Increasing Business Value From Customer-Centric Business Processes with @AlexPForrester

The last session of the day at Forrester Business Process Forum (and the last for me, since I’m headed home tonight) is Alexander Peters on increasing business value from customer-centric business processes. Looking at a case study from the energy trading and retail sector, he described how the speed of change requires new ways of thinking, and how processes need to become more responsive and cross-functional.

He believes that process discipline – e.g., Lean, Six Sigma, change management and governance/COE – is the critical differentiator, combined with business knowledge and smart technology such as BPM. His focus is definitely on change management, and sees a change approach based on the level of process maturity, beginning with a maturity assessment. Being at a higher process maturity level means that an enterprise has moved from being fragmented, reactive and tech-driven to a more holistic, business-driven approach to BPM. There’s quite a bit of variability in process maturity levels within organizations, with business architecture receiving the lowest maturity score.

It was a bit late in the day (after a somewhat late night) to be using a lot of my brain on governance, but the basic idea is that governance establishes the roles, responsibilities and interactions of the process stakeholders, and the COE provides support to the business operations and projects. Also, apparently, Lean Six Sigma tools are critical to drive improvements at key points of the maturity curve. I’m not sure that there was anything strikingly new in this message; I also had the sense that the “customer-centric” message was overlaid on existing research and presentations that really didn’t have that orientation in the first place, making the titles a bit incongruous in some instances.

John Bates, CTO of Progress

John Bates started with more of the Progress message on operational responsiveness, highlighting the importance of process and event management in this. He showed survey results stating that companies find it critical to respond to problematic events in real time, but only a small percentage are able to actually do that. Companies want real-time business visibility, the ability to immediately sense and respond, and continuous business process improvement in a cycle of responsive process management. Yeah, and I want a pony for Christmas. Okay, not really, but wishing doesn’t make any of this happen.

By adding BPM to their suite, Progress brings together process and event management; this makes is possible to achieve this level of operational responsiveness, but it’s not quite so easy as that. First of all, we need to hear more about how the suite of products are going to be integrated. Secondly, and more importantly, companies who want to have this level of operational responsiveness need to do something about the legacy sludge that’s keeping them from achieving it: otherwise, Progress (and all the other software vendors) are just pushing on a rope.

Bates then called up James Hardy, CIO at State Street Global Markets Technology, for an on-stage conversation about how State Street is using the Progress Apama CEP product in trading and other applications. They’re a Lean Six Sigma shop, and see CEP as a natural fit for the type of process improvement that they’re doing in the context of their LSS efforts: CEP allows for some exceptions to be corrected and resubmitted automatically rather than being pushed to human exception management. They’re also committed to cloud-based technology, but by building a private cloud, not public infrastructure, and have seen some speedy implementations due to that. They see operational responsiveness as not just about increasing revenue, but also about mitigating risk.

Bates then talked about 3Italia, an Italian telco that was having trouble dealing with the incremental credit checks and revenue generation required for their prepaid mobile customers: since their billing systems weren’t fully integrated with their servicing systems, they sometimes allowed calls to be completed even though a customer had run out of credit and their credit couldn’t be revalidated. They are also a TIBCO enterprise customer, but weren’t able to get the level of agility that they needed, so implemented Progress (this is Progress’ version of story, remember). They managed to stop most of that revenue leakage by providing direct links between billing and servicing systems, and also started doing location-based advertizing to increase their revenues.

He also spoke about Royal Dirkzwager, a shipping line, and how they were able to achieve millions in fuel savings by detecting potential issues with docking and loading before they occured, and avoid burning fuel getting to the wrong place at the wrong time.

