Process Excellence at Elevations Credit Union

Following the opening keynote at Building Business Capability, I attended the session about Elevations Credit Union’s journey to process excellence. Rather than a formal presentation, this was done as a sit-down discussion with Carla Wolfe, senior business analyst at Elevations CU being interviewed by Mihnea Galateanu, Chief Storyteller for Blueworks Live at IBM. Elevations obviously has a pretty interesting culture, because they publicly state – on their Facebook page, no less – that achieving the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is their big hairy audacious goal (BHAG). To get there, they first had to get their process house in order.

They had a lot of confusion about what business processes even are, and how to discover the business processes that they had and wanted to improve. They used the AQPC framework as a starting point, and went out to all of their business areas to see who “Got Process?”. As they found out, about 80% didn’t have any idea of their business processes, and certainly didn’t have them documented or managed in any coherent manner. As they went through process discovery, they pushed towards “enterprise process maps”: namely, their end-to-end processes, or value streams.

Elevations is a relatively small company, only 260 employees; they went from having 60 people involved in process management (which is an amazingly high percentage to begin with) to a “much higher” number now. By publicly stating the Baldridge award – which is essentially about business process quality – as a BHAG, they couldn’t back away from this; this was a key motivator that kept people involved in the process improvement efforts. As they started to look at how processes needed to work, there was a lot of pain, particularly as they looked as some of the seriously broken processes (like when the marketing department created a promotion using a coupon to bring in new customers, but didn’t inform operations about the expected bump of new business, nor tell the front line tellers how to redeem the coupons). Even processes that are perceived as being dead simple – such as cashing a $100 bill at a branch – ended up involving many more steps and people that anyone had anticipated.

What I found particularly interesting about their experience was how they really made this about business processes (using value stream terminology, but processes nonetheless), so that everything that they looked at had to relate to a value stream. “Processes are the keys to the kingdom”, said Wolfe, when asked why they focused on process rather than, for example, customers. As she pointed out, if you get your processes in order, everything else falls into place. Awesome.

It was a major shift in thinking for people to see how they fit into these processes, and how they supported the overall value stream. Since most people (not just those at Elevations) just think about their own silo, and don’t think beyond their immediate process neighbors. Now, they think about process first, transforming the entire organization into process thinking mode. As they document their processes (using, in part, a Six Sigma SIPOC movel), they add a picture of the process owner to each of the processes or major subprocesses, which really drives home the concept of process ownerships. I should point out that most of the pictures that she showed of this was of paper flow diagrams pasted on walls; although they are a Blueworks Live customer, the focus here was really on their process discovery and management. She did, however, talk about the limitations of paper-based process maps (repository management, collaboration, ease of use), and how they used Blueworks Live once they had stabilized their enterprise process maps in order to allow better collaboration around the process details. By developing the SIPOCs of the end-to-end processes first on paper, they then recreated those in Blueworks Live to serve as a framework for collaboration, and anyone creating a new process had to link it to one of those existing value streams.

It’s important to realize that this was about documenting and managing manual processes, not implementing them in an automated fashion using a BPMS execution engine. Process improvement isn’t (necessarily) about technology, as they have proved, although the the process discovery uses a technology tool, and the processes include steps that interact with their core enterprise systems. Fundamentally, these are manual processes that include system interaction. Which means, of course, that there may be a whole new level of improvement that they could consider by adding some process automation to link together their systems and possibly automate some manual steps, plus automate some of the metrics and controls.

So where are they in achieving their BHAG? One year after launching their process improvement initiative, they won the Timberline level of the Colorado Performance Excellence (CPEx) Award, and continue to have their sights set on the Baldridge in the long term. Big, hairy and audacious, indeed.

