What goes around comes around Part 2: Standardize or Innovate?

Dark MatterIn a recent post on BPMRedux, What goes around comes around, I wrote about the swing between the need for process automation and the rise of workforce collaboration in the enterprise.

And sitting on the train home there was another thought which struck me, two process improvement schools diametrically opposed to one another. On several occasions I’ve come across the single-minded goal to standardize processes across a business as much as possible. Indeed, it seems a chief aim of most Centers of Excellence to have carbon copies of processes replicated everywhere.

Seek and destroy variance

But here’s the problem: creating standard processes also removes the ability to innovate because the goal for most is to seek and destroy variance in favor of the majority. And when an organization reaches the plateau of process improvement and has created volumes of standard processes which can be reused everywhere, what then?

As soon as we implement a rigid cycle as a methodology we lose the ability to continually adapt and change. Sure, the measurement and management information stream of data allows us to monitor and react to the change, but we interpret that information according to the restrictions imposed as part of the methodology.

At no point in these cycles is there a step that says, “stop hacking the process to death and just start over from scratch”. BPM becomes harder to sell and explain the ROI when you reduce the cost efficiencies with each project to the point they become insignificant and the project more costly than the return. But more often than not the business are inclined to walk away and admit defeat (or success, depending on your view of the pint glass) that the process cannot be improved anymore, so it must be optimum.

We need to teach organizations that it’s not bad practice to throw something away entirely in order to achieve the greatest gains.

Jim Sinur wrote last year about Dark Processes, those which lurk around the enterprise conducted by many but defy definition. I suggested that many of these rather than be eradicated actually be exposed and encouraged because more often than not these are the ones that are getting the work done faster and more efficiently than strictly designed activities.

Where does standardization fit?

Which begs the question, if we are moving rapidly towards social and collaborative organizations, with tools that allow free flowing interaction, networking and communication to get work done, what place has standardization got in this future? And where does the likes of Six Sigma fit in now?

I’d say none and they’ll struggle. I’m sure the analysts and purists will disagree, but when you standardize and make something conform to a norm you also lose the thing that made it unique and possible more innovative. There’s a tendency to rush into building standard processes without actually understanding everything as a whole, process improvement has become another silo in itself.

Don’t go blindly looking for the round holes to force the square pegs into.


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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Process Management

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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5 Comments on “What goes around comes around Part 2: Standardize or Innovate?”

  1. January 14, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    As always Theo a very thought provoking piece. But then I looked how we as an organisation had ‘matured’ these past 5 years and I was rather surprised, maybe shocked, to find that our projects, courses and educational material had moved from activity based costing/management, to Six Sigma, to Lean and now to a hybrid of all three but through social media as robust technology had ‘enabled’ us to embrace a wider ore diverse audience.

  2. January 14, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    One other observation, and more from watching people’s behaviours rather than directly in business:

    When people follow routine they blindly accept what is fed to them and fall into pattern of just reacting in the same fashion. When something out of the norm happens they ignore it because it doesn’t meet the criteria they’re used to. And to most, the chance to innovate and change their behaviour is lost.

  3. January 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Standardisation will exist forever for processes that are routine, low complicity involved and explicit knowledge involved. Transforming these kind of processes into dynamic / adaptive social whatever, is opening a door to variability when is not supposed to happen. Hence we are talking about pure Taylor driven processes that shock these days so many people. Innovation should be brought were the money comes in, not customer relationship management, not back office operations, it’s where companies can increase gross margin (there is no tech to that actually) more about it here . The agendahttp://ultrabpm.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/bpm-agenda-2013/

  4. January 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    The trick is to realise that both approaches are right – but which approach is right depends on the capability/domain within an organisation a process is “located in”. And the other trick is to realise that the boundaries between these organisational domains shift over time…

    • January 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

      But both approaches coexist. There isn’t such a thing like we only play standard or we only play adaptive. The difference is aligned with the type of knowledge required to execute more tacit = adaptive more explicit = standard

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