He finished up the case studies with a couple of airline scenarios for maximizing profits using situational awareness: responding to crew or flight delays proactively rather than just responding to irate customers after the fact (this is a lesson that Lufthansa could definitely learn, based on my recent experience). To bolster this case, he introduced Joshua Norrid of Southwest Airlines – also a TIBCO customer – who discussed their journey from “Noah’s Architecture” (two of everything) to focusing on strategic products and vendor partners. They were an IONA customer, then Savvion, and recently started using Actional: having lived through two of the products that he used being acquired by Progress, he said that the acquisitions where done “in style”, which is pretty high praise considering the usual experience of customers of acquired companies. They’ve started to look at how they can be more operationally responsive: text messages when flights are delayed, for example, but also looking forward to how flight bookings might change during a weather event, or how local hotels might be pre-booked in the case of significant expected delays. They see reducing redundancies and inefficiencies in their architecture as a key to their success: lowered cost and better data integration helps in bottom line IT cost savings, operational savings and customer satisfaction.

After the customer stories, Bates discussed the future of responsive business applications: packaged applications evolving into dynamic applications; a control tower for business users to model, monitor, control and improve dynamic applications; and solution accelerators for pre-built industry-specific dynamic applications. Savvion’s strong focus on pre-built applications is an important synergy with the rest of the Progress suite. Their solution map includes these accelerators supported by a single control tower, which in turn provides access to BPM, CEP and other technology components. For example, their Responsive Process Management (RPM) Suite includes Actional, Apama and Savvion underpinned by Sonic, DataDirect Shadow and Enterprise Data Services, plus the common Control Tower and three vertical accelerator applications for finance, telecom and travel/logistics. They believe that they can continue to compete in their specialty areas such as CEP and BPM, but also as an integrated product suite.

RPM technical won’t be publicly announced until March 15th, but it’s already all over Twitter from the people in the room here in Boston.

LSS and PI Game Changers: The List!

I scored the “Keys to Success” list that Gary Kucera made for the wrap-up session (unedited):

Canadian Pacific Railway (Jeff Adams):  Cultivate Business Relationships:

  • Create a 2010 “Relationship” strategy plan to build relationships with the “right” people who will help advocate and drive Process Improvement results
  • Target “thought” leaders to cultivate process improvement influence
  • Hand out free books
  • People will only “trust” you when they have a positive relationship with you

Direct Energy (David During/Shiraz Bajwa):  Create a Change Management / Influence Strategy to improve engagement of key people:

  • Y = f (x)
  • Ability to influence = function (role, adaptability, coverage, status)
  • Focus on people with political clout who influence people behavior
  • Impact the “Inner Circle” people by spending more time with them or have your “agents” perform this function
  • “Become a relationship Expert” to be an effective change-agent
  • Key Takeaway:  Build an Influence Strategy “UPFRONT”
  • Alternative tool:  Stakeholders Analysis tool

Bantrel (Chris Sandink):  Engage your Customer/Client

  • Use a data based approach to improve KPIs to successfully influence customers/clients
  • Build a process improvement plan by determining what measures can be improved which will result in improving a KPI
  • Get customer/client engaged in building the business case to increase acceptance
  • Key Takeaway:  Use data to make business cases to influence change and get stakeholder engagement as early as possible in this process

Create a Crisis (Multiple Speakers):

  • Process Improvement change is accelerated when a crisis occurs
  • Either “Create” a crisis or escalate an existing crisis to facilitate change
  • Top leaders will “Rethink” business strategies
  • Obtain dialogue among selected “thought leaders” to discuss what should be done “different”

Alignment of Goals within a business:

  • From CEO to associate, goals need to be aligned to improve the probability of success
  • Finance and Human Resources are key members to make this alignment occur
  • Finance should pay bonuses and merit increases based on an aligned goal structure


  • Identify the skill sets needed to be successful for your team and try not to compromise with lower standards
  • Before hiring a person, perform succession planning to build your exit strategy for each person on your team
  • Best Practice Idea:  Have a person sign at the time of being hired a personal commitment to stay at least 2 years to reduce turnover

Project Success:

  • Keep project scopes small and get many “small wins” versus one “big win” as it improves engagement and long term project success
  • Make sure there is strong engagement, resources and commitment of Champion/Sponsor/Line Mgr prior to starting a project.  Planning upfront is critical to ensure project success.
  • All projects should be signed off by a Finance and Operations Mgr to avoid future “fighting”.

