Schlagwort-Archive: Business process

When optimized processes have to function in the crisis

“We have to keep moving. Now heat the ship with the ship!” On the first day the superstructure and the intermediate deck were burnt. On the second day, the masts, the rigging and sails were moved into the boiler. On the third day the railing and planks disappeared in the machine. Phileas Fogg renounced everything that was unnecessary in order to reach his destination, what he finally did – around the world in eighty days. When circumstances require, there is nothing left but to literally throw everything into the fire in order to accomplish the desired goal.

At the moment a global crisis is happening at an unprecedented speed. And the reaction is a panicky shock. Fortunately, the supply of food and other goods, fundamental infrastructures (water, electricity, waste disposal) and medical care are still running – especially through the personal engagement of the workforce. In Business the procedures, which are executed like a clockwork, are largely coming to a standstill – things are no longer produced, shipped, transported, delivered and installed as well as personal services can no longer be provided. Under completely new conditions, the still active business flows are operating and one day the stopped ones will also run again. What does this mean for the well prepared, closely knit business flows that are stuck in the IT corset? Which aspects must be considered?

  • Not every step is necessary
    Over the years, the processes were woven into a dense net – one after the other. And the machine thus created runs like a clockwork thanks to IT. With Corona this machine sputters or even stops. This is fatal for the interaction of the processes (see below). A restart of this kind might not be part of any risk plan. In order to restart business, you should
    1) Adjust your expectations, i.e. do not expect everything to run as smoothly as before;
    2) Undogmatically ramp up the areas step by step, i.e. do not fulfil all duties, but concentrate initially on those that are relevant to the results;
    3) Coordinate with suppliers, employees and customers without stress, as all are all in the same boat;
    4) Refrain from measures for the even further, the even higher and the even better during a certain period of time, i.e. do not maximize profits but minimize damages;
    5) Adhere less to existing guidelines and instead allow more personal initiatives, since the many eyes of the employees see more than the few of the management.
  • Each handover point is latently necessary
    Over the years, the interfaces between the processes, the divisions and the companies have converged in such a way that they run by themselves. Everyone knew what, when to do and what had to be delivered, by when, and in what quality. This worked well that, for example, one could rely on rolling storage bins within the framework of just-in-time. Now all the connecting factors have come to a standstill – raw materials and supplies cannot be delivered; components are no longer manufactured and sent on their way; products can no longer be assembled; customers no longer receive their products; and IT gets confused, because there is no constant flow of data. To get the whole thing up and running again, you should:
    1) Check the quality of stuck deliveries, i.e. identify and separate goods that are no longer usable;
    2) Operate the procurement and logistics processes more actively, i.e. coordinate and track deliveries more closely;
    3) Ensure the completeness of deliveries to avoid congestions;
    4) Above all, keep an eye on the IT interfaces, as the processes run in virtuality so fast that faster disasters could be generated.
  • The optimized interaction is jumbled up
    The first two points already show that the interdependencies of the various business components are disturbed by this forced interruption. Even if the walls are still standing, the image of a ruin fits more likely. In this debris, no optimized sequences can take place for the moment, although all the components are still there. Power plants and IT data centers have recovery plans. But the certified business continuity may not cover the process world. For this reason you should now:
    1) Remove disruptive debris, i.e. suspend inhibiting bureaucracy and unproductive steps;
    2) Crisis managers should be deployed, who coordinate the most important internal and external functions for the time of the state of emergency;
    3) Lost interfaces should be replaced by new ones, e.g. when suppliers go bankrupt and are no longer available due to the crisis;
    4) IT interfaces should be checked and repaired, if necessary, or at least bypass with emergency solutions.
  • Responsibilities lack the overview
    Before the crisis, the business provided an overview of incidents by means of a corresponding reporting system. An ingenious traffic light system showed those responsible an overview of the critical deviations. Now most traffic lights are red, and it is hard to decide where to look first. Even those, who have made up to now decisions without such reports, will be overwhelmed by the flood of problems. For this reason you should now take action:
    1) Identify and monitor focal points of damage limitation so that the right decisions are made;
    2) Bundle responsibilities to avoid a confusion of contradictory decisions;
    3) Define clear decision paths for the time of the crisis, i.e. who is responsible for what;
    4) Create emergency solutions, i.e. provide programs in an unbureaucratic manner that create transparency, if necessary on paper, so that blind flight is avoided.
  • The money is missing everywhere
    The financial situation is difficult to master for small and medium-sized companies which do not employ financiers and lawyers – no income, still running costs, and due payments. Faced with insolvency, you are forced to do everything by yourself. For this reason you should:
    1) Do not generate new costs, i.e. postpone new purchases and limit to those costs that promise short-term revenue;
    2) Implement initiatives with on-board resources, i.e. use internal experts cross-functionally;
    3) Exploit available, often free, opportunities, even if they do not meet the usual standard (e.g. free software on the Internet, even if it comes from unreliable regions such as the USA).

