3 ways to ensure your process isn’t the enemy of organizational improvement

The world is becoming a more process-centric place and to a large degree, rightfully so.  The wide acceptance of standards around processes for organizations, specific types of interaction, and data exchanges has, in general, lifted the quality of the goods and services we receive from most organizations on a daily basis, while reducing the cost.  Within many of these organizations, the ones that have grown and matured are the ones focused on the care and feeding of these processes, and the services they support. Unfortunately, in some cases the pendulum has swung too far.  The focus on process has become an anchor dragging on organizational agility and performance.  Is your organization too focused on process and not enough on performance? Here are 3 quick ways to check the pulse of your process-oriented organization:
Check your outcomes: Performance management systems are critical to understanding how your organization drives performance and spotting areas for improvement. Make sure that your performance management system is truly measuring the performance of the system, including outcomes. Knowing that 99% of transactions were completed within a service specification is great.  Knowing that 99% of the customers of that service were happy with it is even better.

Check your peers: Having a mature and well understood process is great.  However, as time moves on you need to keep an eye on innovations within your peer, and near peer organizations. Nobody wants to be sitting on top of a process that is repeatedly, accurately, and steadily increasing the lag between your performance and that of your peers. Understanding where other organizations are succeeding, and developing an ongoing process for accommodating process innovation is critical to maintaining organizational performance while you maintain your process orientation.

Check with your people: One of the first places you will find out about a lagging or underperforming process is at the water cooler. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the conversation happens, you may miss a great opportunity to change course and intercept a failing process before it impacts organizational performance. It is critical that an internal feedback loop for processes be in place and that process innovation be a part of organizational culture. Don’t be afraid to allow employees to provide input into your processes. After all, hopefully these are your foremost experts in these processes.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Avoiding the common pitfalls of enterprise architecture

The history of enterprise architecture as a management discipline has been marked by failure to live up to the promise it showed as a concept. The idea of an enterprise architecture and the explicit understanding of the relationships between the most critical forces, resources, and processes involved in the execution of  an organization’s business is powerful.  People can grasp on an intuitive level how powerful the reality of that concept would be if it could be put into practice and harnessed on behalf of the enterprise. Unfortunately, the conceptual enterprise architecture that enables the agile enterprise and informs executives in the midst of critical portfolio and execution decisions has given way to a morass of additional bureaucracy and expensive efforts to create enterprise models that are more often significant as records of organizational history than as blueprints for the future. The problems lie in three areas.  The first of which is a lack of clear performance objectives for the EA effort. This early effort to understand what the organization is attempting to achieve through its EA efforts is critical, to the point so that not having this in place almost certainly dooms whatever effort occurs in its absence to failure. It is simply impossible to get value from any effort so potentially broad as an EA effort without determining in advance what success will look like in order to focus the effort around areas where the EA can benefit the organization meta-model as a whole. The second major failure stems from the belief that EA is somehow all about the process for developing content; although it seems that almost 90% of the material you read regarding the discipline is related to eliciting information from the enterprise, modeling the information, or frameworks. I am a big believer in the fact that having the right information is critical to the success of the EA effort by and large, but I know from extensive experience on client sites that too much focus on methods and models leads to a low return on investment for the organization as a whole. Finally, there is far too little attention paid to helping the consumers of EA information. This last one is really simply the end product of the first two, but I have almost never had a project where I felt the funding allocated towards stakeholder communication, marketing, support and documentation was commensurate with the dollars spent to develop the content. In the following sections I will provide a few tips for refocusing your EA effort to avoid these common pitfalls or refocus efforts that have gone astray.

Lack of EA Performance Objectives

Establishing performance objectives is a good idea when it comes to executing any change initiative and EA really should be a major factor in effectively managing organizational change. With that said, EA is also often set up as a program with no defined end date and not particularly tied to any specific initiative within the organization. Where a supply chain management modernization effort may be able to easily show a return on investment and meet key performance indicators regarding cost containment or increased organizational capacity, EA efforts are often not as easily measured on the surface. However, I think that by setting forth both high level measurements that an EA program should influence like ratios of IT spending to operational spending and total cost savings, as well as more internally focused measures like percentage of compliance with EA/IT Governance or Common Services Usage the program sets itself up to be able to meaningfully advocate for itself on the basis of providing value to the organization as a whole. One of the most critical things establishing EA performance objectives does is force the team and sponsoring executives to really hone what they are hoping to gain from their EA efforts. In addition to establishing explicit performance objectives like those mentioned above it provides an opportunity to discuss and align the EA efforts with particular organizational main points like portfolio management, meta data management, or other critical organizational initiatives.