Leadership Behavior (multiple speakers):

  • Encourage leadership to change their behaviors to become more “advocates and teachers” to help motivate, encourage, and share their knowledge.
  • When teaching leaders Six Sigma education, take it slow and make sure they fully understand to avoid potential future adversity.
  • Need Leadership’s commitment to sustain long-term process improvement

Finance & Process Improvement Team:

  • For Xerox, and Kaplan Higher Education, it has worked very well for Process Improvement team to be aligned under Finance.
  • It has accelerated Process Improvement acceptance within the business since Finance controls the purse for the business and it improves Process Improvement’s accountability since Finance wants “Proof” of project savings.
  • Align project savings with department budgets.
  • A finance person is always recommended to sign off on project savings.

RBC Bank (Jennifer Thompson):  Continuous Certified Greenbelt/Champion Engagement 

  • Goal:  Increase Effectiveness of Process Improvement Program by keeping people engaged
  • E = f (Quality of change, acceptance of change)

Continuous Engagement Strategies:

  • Bi-Annual Internal LSS Conference for GB’s
    • Education
    • Networking
    • Celebration Certification
  • Monthly Lunch and Learns
    • Education
    • Continuous Encouragement
  • Champion Roundtable
    • Program Tracking
    • Continuous Feedback
    • Continuous Encouragement

CLG (Annemarie Michaud) Improving Behavior Effectiveness To Drive Business Results

  • Approximately 80% of behavior is driven by consequences
  • Create positive and negative reinforcements to increase desired behavior
  • Align desired behavior with desired goals
  • Put in place consequences to drive behavior
  • Behavior change environment will create long-term change

LSS and PI Game Changers: High-Impact Ideas From The Conference Sessions

The final session was supposed to be a brainstorming session with Debra Yeager of Xerox Canada and Gary Kucera of Kaplan Higher Education, working with us to come up with a list of LSS and process improvement ideas that can have maximum impact within an organization, but was really the points that they gleaned from the presentations over the past two days. The lists went by past way too fast to transcribe, and I’m hoping that this will be posted on the conference website at some point (or maybe Gary will read this and send me his notes).

To wrap up the conference, it’s probably clear if you’ve read my posts that I found this worthwhile. I have a couple of local customers who practice LSS, and I can’t understand why they didn’t have someone here: a conference in your back yard is practically a gift in this economic climate, and there was definitely value here. This was a great opportunity for LSS professionals to exchange ideas and best practices with their peers – I think that I was the only non-black-belt in the room – and there was a great deal of interaction between the participants both in the sessions and at the breaks. Lots of practical ideas for everyone to take back and apply to their own projects, even for me. 🙂

Applying LSS And Process Reengineering To Achieve Consolidation And Organizational Restructuring

Rick Hefner of Northrop Grumman gave the last full presentation of the conference before the brainstorming and wrapup. At this point in the schedule, a lot of the material that he was going to cover has already been said, leaving him free to ignore most of his slides and give more of an anecdotal talk about their journey with Six Sigma. He was originally part of TRW before their acquisition by Northrop Grumman, and acquisitions have continued to occur regularly; this meant that multiple implementations and cultures of LSS within the acquired organizations collided head on, and that constant restructuring necessitated a more consistent view of how LSS is to be applied across the organization.

Organizational restructuring, because it involves significant changes to goals, practices and operations, is a perfect opportunity for LSS and process improvement: although the initial goal of the restructuring is usually cost cutting, the long term goal is providing the greatest customer value for the least cost. LSS provides with a number of tools that can be used during restructuring, for everything from determining overall strategy to measurement and control to employee needs. The problem, however, is that everyone is caught up in the reorganization itself (or ensuring that they still have a job), and it’s difficult to get people’s attention for process improvement at the same time. LSS and process improvement teams can feel threatened by the lack of focus on their contributions, as well as not necessarily know where they’ll end up within the restructured organization.

