What I learned at the APQC Conference

The Houstonian Hotel was an excellent venue for the 2011 APQC Process Conference and Members Meeting. The weather was excellent, the food outstanding, and the attendance represented a broad cross section of international business. Over the course of the two-day meeting, a few things became clear that I’d love to share:

Software use is rising

Many companies are in the midst of trying to decide which direction to go with process technology. As a vendor, I was peppered with questions and opportunities to share my thoughts on how the highly fragmented and manual work of the past will shift more toward tools and systems. How long it will take for companies to move past the discussions and into action remains to be seen.

Social lurks

The use of social media as a way of managing business process came up several times and there is definite interest in finding ways to allow conversations to be facilitated alongside the more rigorous aspects of BPM. APQC’s John Tesmer and I have made the suggestion that the APQC PCF, with some modifications, makes the ideal framework for social technology. People want to be able to find what’s been said and to contribute to it. Lacking any reference framework for conversations, discussions easily slide into chaos instead of business benefit. From what I’ve witnessed with the Tibco tibbr solution, every company that buys social technology ends up making their own, proprietary framework to fully capitalize on discussion. This is the norm when technology is getting started, but these things quickly get standardized to become more useful inside and outside of an organization. Using the APQC PCF as a Social Classification Framework (an SCF) allows ‘social benchmarking’ to occur with any other organization that adopts the standard. Watch this space for more on this front.

Executive support is needed

Regardless of the topic, the need for greater executive buy-in came up constantly. It seems a surprise that process management positions exist in organizations, even higher-level positions, yet there is a broad perception that senior leadership doesn’t see the value of dedicating funds and resources toward great BPM.  The exception is IT spending on automation technology, but this represents only a part (some argue only 20%) of what needs to be done well in business.

Process work is still hidden

A great deal of process work remains under the radar or performed by external analysts and consultants rather than business owners. What makes this notable is that today’s software makes it easy for even the most computer-challenged to depict process, add contextual knowledge, publish and approve changes. There’s no longer a reason for a software expert or anyone outside of the owners and ‘doers’ of a process to manage things. Yet the workplace norm is still process as an expert line of work.

There were several moments where presentations and discussion referenced the APQC Seven Tenets of Process Management. Two of the tenets, governance and change management, are very much about making the owners front-and-center. The challenge of hidden process work will be met when governance and change management are the norm.

Real work and audits trails differ

There was an audible “amen” from many parts of the audience when a keynote speaker put up a slide speaking to how often the systems built for compliance are not the same as how real work is accomplished. Surprising? Not so much. The use of technology in compliance and audit lags considerably behind its use elsewhere. Many companies have satisfied (successfully!) their audit needs with document-based systems that offer a form of evidence but are detached from what happens on the factory floor or in the cubicle. A true exception to this can be found in the ThyssenKrupp Steel USA case study from BP Trends. The tipping point is still not in view, but once it becomes public knowledge that auditors continue to approve and certify safety, quality, and other critical areas based on what are essentially disconnected records created just for audits, this will change.

KM and BPM

The last day I participated as one of four panelists in a discussion of the intersection Knowledge Management (KM) and Business Process Management (BPM). It was my contention in my introduction that they are essentially one and the same, as process is the behavior while knowledge is the context for how behaviors are executed. I knew I wouldn’t say this without someone in the audience jumping to their feet, and it was unsurprising and a good thing when a debate erupted. I backed off provocative statement, “They’re the same” once my point was made, because while knowledge and process are not the same thing, technology has arrived that allows the two things to come together at the point the user needs to know what to do and how to do it. Their owners may be different and their lifecycles won’t be in synch, but the two concepts are so interrelated that any attempt to store data in separate systems is inefficient and even wasteful.

Culture and BPM

There were great conversations around how to manage process when cultures vary as well. In ‘command and control’ organizations…those with very tall and narrow organizational structures…it is much easier to implement traditional “thou shalt” governance. Roles and structures are set up easily, people assigned and things happen by edict. Change management in those organizations is markedly different than in organizations that operate with flat team structures, where staff must be led to the change through a series of digestible step changes rather than pushed.

In APQC’s John Tesmers‘ words, “The spectrum of change management and governance are not quite parallel, not quite perpendicular but are comfortably skewed and generally intersect at the middle ground, in a place where roles are identified, people fill those roles, and organizational leadership (and not necessarily the executives) are showing folks a better way to get real work done. Of course this nexus changes over time as new leadership emerges, economics of problems change, and the current haute-couture in process management is surfaced by research organizations and vendors. At the end of the day, the two paths of governance and change management remain, and the intersection casts the shadow that is an organization’s culture.”

Comments welcome


Categories: Frameworks

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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