Building Business Capability Keynote with @Ronald_G_Ross, @KathleenBarret and @RogerBurlton

After a short (and entertaining) introduction by Gladys Lam, we heard the opening keynote with conference chairs Ron Ross, Kathleen Barret and Roger Burlton. These three come from the three primary areas covered by this conference – business rules, business analysis and business process – and we heard about what attendees can expect to learn about and take away from the conference:

  • The challenge of business agility, which can be improved through the use of explicit and external business rules, instead of hard-coding rules into applications and documents. Making rules explicit also allows the knowledge within those rules to be more explicitly viewed and managed.
  • The need to think differently and use new solutions to solve today’s problems, and development of a new vocabulary to describe these problems and solutions.
  • You need to rewire the house while the lights are on, that is, you can’t stop your business while you take the time to improve it, but need to ensure that current operations are maintained in the interim.
  • Business rules need to be managed in a business sense, including traceability, in order to become a key business capability. They also need to be defined declaratively, independent from the business processes in which they might be involved.
  • Process and rules are the two key tools that should be in every business analyst’s toolkit: it’s not enough just to analyze the business, but you must be looking at how the identification and management of process and rules can improve the business.

The key message from all three of the chairs is that the cross-pollination between process, rules, analysis and architecture is essential in order to identify, manage and take advantage of the capabilities of your business. There is a lot of synergy between all of these areas, so don’t just stick with your area of expertise, but check out sessions in other tracks as well. We were encouraged to step up to a more business-oriented view of solving business problems, rather than just thinking about software and systems.

I’m adding the sessions that I attend to the Lanyrd site that I created for the conference, and linking my blog posts, presentations, etc. in the “coverage” area for each session. If you’re attending or presenting at a session, add it on Lanyrd so that others can socialize around it.

I’m moderating two panels during the remainder of the conference: today at 4:30pm is a BPM vendor panel on challenges in BPM adoption, then tomorrow at 4:30pm is a panel on business architecture versus IT architecture.

Ramping up for BBC2011

I’m getting ready to head for Fort Lauderdale for my last conference (and, I hope, flight) of the year: Building Business Capability. This conference grew out of the Business Rules Forum when it added tracks for business process, business analysis and business architecture, so technically it includes Business Rules Forum, Business Analysis Forum, Business Architecture Summit and Business Process Forum, but there’s so much overlap in interest that it’s fair to say that few people stick just to one track at this event.

I have a couple of spots in the conference this week, starting on Monday morning when I am giving a tutorial on aligning BPM and enterprise architecture, similar to that which I gave at the IRM BPM conference in London in June. It’s October 31st so Halloween costumes are optional, but I will give a prize for the best one worn by a tutorial attendee.

On Tuesday afternoon, I’m moderating a BPM vendor panel focused on BPM adoption issues from the vendors’ point of view. I’m a bit late with my plug for this since there was some confusion about who was actually picking the panelists (as I found out a few days ago, it was me), but I’ve assembled a stellar lineup:

  • Jesse Shiah, Founder and CEO at AgilePoint. I first met Jesse back at the BPM Think Tank in 2007, when his company was still called Ascentn; since then, they’ve changed it to something that we can all pronounce while they work at turning Microsoft’s Visio and Visual Studio into real BPM tools.
  • Mihnea Galeteanu, Chief Storyteller for BlueworksLiveat IBM. Besides having the coolest job title, Mihnea and I both live in Toronto, so have the advantage of being able to really put “social” into BPM by meeting for coffee to discuss how IBM is making BPM social with BlueworksLive. Yes, I make him pay for the coffee.
  • Jeremy Westerman, Senior Product Marketing Manager for BPM at TIBCO. Part of TIBCO’s “British invasion”, Jeremy and I have a long history of me asking him about what’s coming up in their product releases (such as “how’s that AMX/BPM to tibbrintegration coming along?”), and him trying to say things that won’t get him in trouble with TIBCO’s legal department. Obviously, he’s a big fan of my “everything is off the record after the bar opens” rule.
  • Thomas Olbrich, Cofounder and Managing Director at taraneon. Unlike the other vendors on the panel which provide implementation tools, taraneon provides a process test facility for process quality, meaning that they have the best process horror stories of all. Thomas is the only one of the panelists who I haven’t met face-to-face before now, although I feel like I know him because of our lengthy Twitter exchanges, only some of which are about shoes.

There’s also a rumor that I’m moderating a panel on Wednesday afternoon on business architecture versus technology architecture, although I have yet to hear any details about it.

If you’re interested in trying out a social conference site, you can find BBC on Lanyrd, where you can indicate that you’re attending, speaking at, or just tracking the conference, as well as adding any sessions that you’re interested in. Note that this is an independent crowdsourced social conference site, not an official site of the BBC conference. You can also follow the conference on Twitter at #bbccon11.