23 April 2009

I've moved!!!

I've moved my blog - join me over at http://bpmunplugged.wordpress.com

23 March 2009

Cap and Trade - In Process Management

What does cap and trade have to do with process management? Recently, I was reading an interesting article about cap and trade for carbon in the eco-debates. And, whether you are for or against it, there, I started to think about how useful it could be in our workplace and with our customers.

The “cap” part is really like a constraint. It can be imposed on us by customers (we want x in y days) or by our own internal limits (resources, automation, knowledge). The “trade” part is exchanging available resources to help us meet the cap.

In todays environment, when companies are laying off workers, customers,looking for greater value in everything, are going to place even more demands on the business. If we can understand what those demands are, develop a method to measure them and understand and define our own internal constraints, then we can create process based upon roles, rather than people, look to see where available resources are, leverage those resources to make sure our constraints are working at their maximum potential. Then, when our internal constraints are struggling to meet the cap, we should elevate the constraint so that it can meet that cap… assign more resources to the same roles.

So, to do this, we need to understand what caps are imposed, what constraints we have internally, what our roles need to be to leverage those constraints to meet those caps and the exchange roles within the organization so that our most constrained points work toward meeting the caps. When companies are laying off more workers, roles and processes need to be better disciplined so that customers don’t go elsewhere.

02 January 2009

2009 Resolutions

It's 2009... time for resolutions. For business, it may mean running leaner and meaner. But, what does that mean for customers. Clearly, 2008 was a difficult year for many businesses because it was a difficult year for customers. Now, with layoffs and streamlining ahead, will businesses remember that the customer is the key to success for them?

I hope so. But, it means that businesses' work, encapsulated in their processes, better provide value for the customer. It's time to reassess what customers need to be successful and aligning work around to assure that success. Even in difficult times, the successful business will be one that not only looks at the bottom line, but also forward at getting and keeping more customers now and into the future. This is a focus on throughput and capacity, not cost. And, a business which aligns its processes to maximize throughput also works to maximize successful customer outcomes and revenue.

As for my resolution, I will endeavor to comment at least once a month on this blog. And while my comments may span a variety of sub-topics, they will always be "topical" with respect to business process management - unplugged.

25 July 2007

Always know your goals

Recently, I've been involved in discussions about requirements. Business requirements - what do they represent? Now, you might wonder what this has to do with BPM unplugged. Every client has some intention in automating processes. But, when we get to requirements, no one really seems to know what they are or what they should represent.

Let's go back to process... When we understand what customers really expect from an organization, those expectations can be expressed as goals. The customer wants to "accomplish something." When we develop processes in light of these expectations we make sure that the process is measured against them. This is the one method we have to assure that our processes are not trying to do "something else."

The same is true with requirements. If we look at the end goal(s) of a process that is, already, established to meet a customer expectation then we can frame our requirements structure starting with those goals. If we work backward from there, into the process, then we maintain a better chance of drafting requirements that elicit a "goal-based" statement of what an actor/user expects to accomplish in the process.

If we develop use cases, then, the use cases will more accurately reflect the system view of the processes we've worked hard to map and the goal-based requirements we've drafted to represent them. We accomplish several things this way. First, we keep our requirements tied to customer expectation goals that we used to develop the business processes. Second, we maintain our focus on what actors/users expect to accomplish with respect to a system process that mimics the business process. Third, we maintain traceability throughout the project - from business processes to functional system artifacts. And, finally, we provide a stronger basis for testing both the processes and the systems that represent them.

So, always develop your processes and functional artifacts (your requirements) based upon the goals customers expect from the processes and actors/users expect from the systems that realize the processes.

30 May 2007

AirTran Update - A Positive Moment of Truth!!!

An update. I wrote a letter to AirTran. Low and behold, I got a wonderful and positive response.

We talk about Moments of Truth in BPM... that every contact with a customer must give that customer a positive and tangible benefit. And, I honestly must say, I got that... But, let's not stop there... we need to make sure that in our normal course of business, that we aim to assure that customers get the positive experience. Certainly recovering from a bad experience is a good thing. But, making sure that our people are motivated and our processes are aligned to meet the customer expectation with as little interuption as possible should be the goal.

In any event, my Moment of Truth with AirTran has put a smile back on my face.

Please check in online and we’ll speed you through the airport… Really?

The advent of business to consumer transaction and process handling has been a boon to business, when it works properly. But, we are inundated with examples where technology was deployed but well-intending individuals but with nary a positive impact on the customer. Technology is only a benefit if the end-to-end process it supports is aligned to provide a true value to the customer. Online check in is an example.

One would think that use of technology to check in online should make the customer’s life easier. And, more and more airlines are adopting this technology. Yet, today, I make an example of AirTran Airways, a decent enough carrier. This morning, I received a friendly email asking me to check in online. I’m thinking, now that’s customer expectation management – not only will AirTran let me check in early, but at MY convenience and it reminds me to choose this option in case I forget.

