Proforma Conference Day 1: Geary Rummler x 2

Our after-lunch keynote on the first day was by Geary Rummler, co-creator of the well-known Rummler-Brache methodology and author of Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organization Chart. In case you’re not getting the significance of this, the original swimlane diagrams are more properly called Rummler-Brache diagrams.

Rummler retired from Rummler-Brache a few years ago, then after “failing at retirement” as he put it, went back into practice the Performance Design Lab. His talk was a bit rambling, and he had 84 slides for a one-hour presentation, but I’m quite sure that he’s forgotten more about process than most of us will ever know.

He talked about how “as-is” process maps tend to drive out issues into the open, something that I have seen time and time again: management looks at what you’ve documented as their current process, and they say “We do that? Really?” One of the prime examples of this was a financial institution that I was working with on an BPM project a few years back. I documented all of their current processes on the way to the proposed processes, including their paper handling procedures. They sent the original of all transaction documents offsite in order by date, but made a photocopy of each document and filed it locally for reference by account number. Of course, we planned to replace this with a document scanning operation, but I felt obligated to point out a pretty major problem with their current process: since they were so behind in their local filing, the photocopies of the documents were just being boxed in date-order and stored onsite, which made the account-order files useless for any recent documents. Furthermore, they had stopped sending the originals offsite some months before that, so they now had both the original documents and a photocopy of each document, stored in the same order but in separate boxes, kept onsite. The management in charge of the area was truly shocked by what was going on, and I think that my fees were covered just by what I saved them in photocopy costs.

Back to Rummler, he showed a diagram of a business — any business — as a system, with financial stakeholders, the market, competition, resources and environmental influences as the inputs and outputs (since you can search the Proforma site and find the full presentation, I don’t think that I’m spilling the beans here to include one of the diagrams). I like this view, since it simplifies the business down to the important issues, namely the interactions with external people and organizations. He also spent quite a bit of time on the processing system hierarchy: the enterprise business model at the top, the value chain extracted from that, the primary processing systems derived out of the value chain, the processes from each primary processing system, and the sub-processes, tasks and sub-tasks that make up each process.

He went into organizational structure, specifically showing departments/resources on one axis and processes on the other, to illustrate how process cut across departments, but making the point that most organizations are managed by department rather than having true process owners.

There was one quote in particular that stuck with me: “Visibility is a prerequisite to optimizing and managing systems.”

We had a second dose of Rummler in the wrap-up panel on Day 1, where he joined Paul Harmon of BPTrends and one of the Proforma team who was filling in for the missing Aloha Airlines representative.

Harmon stated that none of the major business schools have any courses on process, but that they’re all function-based, and that most CEOs don’t see process as their primary concern. Rummler agreed, and made the point that being functionally-oriented, or siloed, leads to sub-optimization of the organization. Harmon’s initial comment led me to wonder if it’s necessary to have the CEO want to “do process”, or if a process approach is just an implementation detail, but Rummler ended up addressing exactly that issue by saying that it is necessary because methodologies are competing directly for the CEO’s attention, and it’s not always possible for the CEO to distinguish between the different methodologies at that level. Harmon made quite a rant against Six Sigma, saying that “Six Sigma people don’t understand high-level process”, blaming the widespread acceptance of Six Sigma on Jack Welch and GE strong-arming their suppliers into using it, and stating that Six Sigma people could be converted into a business process view, as if they were some sort of cult that had to be deprogrammed. I’m not sure that I would take such a hard line on Six Sigma versus a process-centric organization; “process” can’t be so easily pushed into an organization as Harmon implied since it’s not a methodology, it’s a pretty fuzzy concept that a lot of consultants like to bandy about.

At the end of the day, I’d have to say that I also disagree with Harmon’s assessment that BPMS is still very early market. Although it’s not a mature market, I think that to call it “very early” is ignoring the many successful products and implementations that have been done in this space over the past several years.

One thought on “Proforma Conference Day 1: Geary Rummler x 2”

  1. Hi Sandy! As a long-time “Rummler-ite” (since 1979) I wanted to point out that although Alan Brache and Geary did have a business together – the methodology presented in their book was Geary’s methodology from way back into the 1960’s (at U. of Michigan) that has continuously evolved – I saw it first hand in 1981-2 at Motorola Training & Education Center (the forerunner of Motorola University), including handrawn swimlane charts continuously updated by Edie, his secretary back in Union NJ. The late Claude (Butch) Lineberry accused Rummler of inventing the 3 point font – for trying to squeeze so much onto a page, map, diagram. For a video of Geary:



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