Ads 468x60px

twitterfacebookgoogle pluslinkedinrss feedemail

Featured Posts

Colin Crofts

Specialist Business Process Improvement and Optimisation. Make the Most of Your Company.

Free gifts!

Claim your free E-books on business process today. Simply fill out your name and e-mail address in the box to the right ---->

Reliable, Expert Advice

With over 30 years experience in the field of business processes, Colin Crofts is a name you can trust.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

This blog is to be retired

Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I have decided to discontinue this blog.

I do hope that you have found the selection of articles informative and entertaining.

May I wish you all success and happiness.

Best regards

Colin Crofts

Friday, 26 February 2016

BPM and the Knowledge Economy by Ronald G. Ross

BPM often simply overreaches.  Understanding, modeling, and managing a business effectively requires a balanced view of six basic questions, not just one, as given in Table 1.  I follow Zachman in these matters so, yes, the table is Zachmanesque.

Basic Business
Kind of
What inventory of things needs to be managed to support business activity?
structural model (e.g., concept model,[1] data model)
How do transforms of things in business activity need to take place to add value?
process model
Where does business activity occur?
network model
Whocollaborates with whom to undertake business activity?
interaction model (e.g., organizational chart, use case)
When does business activity take place?
temporal model (e.g., schedule, event model, milestone model)
Why are results of business activity deemed appropriate or not?
strategy model (e.g., Policy Charter,[2]constraint model)
If your business does nothing but manufacture or produce physical widgets (forget all the meta-data about those widgets), you will probably emphasize question 2 (i.e., process) above the others.  Your overall approach and architecture will reflect that.  You will naturally gravitate toward BPM.
That tendency has at least three basic risks, even for organizations that do fall into the nothing-but-widgets category:
  • Your metrics will largely focus on process productivity (e.g., throughput, bottlenecks, latency), rather than strategic goals and alerts centered on external risks.  C-suite executives tend to be much more focused on the latter.

  • Your mindset will be procedural, rather than declarative, which can cause you to embed business rules in process flows rather than externalize them.  As a result your process models will be unnecessarily complex and your overall solutions un-agile.

  • Your approach will fall woefully short in addressing the intellectual capital that underlies your processes.  Such operation business knowledge ranges from simple meta-data, to the business logic that underlies operational business decisions.
Fewer and fewer business problems these days fall into the nothing-but-widgets category.  Even for widget-centric businesses, at least three needs are increasingly urgent:
  1. Ensuring the quality of meta-data.

  2. Demonstrating compliance-based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.

  3. Retaining, teaching, and repurposing intellectual capital.
These are not strengths of common BPM practices.
For all the non-widget-centric business activity in the world — which includes just about every conceivable form of white-collar work — these needs become paramount.  And make no mistake, the future lies with automation of that white-collar work.
What would I do to correct the shortcomings of BPM?  Our answer is to become more why-centric, as opposed to narrowly how-centric.  That shift has several essential features:
  • Understanding business strategy as something distinct from business processes (and BPM).  Business goals and business risks should be drivers of business process design — not the other way around.  You need to be strategy-driven, not simply process-driven.

  • Designing core metrics around business goals and business risks — the things that concern C-suite executives the most.

  • Realizing that for white-collar work the 3-D world of widgets has vanished, and that tolerances and quality can be expressed only in terms of business rules.

  • Treating business rules as a first-class citizen, externalized from process models.[3]

  • Identifying operational business decisions (based on encoded business rules) as a crucial focal point in re-engineering business processes.

  • Including a Why Button as part of every business solution.[4]  Pressing the Why Button leads immediately to the business rules that produced the results you see from any process.
For further information, please visit      
[1]  Refer to Refer to Business Rule Concepts:   Getting to the Point of Knowledge (4th ed), by Ronald G. Ross, 2013, Chapter 1 and Part 2.  return to article
[2]  Refer to Building Business Solutions:   Business Analysis with Business Rules by Ronald G. Ross and Gladys S.W. Lam, 2nd ed. (Sept, 2015), an IIBA Sponsored Handbook, Chapter 4.  return to article
[3]  Refer to the Business Rules Manifesto, now in almost 20 languages:  return to article
[4]  Refer to Ronald G. Ross, "The Why Engineer™," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 11 (Nov. 2013), URL: 

SOURCE: Ronald G. Ross, "BPM and the Knowledge Economy," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 16, No. 11 (Nov. 2015), URL:  