So, I check in online, let AirTran know how many bags I am checking, print my boarding pass and, voila, I am ready to head to the airport. Now, when I get to the airport, Tampa International to be exact, my whole “I am going to speed through with this wonderful online check in thing goin’ on.” But, my expectations came crashing to a halt like a speeding train meeting a cow on the tracks!!! First, I have to find the special line for “online check in” folks like me. It’s not well marked. Once I do find it, the line moves slowly. In fact, I watched and measured the progress of my “quick online check in bag drop line” against the “standard ol’ get your boarding pass here and check in line”. About a minute after I had already been waiting in line, I watched to see how long it would take the most recent person in the “standard ol’ line” takes to check in… and low and behold, they are through their line before I’m through mine. In fact, an additional 4 customers sped through the “standard ol’ line” before I got through the “quick online check in line.” So, I am asking myself, “how this THIS save me time?”

This is a common problem (for which I will be writing to AirTran to complain” where technology is deployed to make customers’ lives easier but without a complete understanding of the entire “customer management process” utterly fails. In AirTran’s case it’s not enough just to provide a convenient way for customers to check in, it has to provide an equally convenient way to speed the customer through the process – afterall the computer reservation system cannot grab my bag, check my ID and get me moving along… that’s handled my AirTran people.

The point I am making is that with any process, technology is only a tool. It is not the process itself. If AirTran’s goal was to get customers moving through the check in process faster – a worthwhile customer expectation – then it needed to look at the entire process, from online check in to “on the way to security” and not just the online check in. While AirTran got me my documents quickly, it utterly failed in getting me “on my way to security” faster, the whole reason why I check in online in the first place.

My fellow BPM-Unpluggers… when you look to make a customer’s experience more rewarding you must understand what the customer wants from it and how your people make those customers successful. If there are “people” in the process, make sure they are motivated to making the customer successful and mitigate their constraints. Then, use technology as a tool to tie it all in. Don’t get lured into the idea that the technology will take care of the customer if there are points of failure that could derail the entire goal.

25 May 2007

Empowerment in the Auto Parts Biz

I am not an automobile-o-phile. My car is transportation, pure and simple. So, when I had two issues, recently, with my car, the first thing that always runs through my mind is "how am I going to get #&*$# over by these auto parts companies?" To my amazement, my two recent experiences are examples of customer expectation management that makes one endeared to the two companies with whom I dealt.

The first involves Checker Auto Parts. A few weeks back, my battery suddenly died. There are rarely more isolating feelings than being stranded, at night, at a mall, with no car. Luckily, I had met a friend for dinner and was able to get my car started. A couple of years ago, I had purchased a new battery at Checker Auto Parts and so I headed, directly, to one of their stores. When I arrived, I showed up within minutes before closing and really thought that I would be turned away. And, even if I weren't I thought, "I have no receipt for this battery, how am I going to get my warranty to cover this?" Well, here I am, poor consumer with little knowledge of automobile engineering. But, the two gentlemen who were staffing the store kept open for me; found I had purchased the battery from Checker and did not hesitate to honor the warranty. Now, Checker is a do it yourself sort of place and I scarcely know the difference between a lug nut and a peanut. So, they helped my replace the battery by providing me the tools and supervision to do it. Within 30 minutes I was on my way.

The second involves Discount Tires. I just replaced my tires. Now, despite it's name, Discount Tires really isn't a discount. After all, the tires I got were neither hugely cheap more exorbitantly expensive. But, what makes Discount Tires so successful for me (and I have been going there for 10 years) is that they help me pick the right tires for my car, get them installed quickly and do all of this with a smile and respect for us automobile ignorami. Buying tires is not exactly an exciting adventure. And, in the case of Discount Tires, I return time and again not to purchase new tires but to have them rotated and repaired. They gladly do this without fail and without charging me. And, they STILL do it with a smile - after all I am not buying anything.

Now, at this point, you're thinking what the heck this has to do with BPM Unplugged. Well, it's the essence of BPM Plugged - creating an experience, which is successful for the customer. Somewhere deep in the back of the front lines at these two companies, folks asked themselves how we could make our processes and people behave in a way that endears our customers to us? And, part of that discussion involved customer expectation management - empowering folks at the front lines to handle their customer's problems is such a way that at that Moment of Truth, the customer walks away surprised and amazed at how painless the experience was.

As you look to take on BPM efforts, it is extremely important to remember that but for the grace of the customers go us. When we look at process we need to look at people - our employees who are the front line of the customer battle every day. And, as we work on our processes to make customer experiences successful, we cannot forget those front line employees' needs to make sure that process doesn't break in front of the customer because the employee isn’t empowered to handle the customer’s need. Make sure that front line employees are empowered to actually make the process work for the customer; otherwise, what have we really gained if the customer goes somewhere else?