Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A day in the life of a processconsultant

I am currently in the luxerious but also difficult position of a processconsultant in a quite demanding project, that requires effort from me in a wide range of (process)consultancy areas.
Warning: if you think processconsultants listen, then goto their room to draw and publish processdiagrams, and magically people will follow these... read on....

Here are 5 areas you may encounter as processconsultant depending on your scope and influence. Or in my case, because in these areas things were not evolving well, and were impacting my ability to deliver good results, so I, sigh, jumped in.... (but do check your client, to see if they want you there....)

Area 1. Power discussions
The funny thing about most processes, is that they cut through various functional areas, with their own reporting structure. When designing new processes, early on (or in some cases, too late) the powerquestion will pop up: who will be responsible for what part of the process. And this means the interesting culture of manager's ego's (score!) and risk-aversion (avoid!)
As a processconsultant you might find yourself in workshops, email fights, and waiting for the "oracles" to decide (and hope the verdict will stay the same for some time...)

Area 2. Strategy clarification/operationalization
The typical thing you want as an organization is that your processes actually support (or realize) your strategy. Porter calls it "FIT". And the funny thing about many organizations, especially during change-dynamics, is that some of the strategy might be defined (and sometimes even written down! Sorry, ironic), but often, the management "bla" is so high-level that even selling icecream might be a perfectly fine process with great strategy alignments in terms of "customer focus, quality, etc". So, to bridge the gap between strategy and operations, strategy will need to be detailed in more operational aspects. As a processconsultant you might find yourself coaching mid-level managers to translate the management bla to things that have meaning for the mortal souls, including yourself to be able to define the right process.

Area 3. Groupdynamics and coaching
So you think doing some interviews, showing the diagrams will create alignment? Will create support for new ways of working? Think again. Change is hard, and building support for blueprints describing the future, while it's being build is even harder. As a processconsultant you will find yourself often in groups that are in various forms of disagreement. And often they will look to you, to help/facilitate them to find the answers. Their points of view might confuse you, irritate you, and/or enlighten you (and possibly all at the same time). Help them to find consensus. But you will need their teamlead to decide and steer, where needed.

Area 4. Operational negotiations
Ah, the processdesign looks good, but now the real work starts: implementing it. This will lead to many additional process aspects. How will work be coordinated? Who will sit in what governance structure? Who does what in the processpart of this team? How will we split the work? How do we deal with performance requirements? Vacations and workschedules. A lot of processlogistics need to be settled. As a processconsultant you will find yourself in various HR type discussions, trying to get the team to work....

Area 5. Steering, coaching the manager/teamleads
You may have defined a great process, and even defined key performance indicators (KPI's), but the teamleads need to be empowered: what will they do when one of the KPI's goes off bounds? What steering mechanism do they have, and when will they use it? How to help them get beyond firefighting (which is often a start for processimprovement) culture and get them to start steering in a more tactical way?

Some tips and best practices
- Know your scope as processconsultant, and be conscious about extending your role (you might have too much work and/or too little influence)
- Know your groupdynamics (norming, forming, etc) and change (ADKAR, Carnall's Coping Cycle). Keep an open eye on what's happening in the team(s) around you.
- Be able to operate on strategic, tactical and operational level (including the people on these levels - culture, network, vocabulary)
- Be able to step into the facilitator's role, guiding people to make their own choices (it's their process anyway, "egoless processdesign")
- Ambitions for change might be high, but ability to deliver in the organization will determine the actual results. Be pragmatic, but also don't get crushed between vision and results.
- Maturity for an organization will take time and the right interventions. Be patient when needed, and let things fail even, if needed to get messages/learning across. "If that what must, can't, then make sure what can must" (freely translated from dutch).
- It's people, your work is about people (and a bit of process)

Concluding thoughts
I seem to return to a central purpose for a processconsultant - mainly: to create clarity, consensus and alignment (say 95% of your time), the rest: dropping it in (ever evolving) processmodels.

Last: spend your energy in your own developments accordingly (learning in 2 weeks all the details of BPMN might be interesting, but you might need other priorities ;-))

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Work in a process. More then we typically see...