Customer Experience Herd Mentality and the Fear of Missing Out

Image courtesy of claustral
I originally wrote today’s post for Intradiem. It was published on their blog on September 17, 2015
Are you following the herd or defining your own path to success?
In business and in life, there’s this crazy notion of the herd mentality. What is it? According to Wikipediaherd mentality, or mob mentality, describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. This isn’t always a bad thing (e.g., think running away from a dangerous situation), but it certainly can be, especially when it results in erroneous decisions and other negative outcomes.
In business, when you’re trying to differentiate, when you’re trying to win and keep customers and employees, this mentality quickly commoditizes your business/product and, well, doesn’t really excite your customers or your employees. Employees can move in and out of employment from your company to your competitors, or customers can purchase your products or the next guy’s – and never feel or experience a difference. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter where they work or where they shop: one is the same as the next as the same as the next – and so on.
A few years ago, researchers at Leeds University did some research on herd mentality. Here’s how AdSavvy reports it:
Researchers at Leeds University, led by Prof Jens Krause, performed a series of experiments where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. The scientists discovered that people end up blindly following one or two people who appear to know where they’re going.  

The published results showed that it only takes 5% of what the scientists called “informed individuals” to influence the direction of a crowd of around 200 people. The remaining 95% follow without even realizing it.
95% will follow the 5%! Wow!
But that’s not really a surprise. Think about the top 5% of companies when it comes to customer experience. Which brands are cited consistently? Which brands does everyone want to be like? Amazon, Zappos, Apple, Nordstrom, Starbucks, The Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Harley-Davidson, Nike, etc. Good for them! Bad for you! That experience works for them, for their culture and for their customers. Design your own culture and your own customer experience – based on what your employees and your customers want, respectively.
For those 95%, what happens to innovation? What happens to greatness, in general? What happens to a differentiated or delightful customer experience? That all goes away.
Seth Godin stated: You cannot be remarkable by following someone else who’s remarkable.
So, why then is there a herd mentality? Those in a crowd tend to do what others are doing because, if they are doing it, then it must be worthwhile doing or they wouldn’t be doing it. Right? Or the crowd might go along with what others are doing so as to not be ridiculed or mocked for not being in the know. Or it might just be the safe route to take. Or we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. Or we have no vision. Or we have no desire to differentiate. Or we like to go along to get along. Or we don’t want to make a bad or wrong decision. Or we have a fear of missing out. Or we are risk averse.
The problem with herd mentality is that we think we know what success looks like because we base it on the industry leaders – because they must be doing something right to be leading the pack. But just because it works for one doesn’t mean it works for others. Just because the Zappos culture and business model work for Zappos doesn’t mean they will work for others.
How do you know you’re part of the herd mentality? Consider how you’d answer the following questions.
  • Do you make decisions based on what others do?
  • Or do you always look for a better way, a better solution?
  • Are you listening to customers or just paying attention to competitors?
  • Do you have a fear of missing out on what others are doing and achieving?
  • Are you afraid to be different or to do something different?
  • Do you dwell on what your competition is doing?
  • Is your approach to designing products, services, and the customer experience fresh and innovative?
  • Or did you take the Zappos tour and decide to replicate their model? 
  • Are you looking for new and creative ways to meet customer needs or solve their problems?
How can companies stand out from the herd? Don’t they want to? What will help them win the war for talent? and for customers?

Not all experiences are created equal. When you design your customer experience strategy, good guidelines to live by include:
  1. Define and communicate your brand promise
  2. Develop a culture that fits your brand and what you stand for
  3. Understand your customers: who are they? what do they buy? what problems are they trying to solve? why do or don’t they buy?
  4. Define your moments of truth: think about your customer experience lifecycle and your various touchpoints and interactions
  5. Map your customers’ journeys
  6. Understand the marketplace: yes, be aware of competitors and what they’re doing, but don’t imitate
  7. Listen to your customers and prospects
  8. Define your customer experience: innovate, get creative, add value to the marketplace
  9. Hire the right employees for your brand experience
  10. Know your vision: stick to it
  11. Know your purpose: stick to it
  12. Know your value proposition: stick to it
Imitation is the death of innovation. When imitating, there’s no need for innovation, right? Last month, I wrote about four other voices to listen to in order to innovate. Listening to those four voices can not only help you drive innovation but also differentiation.
Take your inspiration from other industries, if you have to. Get motivated by what your competitors are doing, but don’t dwell on them. Competition drives innovation, and vice versa. And innovation drives success, simply because it allows you and your competitors to offer a variety of products to meet your customers’ needs. When that happens, the customer wins. And then you do, too.
If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. -George S. Patton Jr.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Create a Process Driven Enterprise