They created a number of tools that could be used in the business areas for process improvement: value stream maps, process maps and flowcharts (similar ideas, different perspectives and level of detail, although it’s not clear where the distinctions lie). Some of this required defining “value” – which is really something that only the customer can define, and is usually something for which they are willing to pay – especially in their world of cost-plus contracts where they are not really financially incented to make processes more efficient. The cost-plus contract model is slowly being phased out in the defense industry, being replaced by fixed-price contracts; this will drive them to look for more process improvements in the future.

His summary:

  • Current economic problems have caused many companies to focus on consolidation and organizational restructuring.
  • Proper use of LSS tools (and LSS professionals) can help a company balance tactical cost-cutting with long-term strategic change programs.

Lean Sigma Tools Applied to BPM

Chris Rocke and Jane Long from Whirlpool presented on their experiences with integrating LSS tools into BPM practices to move beyond traditional process mapping. Whirlpool is a mature Six Sigma company: starting in their manufacturing areas, it has spread to all other functions, and they’ve insourced their own training certification program. Six Sigma is not tracked as separate cost/benefit within a project, but is an inherent part of the way every project is done.

They introduced BPM during to a large-scale overhaul of their systems, processes and practices; their use of BPM is includes process modeling and monitoring, but not explicit process automation with a BPMS outside of their existing financial and ERP systems. However, they are creating a process-centric culture that does manage business processes in the governance and management sense, if not the automation sense in all cases. They brought LSS tools to their BPM efforts, such as process failure mode and effects analysis (PFMEA), data sampling and structure methods, thought maps and control charts; these provide more rigorous analysis than is often done within BPM projects.

Looking at their dashboards, they had the same problem as Johnson & Johnson: lots of data but no consistent and actionable information. They developed some standard KPIs, visualized in a suite of seven dashboards, with alert when certain control points are exceeded. Their Six Sigma analytics are embedded within the dashboards, not explicit, so that the business owners view and click through the dashboards in their own terms. The items included in the dashboard are fairly dynamic: for example, in the shipping dashboard, the products that vary widely from expected and historic values are brought forward, while those that are within normal operating parameters may not even appear. Obviously, building the models underlying this was a big part of the work in creating the dashboards: for example, shipping dashboard alerts are based on year-over-year differences (because sales of most products are seasonal) with control limits that are the mean of the YOY differences +/-  two standard deviations for a yellow alert, or three standard deviations for a red alert, plus other factors such as checking to see if the previous year’s value was an anomaly, weighted by the number of units shipped and a few other things thrown in.

The analytical calculations behind a dashboard might include internal forecasts or market/industry values, include seasonal fluctuations or not, depending on the particular measurement. The dashboard visuals, however, conceal all the complications of the underlying model. Alerts aren’t necessarily bad, but indicate a data point that’s outside the expected range and warrants investigation or explanation. They’ve seen some success in reducing variability and therefore making their forecasts more accurate: preventing rather than detecting defects.

They’re also using SAP’s Xcelsius for the dashboard itself; that’s the third company that I’ve heard here that is using that, which is likely due in part to the large number of SAP users but also gives credit to the flexibility and ease of use of that tool. They’re using SAP’s Business Warehouse for housing the data, which extracts from their core ERP system nightly: considerably more up-to-date than some of the others that we’ve seen here, which rely on monthly extracts manipulated in Excel. Although IT was involved in creating and maintaining BW, the LSS team owns their own use of Xcelsius, which allows them to modify the dashboards quickly.

Identifying and Evaluating Performance in Transactional Environments

Last up before lunch was Sarah Snyder, who works with the US Army, discussing how they use dashboards to measure and tune their performance. The examples that she showed were not about the actual “business” processes, however, but measures on LSS projects, such as initiated and completed projects, LSS training, LSS belt utilization, and other meta measurements that aren’t directly indicative of business performance. Although measurement of project execution efficiency can be used as something of one indication of how well the Army is running, and measurements like this are important for justifying and ensuring ongoing funding of LSS programs (over $100M to contractors alone over the last 4-5 years), it doesn’t seem all that useful for general operational process improvement. Am I missing something, or is this LSS navel gazing?