Recently delivered training to a group of processconsultants. One item is "workflowmanagement" (no, I do not mean the technology). What we mean in the training when we talk about workflowmanagement is all the work and supporting business rules that coordinate the work being done, e.g. that make the work flow.

Interestingly enough, the students had a hard time seeing the point.

When we talk about a process, people typically limit their view to the direct work being done. If a process consists of activity A, B and C, then, when asked what work is done in the process, they will say "well, A, B and C". Sometimes we play a little game with them, to clarify: we assign tasks A, B and C, and tell them to go ahead and do the process. Work evolves and quickly we can point to new tasks that people suddenly are doing: coordination, making the work flow. Making sure the output of A is delivered to B, so the person doing B can continue. People than understand that transport is an additional activity. But unfortunately, they still don't see that the transport also has a hidden business rule for coordination "if you receive output of A, then start processing B".

The (unfortunately now technical) concepts of "orchestration" and "choreograpy" are two patterns that are used a lot when people are doing work and coordinating the work. Often we see choreography, where people have thought upfront on the process, and agreed on various actions and rules to let the work flow ("so if you are ready with X, you give it to me, and I will...."). Orchestration you see somewhat less: "Micromanaging supervisors", but in, for instance warehouse picking, there is usually a central coordinating unit that hands out work-orders, and triggers other work-orders when the earlier work-orders have been reported ready.

As part of an MBA training we played a process simulation game, to practice applying lean techniques to improve the process. When the group analysed the results of a round of playing, suddenly someone discovered her own "choreograph" activity and the bottleneck it created: the person "batched" outgoing work and delivered when the stack was getting too big (bottleneck 1) and also delivered the items as Last In, First Out order, which later in the process created longer and variating cycle times (bottleneck 2). A nice example of suboptimal workflowmanagement....

My point: in every process, there is a hidden set of activities and business rules, that make the work flow (in terms of activating/triggering people to wait/start/continue). When optimizing processes, this "hidden" process is a vital element in process optimization. We might blindly stare at improving executing A, B or C, but looking at the coordination and supporting rules will also often give a lot of optimization possibilities.

Assignment: next time you encounter a process (say, eating out) watch the process coordination going. You will see a lot of stuff happening and (sometimes) fail....

Process-design and your view on people

Quite busy, so my flow of blogitems has been diminished considerably. But collecting a lot of thoughts, observations and lessons, so maybe some time soon....

Today's thought: view on people

As processconsultant, I think it's vital that you have a clear understanding of your own view on people in the context of processes.
I encounter two opposing variations in the BPM world (and anything in between):

1. As processconsultant, we gather input, then design the process, then implement it. Implementing means: pushing people in the pigeonholes (processes, activities, roles), and assume they will do their work, driven by KPI's and managers whipping the lot.
The basis assumption: if you design, they will come and do. The rest is "changemanagement", where we explain and assume that either "they" accept, or we encounter "resistance", which we will need to "overcome". We own the process, but accept "input".
I find this approach also a lot in the BPM technology space "Buy this tool, define the process, and your people will obey and empty their taskboxes....".
So, first goals, then process/technology, then people.

2. Processes are done by people, to reach certain goals. So... first we have goals, then people, then, as a supporting mechanism, we have processes. Quite a different viewpoint! Here we first have to understand the goals of the organization and find people willing to support these goals (if nobody found, the rest is pointless). Once we have these people, we work with them (as a supporting/facilitator) to help them structure their work to reach those goals. They own the process, we bring in the process-structuring knowledge.

I firmly believe in approach 2. Yes, it requires more talking, and even more scary: being vulnerable and sometimes unsure what the people/group will want/do/support. It means running workshops, not owning the result, only the way to get there.... It also means accepting that the quality of the outcoming processes is purely based on the maturity of the people you work with. And with careful interventions you might be able to stimulate/let them grow.
In my experience I have to often seen type 1 approaches result in a lot of paper or BPA tools filled with stuff, but no implementation or support from the key people you need for working processes: the process participants or better: the PEOPLE, that understand and are happy to be supported by the process.....