Such a crisis is unmanageable for globally interconnected economies. There are too many conflicting interests and, above all, stakeholders that want to take advantage of each other and hold themselves harmless by the society. And politicians have pushed themselves to the top to make decisions. When they turn out to be wrong, in the absence of their own expertise, the experts are to blame. There is no plan for such a far-reaching crisis that could reliably manage the whole thing. The solution lies with all those involved, who pull together in the same direction – employees, unions, managers, shareholders, lobbyists, politicians and, above all, the public. Merciless support is required. It is better to make a positive contribution of one’s own than to criticize the engagement of others. Our chance lies in using every initiative, no matter how big or small, to pull the car out of the ditch – together.

Bottom line, Phileas Fogg showed it to us. With a clear goal in mind, you can throw anything into the fire to accomplish the necessary. The task that still lies ahead is much greater than the most extensive proposals for improvement. Is the current situation as dramatic as described above? Maybe not (yet). Nevertheless, I hope that some people will be encouraged to think about their processes early on, in order to survive the crisis with as little damage as possible, especially now, when optimized processes have to function despite the crisis.

Business processes are rarely the problem

Digitalization increases the proportion of mechanically consecutively executed steps that are performed by computers at an incredible speed. This fulfills the dream of many process designers – finally the flows can be introduced reliably. The fact that only simple operations can be determined is overseen with the amount of documents regarding inputs, outputs, KPIs and process steps. However, the VUCA reality requires the ability to react to short-term changes. And these skills are still provided by humans – albeit not as fast as computers. Despite advancing digitalization, the road blocks of recent years must still be taken into account.

It is a surprising phenomenon that the people, who work the most with business processes, are the biggest impediment to application. As Peter Drucker puts it: “Anyone who only has a hammer as a tool will see a nail in every problem”. The next few points illustrate such shortcomings.

  • Processes are not code
    Even if digitization is currently putting business flows back on the agenda, so those parts that are continuously executed by people remain the issues. The flows are not a program code that you “upload” to employees and then everything runs smoothly. It is rather the case that everything runs DESPITE the determined operations.
    This requires the consideration of the employees when describing the activities. It only needs so much specification that the missing subtleties can be added by the employees as soon as they have understood the flow.
  • Described is only half the battle
    Since we are all driven by targets, the outcomes we produce have to be measurable. It is not a question of abolishing the description – only what is printable is valuable. It is more important that you do not stop, when the flow is documented. How useful are the best instructions, if nobody can fulfill them. Many a responsible person hides behind the flood of flowcharts, which he has created and forgets that the real work is only just beginning.
    Those affected must be introduced into process thinking, understand the business process and recognize their part in the realization – the sooner, the better.
  • Processes are a top management task
    The biggest hurdles in the realization are the decision-makers. Of course they are on fire at the beginning and announce the necessary guiding principles – from end to end. It usually does not take long for other topics to become more important – unfortunately, before the procedural measures are fully implemented. That way, managers undermine their own intentions and have to face the shambles of their wishes within a very short time – which does not prevent them from starting the next but one initiative on the shards. Over time, this leads to a multi-project portfolio, endless reprioritization, frustrated employees and a desire from above: Do the one thing, without let doing the other.
    As long as the decision-makers do not consider the flows in all their tasks and ensure that they do not get stuck in the end, business flows have no chance of create their impact.
  • People will not do, what they do not understand
    Although these actions permeate the day-to-day business and actually affect all employees and managers, the responsible people make great efforts to protect the flow descriptions in such a way that only selected people get a glimpse. Even after the sequences have been approved and released for realization, efforts are rarely made to inform employees comprehensively. There is no big picture to explain the rough interplay, or the critical issues, or the new skills that are needed, or the workflow that is actually to be executed by the employees.
    As long as the business processes are treated as secret knowledge, without explaining the notation, the documentation is not made available and the parties involved cannot join, the employees will resistively let the tsunami pass over them without changing anything – business as usual.

Bottom line: Digitization is once again crying out for new flows – for all regions, cultures and languages. Business Process Management (BPM) is an honorable discipline, so there are no more unknowns. All elements, procedures, methods and formats are available as best practices. And yet the initiatives are still unsatisfactory. This is partly due to

  • Wrong understanding: Processes are not code
  • Missing dissemination: Described is only half the battle
  • Lack of support: Processes are a top management task
  • Real resistance of those affected: People will not do, what they do not understand

As long as those affected are forgotten and leaders continue to afford this homemade chaos, the cycles of unsatisfactory BPM activities will repeat. Business processes are rarely the problem.