim-lanes, Maps, etc – you name it the industry offers it – problem is that much of the time the consultant does NOT really understand the technique and is so caught up in their creative frenzy and drawings that they totally lose sight of the REAL goals of the project!
And, because they are so busy drawing, be it on a white board, brown paper or computer screen, they waste huge amounts of client staff time AND miss the vast majority of the REAL information that they should be harvesting – see my article “Effective Discovery is Essential” for an approach that actually works.
The most extreme case I have ever come investigated was an ERP implementation which, after 2 years and over a million pounds had produced numerous large files of meticulous flow charts, swim-lanes, etc plus a number of tearful and frustrated client staff who had been marginalized because of their long hours of dedicated work away from the workplace such that their permanent positions had been filled by others. The project had one of the most toxic project environments I have ever encountered. People in tears, others refusing to speak to me except off the record.
The implementer blaming the client but inaccurately describing the client’s actual requirement!
The client intensely frustrated that their reasonably simple requirement for a small piece of clever web-based software was NO closer to being met than when the implementers were appointed. The BRUTAL truth was that NOTHING that had been done in any way moved the client an inch closer to meeting their requirement.
The implementer? – the IT arm of one of the Big 4 Accounting firms – trusted advisors whose incompetence and indifference was breath-taking!
Hence I conclude that the entire business process activity on this project had totally DISTRACTED all involved from the REAL objective of the project and wasted huge amounts of time and money and seriously jeopardized honest and hardworking personnel!
Were the consultants incompetent and process obsessed or greedy and using process to milk the client? That is a conversation for another day!
The above example massively compromised needed client competitiveness, cost the client major expenditure and removed the best personnel from the workplace for a large portion of two years. They never went live so their losses were contained.
The Bridgestone example evidences what happens when a system designed on the basis of Business Process goes live, see the reference in the Failure Catalogue. Tires stacked in the parking lots, a huge warehouse rented to store stock. Orders unfulfilled frustrated customers going elsewhere for desperately needed supplies and, it is the nature of things that once you lose a customer that way they virtually NEVER come back – so long term sustained loss of revenue and damage to profitability and competitiveness. See the Failure Catalogue for further indication of the things that are happening.
Business process is NOT the only culprit, it is but ONE component of consistently ineffective and unreliable methods and incompetent practitioners associated with a massive lack of accountability and questionable ethics.
There is a huge need for statutory regulation of the industry and licensing of practitioners.
Having hesitated to stick my neck out for over ten years I have concluded that to all intents and purposes business process related activities on business information system projects, an area in which I believe I can justly claim some expertise, is irrelevant, distracting and dangerous and should be avoided.
My next article, “What to do INSTEAD of Business Process” discusses the approach that I advocate to achieving high value practical system outcomes.
Should you be battling with a business process orientated project and needing to understand where you are and how the project can be turned around please email me or call me to discuss how I can be of assistance.
Dr James A Robertson PrEng
Download Business Process – irrelevant, distracting and dangerous -- White Paper in Adobe pdf format
The comment feature is locked by administrator.