Over Emphasis on EA Content and Process

EA efforts are often said to be focused on the organization’s to-be state. Unfortunately, too many EA efforts spend so much time focusing on the to-be state of the EA effort that they never deliver value to the organization. Successful EA efforts get to business value as rapidly as possible.  That’s not to say that there is not a place for well thought out processes or that thinking about the meta-model isn’t valuable. Simply collecting a bunch of information by any means is not what I am advocating for, what I am trying to advocate against is the endless evaluation and tailoring of methodology, framework and meta model that seems to dog so many EA efforts. Perhaps it is simply in the nature of architects to sweat these details, but leadership needs to temper this desire to rigorously hone the processes and models that will be used to carry out the EA effort with a focus on addressing real business issues. I like to think of every EA effort as having two tracts.  One is the strategic tract where long term organizational value is built via the rigorous application of EA techniques and methodology to managing the enterprise, and the second is the tactical tract that applies the techniques and talents of the EA staff to deliver near term value to the enterprise. I believe that these shorter term objectives, while possibly falling outside the purview of traditional EA, build the organization’s faith in the longer term value of the effort, ensure communication with the business, and guarantee that EA always has an answer when the value question is asked.

Under Emphasis on EA Consumers 

A byproduct of the lack of performance metrics and over emphasis on EA content and process is a lack of focus on the EA consumers. So much attention is paid to the information that needs to be brought in and the process by which to bring it in that the return of this information in usable form to the content consumers is an after thought at best and often simply does not happen. The fact is that the structured models and techniques so often used to elicit information from the enterprise are often not the best mechanisms for returning that information to decision makers. For EA to have a positive impact on organizational performance it is critical that attention be paid to the consumers to this demographic before going out and harvesting the organizations information. Understanding where EA information can play a role in enhancing stakeholder decision making and working in coordination with these stakeholders to develop meaningful information collections in formats designed to support the decision making activity are critical to transitioning the organization to the type of data driven agility that is supposed to be the hallmark of the architectural organization. Working from the decision backwards can be of enormous value in these types of efforts and can help focus EA efforts on informational gaps in the enterprise that can show the value of EA as a discipline in a way that simply focusing on the macro EA effort cannot.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 Keys to Transformation Success

Once you have figured out where you want to the temptation is always to try to get there as rapidly as possible. Most people who have gone to the trouble to work through planning a to-be state don’t want to wait to get there and in their haste to get to their idealized state they fail. Sometimes in such grandiose fashion that continuing to plod along under the status quo would have been by far the preferred option if they had only known that the to-be was unattainable. This happens to us in both our personal and professional lives. As individuals we attempt radical diets and exercise plans in a haste to lose 50 pounds and recapture the waistline we had in high school. As organizational leaders we attempt to optimize the entire organization in order to become market leaders or achieve our mission. I don’t believe that the culprit is the dream or idealized state as often as it is our lack of planning and patience in achieving that state. Human nature pushes us to achieve our goals as rapidly as possible and markets, bosses, and organizational metrics reward the quick. However the quick is too often the enemy of the good.
I believe that the first step in achieving your transformational objectives is to really take stock in where you are now and access your readiness for change. personal and organizational transformation take energy and resources recognizes that these resources are finite and that you are probably already operating at near capacity is the first step.
On a personal level most people can sustain a surge effort to transform in the same fashion that you may be able to get budget for a transformation initiative for your organization but in both cases the effort is not generally sustainable and the if the transformation doesn’t result in an optimized behavior that requires a similar level of effort or resource or result in a capacity to sustain the elevated resource requirement the effort is doomed to failure. It is for this reason that I believe the planning the transformation is the first key step. While this may seem obvious I think that most people see this as defining the collection of activities required to get to the end state not really critically assessing what can be accomplished based on transformational readiness. Is a 150% or 200% surge really sustainable over a 6-12 week period, over 6 months? What are the real limits and will the benefits derived make the effort worth it?
Thinking about transformation in this context helps set the stage for the next key which is that transformation needs to be put forward in increments.

Incremental Transformation

Developing capability or achieving transformation goals is easier if the the end state can be achieved by following an incremental approach that allows those involved to achieve small victories, assess progress and alter the course as required to achieve the final objective. Another benefit of this incremental approach is that it also enables a shift in the end state or the timeline if the transformation effort is either negatively effecting ongoing performance or the lessons learned on the journey change the desired end state. Increments are also important because if designed correctly they should hedge against the tendency to try to swallow the entire transformation effort in a single gulp. Having short 4-6 week sprints that result in measurable progress often prevent efforts that get get derailed by the sheer size and complexity of the task being attempted. In short the incremental approach supports right sized thinking about transformation.
The next key is measuring, too often measures and metrics that are too big for the transformation effort this is constant with the big bang approach that is after taken to transformation in general. The idea that once you are complete you will have a 25% reduction in costs or a 10% increase in overall profitability should be organizational goals that transformation efforts are aligned to but their should be a level down in granualarity that enables the developed increments to be measured for progress. This ensures that in flight performance is occurring and if the measurements are properly developed they should enable agility in addition to providing an ability to know when success has been achieved.

Finally be the three keys are most effective if they are part of a consistent approach to improvement that is applied consistently across the organization. Transformation is a lot easier to handle if you are practiced at applying the techniques required to be successful. Nobody should be surprised if they fail to meet their transformational or improvement goals if it is something that the rarely do. The most successful people and organizations are continually working to improve their performance and to develop the skills required to carry off those transformational efforts. Making performance improvement something that is ongoing and practicing the skills required to transfer to achieve those goals makes the realization of the ideal to-be state much more likely. Like almost anything else “practice makes perfect.”

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.