Gartner BPM: Geary Rummler closing keynote

Today’s sessions closed with a presentation by Dr. Geary Rummler of the Performance Design Lab on the nature of process and the value of shifting an organization to process centricity. I saw him speak at the 2006 Proforma user conference, and enjoyed it; how can you not like listening to the guy who invented swimlanes?

He started with a historical perspective on process, starting in the 1982-92 timeframe with his highly-successful process-related work at Motorola that resulted a lot of useful process management/improvement tools, followed by the somewhat disastrous 1992-97 re-engineering phase that resulted in the split between business management and process management. When re-engineering became a prominent feature in Dilbert cartoons, Rummler decided to retire.

It didn’t take, and four years later (in 2001), he came out of retirement to find a confusing landscape of acronyms, an unnatural focus on technology, low-level process improvement techniques masquerading as methodologies, and subprocesses being implemented in silos. A majority of process activities was in the weeds, and had little linkage to business results. All of this brought him to today, where he asks the questions “why are we doing this ‘process’ stuff anyway?”

He moved on to a business perspective on process, where we’ve perverted the order of things such that budgets are allocated along the lines of the organizational chart, and therefore the work systems — including applications, data and networks — to which those resources are applied end up (naturally) siloed. Making improvements within a silo, as we all know, can only have limited impact on end-to-end process improvement and particularly in the interfaces to customers. The work system becomes invisible, and it’s managed only indirectly through management of resources: reorganizations and down-sizing as action items instead of considering how the underlying work systems themselves need fixing.

What we need to do is change our focus on work and resources, and focus on the business as a system for creating value, manifested in the products and services delivered to the customers. The value creation system — effectively, the customer-facing business processes — and the resources must both be managed directly and in concert. BPM, therefore, isn’t just about modeling, improvement and management, it’s about creating the value creation dimension of the business.

He then looked at a future perspective, with the Performance Design Labs’ framework for value creation, which provides a model of a business, its customers and external impacts. Inside the business in the first level of the model, we see the value creation system, enabling processes and management systems; driving down to the second level shows the three primary process systems in any value creation system (product/service launched, sold, deliverer); then the third level of detail shows the high-level business processing systems; the fourth level is the processes and subprocesses; and the fifth level is the tasks and subtasks that actually connect to the (human or system) performers of the tasks. This five-level hierarchy maps to a set of business architectures: supersystem maps, cross-functional maps, business process architecture, then down to the process and task maps, all of which become a management-friendly schematic of the business.

Within the hierarchy, the first three levels represent the strategic application of process work, and the lower parts of the third level through all of levels four and five represent the tactical side. Unfortunately, much of BPM is focused on levels four and five, which is disconnected from the value that’s outlined in the first level and from business leadership.

The implication of all this is that businesses need to be managed on two dimensions: the functional silos (buckets of resources), and the business processes that cut orthogonally across them (the value creation). And, just as there are problems in things disappearing into the vertical white spaces between functional silos, they can also get lost in the horizontal white space between business processes.

BPM must drive the articulation of the value dimension, thereby making it possible to link from level one down through to level four of the value creation hierarchy.

Rummler is a delightfully funny and informative speaker, and I enjoyed this even more than the last time that I saw him speak.

4 thoughts on “Gartner BPM: Geary Rummler closing keynote”

  1. Sandy,
    Thanks for saving me a trip across the occean!
    Your blogs are transferring the important stuff in a very clear and effective manner!

  2. Don’t tell Gartner that I lost them a conference customer! Actually, they’re going to run a BPM summit in London in late April, so you have a chance to attend one a bit closer to home.

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