‘Templatize’ for Better Business Process Management (BPM)

Business Process Management Templates

If there’s a word I’d like to mainstream, It would certainly be templatize. It’s already
used in the computing world, but I think it has a broader application when it comes
to business processes too. It’s a wonderful synthesis of our digital world’s move toward customization and automation, and it simply makes sense for those of us who spend our
days Googling and WhatsApping. The business template allows us to create our own
processes once and then repeat them over and over again, tweaking and refining along
the way.
Templatizing is an essential part of any company’s business process management, or
BPM. What is BPM? It’s simply the optimizing of your business practices, looking for
ways where you can cut costs, increase revenue, increase efficiency and productivity,
and just make things easier and clearer for your team.
Better BPM is a constant struggle and reward situation for businesses of all shapes
and sizes, whether you’re just at a couple desks in your local coworking center or
in a multinational distributed team. It’s the part that doesn’t focus on what you’re
doing so much as how you do it all. Logically, BPM and workflow templates go

What are the benefits of business templates?

A business template is a BPM tool that acts like a workflow diagram that lets you
map out a repeatable process.

1. Templatizing enables ‘hit-by-a-truck’ teamwork

If something unfortunate happened to the most essential member of your team
(or if they simply left your team), would your business fall apart? Business templates
clarify workflow processes and make it easier to run a “hit-by-a-truck” operation that
allows for people to move between teams and roles without disruption. They also let
you run an international business from anywhere and allow remote teams to
collaborate on clearly defined tasks.

2. Templatizing captures the efficiency of best practices

We’re all working toward constant cycles of innovation and improvement, but why
reinvent the wheel? It takes up time and energy that we could be putting into new
mission-critical initiatives. Once you know what’s working for you, allow business
templates to drive repeatable best practices, and then look to experiment in other
parts of your work.

3. Templatizing gets you started

Business templates are simple and elegant BPM and productivity tools. Once you create
them, you can reuse-recycle and dive in to get started right away on any new project.
An added benefit: starting faster also minimizes procrastination and increases your
chances of completing the task at hand.

4. Templatizing reduces errors

Let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. You need to work as a team to create tried-and-true
workflows. By having repeatable steps to follow, you make sure that everyone follows
the same crucial steps, limiting mistakes made and creating a transparent workflow that
teammates around the world can view and follow.

5. Templatizing improves consistency and accountability

Using a template as part of your business process management workflow means that
you and your team are focused on clarity, conciseness, and consistency. It means you
have your you-know-what together. Not only does it help onboard new team members,
it helps give current members assurance that they heading in the right direction. And
this form of workflow automation also helps shine light on the all-important question of whodid what, when.

Where can you use templates in your day-to-day

There are a lot of places where templatizing is a no-brainer. First and foremost, creating
a repeatable workflow helps increase customer satisfaction. Try using it for tech support
and customer success to follow a common flow of how to help resolve customer issues,
or to help close a deal.
And you can make sure that no matter who answers the phone or accesses the lead that you
get the right information from the start with a systematized client intake
workflow template
Client Intake Template
For me, being part of the small 100-percent remote team that runs the online remote
network Happy Melly, the first use case we saw for templates in our highly experimental
org was for onboarding.
When you go from from three to 15 teammates and from about 60 to 400 clients in just
a year, you have to change the way you do business — or you’re sure to miss important
steps in welcoming any new member of your extended work family.
For example, here’s a snapshot of a customizable Redbooth workflow template for
onboarding new team members
New Employee Onboarding Template

Browse Our Free Workflow Templates

Use our free workflow templates to follow a typical workflow for any given task, or go ahead and customize them to make them your own:
…and many more!
And while templates and defined BPM may seem corporate, they also help startups and up-and-comers too.
In fact, at Redbooth, they first got the idea for creating the workflow templates going through their own Series B funding round, creating a series of legal templates to get them through that arduous yet essential investor paperwork.
But then they couldn’t stop. Now, with just a click of a button, you can open up a new Redbooth workspace that has all the steps laid out for you in common workflow management. Open up a workflow template in your existing Redbooth account, or start a free trial and test-drive as many templates as you want.
There are dozens of workflow templates already, and Redbooth is always interested in ideas for creating more! Email to find out more about getting custom workflow templates
 created for your business processes.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Human Processes: Discovering Collaboration