I will blame my crankiness about this presentation on my grumbling stomach, and head off to lunch.

Using Dashboards to Run the Business and Focus Improvements

David Haigh of Johnson & Johnson presented on how they’re using dashboards in their process improvement efforts; this is much further into my comfort zone, since dashboards are an integral part of any BPM implementation. He’s part of the consumer products division rather than pharmaceutical or medical: lots of name brands that we all see and use every day.

Their process excellence program covers a range of methods and tools, but today’s talk was focused on dashboards as a visualization of a management system for your business: to set strategy, track progress, and make corrections. Like many companies, J&J has a lot of data but not very much that has been transformed into actionable information. He makes an automotive analogy: a car engine typically has 43 inputs and 35 outputs, but we drive using a dashboard that has that information rolled up into a few key indicators: speed, RPM, temperature and so on.

They see dashboards as being used for governing the company, but also for informing the company, which means that the dashboards are visible to all employees so that they understand how the company is doing, and how their job fits into the overall goals and performance. Dashboards can – and should – leverage existing reporting, especially automated reporting, in order to reduce the incremental work required to create them. They have to be specific, relating jobs to results, and relevant in terms of individual compensation metrics. They have dashboards with different of levels of details, for different audiences: real-time detailed cockpits, medium-level dashboards, and reports for when a repeatable question can’t be answered from a dashboard within three clicks (great idea for deciding when to use a dashboard versus a report, btw). They used a fairly standard, slightly waterfall-y method for developing their dashboards, although did their first rollout in about 3 months with the idea that the dashboards would be customizable to suit changing requirements. One challenge is their wide variety of data sources and the need for data manipulation and transformation before reporting and feeding into dashboards.

They had most of their reports in Excel already, and added SAP’s Xcelsius to generate dashboards from those Excel reports. That provided them with a lot of flexibility in visualization without having to rewrite their entire ETL and reporting structure (I know, export to Excel isn’t the best ETL, but if it’s already there, use it).

One of the big benefits is the cross-departmental transparency: sales and logistics can see what’s happening in each others areas, and understand how their operations interrelate. This highlights their non-traditional approach to dashboard visibility: instead of just having management view the dashboards, as happens in most companies, they expose relevant parts of the dashboard to all employees in order to bring everyone into the conversation. They actually have it on monitors in their cafeteria, as well as on the intranet. I love this approach, because I’m a big believer in the benefits of transparency within organizations: better-informed people make better decisions, and are happier in their work environment. They’re able to weave the dashboards into their process improvements and how they engage with employees in running the business: being able to show why certain decisions were made, or the impact of decisions on performance.

Their next steps are to review and improve the metrics that they collect and display, and to start involving IT to automate more of the data collection by pushing information directly to Cognos rather than Excel. There were a ton of questions from the audience on this; some are using dashboards, but many are not, and are interested in how this can help them. I’m interested in how they plan to push the dashboard results beyond just human consumption and into triggering other automated processes through event processing, but I’ll have to catch David offline for that conversation.

Building a Lean Six Sigma and Process Excellence Culture

Not surprisingly, this conference is as much or more about the cultural aspects of LSS as the techniques and tools, and Jason Schulist of DTE Energy (a US utility company) gave a presentation on their continuous improvement journey. They’ve been at LSS for more than 10 years, starting with Kaizen in 1998, moving into Six Sigma in 2004, then a performance excellence program more recently. They found some short-term benefits from Kaizen, but also found the usual shortcomings of no real vision or system in place for continuous improvement. As they added more tools and did some demo projects, they closed some gaps, but still didn’t have a comprehensive program in place: Lean was used as a bottom-up fire-fighting tool rather than a way of working.

Since they didn’t use Six Sigma until much later, they don’t use DMAIC, but have their own 4-gate, 9-step project methodology. In 2002, they developed their own Operating System to standardize continuous improvement, but found that this was a very complex, expensive and overwhelming undertaking. For those not familiar with this sort of operating system (e.g., those of us who think “Linux” or “Windows” when they hear that phrase), it’s a combination of mission statement, high-level goals and high-level methodologies, all wrapped up in a pretty internal marketing package. I’m all for getting everyone on the same page, but I sense a bit of frustration from Schulist on the amount of time spent crafting and wordsmithing this rather than actually implementing process improvement.

Adding Six Sigma in 2004, they introduced more statistical rigor in their process improvement, but had some issues with disengagement since the black belts tended to do the work that was previously done by business leaders, and also with the lack of an end-to-end process flow. The CEO was unhappy with the rate of improvement, which drove the introduction of the performance excellence program in 2006. This was driven from the top, with clear expectations and accountability, but didn’t have deep engagement with front-line employees: the business units tended to be reactive rather than proactive in the face of top-down process expectations. This was implemented using a lot of external consulting resources, which meant that the existing continuous improvement resources weren’t used all that well.

To break this cycle of just spending several millions every two years on external continuous improvement consultants to reinvent the wheel, they had to focus on constancy of purpose and engagement with the people in order to really institutionalize continuous improvement culture. They moved back to a focus on people by implementing a Lean learning organization in 2007/8: a behavioral transformation leading to cultural change rather than just a continuous improvement program.

With difficulty sustaining their own efforts, they looked at recognized reasons why other companies failed:

  • Copying lean tools without making the work self-diagnostic
  • Working around problems even when the problems are recognized
  • Don’t share systemically what has been learned locally
  • Don’t develop the capabilities of others to design work, solve problems and institutionalize new knowledge

To overcome this, they worked on developing the four capabilities of the operationally outstanding:

  • Design work to see problems as they occur: all work is designed so best practices are captured and problems are evident immediately
  • Swarm problems when they occur: problems are immediately addresses, both to contain their effects from propagating and to trigger problem solving
  • Share knowledge where it is created: knowledge generated locally becomes systemic through shared problem solving
  • Leaders develop people from teaching, coaching and mentoring: the most senior management has to own the capability development process (including actually teaching internal courses)

These four capabilities form the framework of the “how we work” section of their above-mentioned operating system, which provides goals for their process improvement program. The operating system also includes a “true north”, that is, their high-level business goals such as being defect-free at the lowest cost.

Their recent results have been impressive: from hard savings that crept up gradually over the course of their continuous improvement efforts, the last two years have seen significant and increasing ROI. Since they’re getting such great results, they’re encouraged to look at ways to make this even better through self-assessment, certification, and expanding their scope to address complex problems as well as environmental and social problems. One interesting example of that is what they’ve done to reduce the cost of cutting grass around their substations within the city of Detroit: they replaced the grass with community gardens, worked by the community, with the food donated to local food banks. Lower costs for them, while giving something back to the community and improving social engagement: a win-win all around.

Lean Six Sigma and Process Improvement, Day 2

I’m a bit better prepared for today’s conference: first of all, I showed up on time, and secondly, I have my iPhone tethering cable so that I can post even though there’s no open wifi here.

Today opened with a recap of yesterday’s session by Charles Spina of e-Zsigma, the conference chair, then he had an interview with two of the people who were on yesterday afternoon’s panel that was in the opposite track to that I attended: Audrey Maeren of Assiniboine Credit Union and Steve Hodlin formerly of DST Output, discussing how to move out of reactionary mode and into long-term sustainable growth of a LSS program within an organization.

The panel was in the form of a leadership forum with five questions posed:

  1. Which strategic imperatives should be realized through LSS deployment and process improvement initiatives within the next 12 months?
  2. How to maximize LSS deployment ROI particularly during this economic time?
  3. What processes within the organization will be a top priority for process improvement/process reengineering projects?
  4. How can companies turn recession-driven outcomes into business opportunities? How does this change the role of PE experts in a new business paradigm?
  5. What organizational structure has proven to be the most effective for quality/process improvement teams?

There was a strong focus in the responses on using the economic situation to your advantage: improving processes, cutting fat and becoming more competitive rather than just cutting headcount in a panic. This isn’t necessarily about cost-cutting, it’s about focusing on your value proposition and key differentiators (e.g., customer intimacy, social responsibility), and engaging your customers, suppliers and employers as part of the initiative. Assiniboine, for example, has a 5-year KPI to become carbon-neutral, so is always looking at ways to contribute to that goal through any process improvement: sometimes reducing process waste can reduce real waste, too. Since they’re a member-owned cooperative, there is less of a focus on profits than in many other financial institutions, but these sorts of goals are not uncommon in today’s corporate environments, too.

They had a few pointers for maximizing ROI on LSS projects: keep people on the projects through the critical points rather than moving them around, have frequent management reviews so that they’re aware of what’s happening and can help to get past any roadblocks quickly, and identify opportunities to train your customers or partners in LSS to help them become more efficient as well as improving the efficiency of your interactions with them. Early in your LSS program, it’s important not to just focus on hard dollars in your ROI, but if resources are short, then you will need to set thresholds that determine which projects go ahead: if a project can’t show some process improvement ROI relative to corporate goals, then you may not be able to take it on.

There was a really interesting discussion including audience members, about how misinterpretation of laws and regulations creates an incredible amount of waste: people think that a regulation needs to be applied in a specific (inefficient) way, and blocks the implementation of a more efficient process that is equally valid. I saw this recently in a customer engagement where we were considering the uses of process and content management in the organization, and the HR department insisted that certain processes had to be done on paper and they needed to maintain employee files on paper, to the extent that they printed email messages to add to the employee file. Knowing that paper recordkeeping for employee files is not required (at least in Canada), I showed them the relevant sections in the Canada Labour Code as well as Revenue Canada regulations that govern recordkeeping, but it continues to be a long cultural battle for this particular piece of process improvement.

The issue of alignment keeps coming up: not as a hand-waving idea, but as a concrete link between corporate goals and what’s being done on the front lines of companies. As Maeren made clear, if your corporate goals are focused on customer satisfaction, but the front-line operational units are focused only on cost-cutting, there’s a misalignment.

We discussed yesterday at lunch about how most organizations need a crisis to motivate significant process improvement efforts; the recession just provides an external trigger for the crisis rather than an internal trigger such as a merger. If you’re already in the mode of being able to respond to all types of crises, then weathering the recession in a process improvement group is just more of the same. It might be a time, however, to highlight some key Lean tools, such as value stream mapping and Kaizen, for some quick wins and to show the value of the process improvement team. Also, focus on some cash-intensive process improvements such as reducing inventory and shortening accounts receivable times.

Management needs to become process-focused, not just goal-focused: as Hodlin pointed out, you don’t lose weight by stepping on a scale. We see this so much in the BPM area as well, where BPM initiatives will not succeed unless the organization becomes process-centric. In part, this means that management needs to cede responsibility for some of the process decision-making to others, which allows those with a different view on the process to bring in improvements wherever they might occur. It can also be facilitated by spreading the LSS training out to the business areas, where either green belts are embedded within business areas, or business people are trained in key techniques that allow them to push forward process improvements from inside a business unit. There’s a certain commitment required for this: at Assiniboine, they pull subject matter experts from operational positions to work on process improvement, and define those SMEs as top performers that will cause pain to the operation when they’re removed from their operational position.

Spina was a great moderator: low key but he kept things moving along, asking questions of the two panelists and involving the audience as well as adding his own experiences to the mix. The small audience size is really a bonus with this sort of session, too, since it really fosters participation.

As a matter of disclosure, I should mention that IQPC provided me with a free pass to the conference, although I paid my own $3 subway fare to get here.