All the articles in the “Human Processes” column for BP Trends are based on the view that there are two distinct types ofbusiness process – step by step and collaborative. They have a lot in common since, at heart, both transform inputs into outputs. However, the means by which they do so is fundamentally different.
Step by step processes were the basis of the industrial revolution and their theory continues to evolve to this day- as reported on, of course, by many writers for this Web site. Examples of step-by-step processes include much supply chain work, both operational and back office, such as order processing, manufacturing, shipment, invoicing, payment and financial accounting. Other examples include case management work such as customer service, fault management and auditing. On a larger scale, construction and software development processes fall also into this category, although project rather than process management techniques are typically used to manage such work.
Collaborative processes, on the other hand, include tasks but it is not useful to analyse them in this way, since tasks emerge from collaboration rather than underpin it. Examples of collaborative work include strategy/policy development, legislation, merger and acquisition, transformative change to services (public, private and third sector), management accounting, health/social care, research and development, venture capital investment, start-up development, military operations, intelligence gathering, crisis response, scientific research, and some forms of marketing. It is often the case that collaborative processes are carried out by people who might shy away from using a software system to support their work.
Step by step processes are formed of tasks, which trigger one another either directly or via messages, and are carried out by human and/or machine actors. Hence, the basis for defining step by step processes is the automata theory of Computer Science, its incarnation in such formal techniques as petri nets and the pi-calculus, and graphical notations such as BPMN which are derived from these techniques.
By contrast, the basis for defining collaborative processes is the five principles of Human Interaction Management (now often referred to as Virtual Team Planning to highlight its cross-boundary nature). These principles assert that collaboration rests on understanding and managing:
  1. Teams, to assign and accept roles and responsibilities
  2. Communications, to create and support action
  3. Knowledge, to maintain and share useful information
  4. Time, to target effort towards goals and measure its effectiveness
  5. Plans, to discuss and update them as circumstances change
Since each type of process has a fundamentally different basis, you cannot analyse them in the same way – especially as collaborative processes often include many different organisations as partners. Traditional business analysis techniques fall down at the first hurdle, often failing even to capture the full range of stakeholders involved in collaborative work or the nature of their involvement.
I won't discuss here how to analyse step by step processes, for which you can refer to many articles and columns on this site. Rather, I will offer a few pointers on how to analyse collaborative processes.
The first step is to define the initial goals of the participants. There will generally be an overall goal of the process itself. Associated with this there will be a number of sub-goals, some of which are shared and some of which are specific to particular partners. The dynamic, evolving nature of collaborative work means that refining, extending and sometime curtailing the overall goal and the sub-goals is an inherent part of the work itself, but defining an initial set of goals is always the starting point for analysis. In software that supports collaborative processes, the overall goal may be used as the descriptive text for acollaboration plan, and the sub-goals may be referred to as StagesStreams or Themes.
Each sub-goal will be of interest to a specific sub-group of stakeholders. Defining these sub-groups is the second step. Not everyone will be interested in all sub-goals, and restricting areas of interest via the process definition is vital in order to cut down the volume of information and messages that people have to deal with.
The third step is to break down (using a technique such as RACI – Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) who is producing and who is consuming, and what is being produced/consumed, to help achieve each sub-goal. In many collaborative processes, some of the most important items produced by the process are the sub-goals themselves, along with the means used to achieve them – i.e., the collaboration plan produces its own details of “who makes what and who uses it”.
A fully-featured collaboration plan may include much more information, such as start/end dates for specific items to be produced, the form that those items will take, and associated financial or qualitative costs, revenues, benefits and risks. If you use a software system to support collaboration planning, this additional detail can be used to automatically generate online forms and reports for doing and managing the work.
However, in many situations, none of this additional detail is necessary. The three simple steps above are enough to support effective and efficient collaboration, by identifying:
  1. The goals of the work
  2. Who has an interest in achieving each goal
  3. How they will work together to do so
If you are familiar with mainstream techniques for step by step processes, then you will recognise that it is very hard to capture this basic information using graphical notations such as BPMN. In fact, it is counter-productive to try and do so, since the resulting diagrams are more likely to mislead than to inform. Step by step and collaborative processes are very different, and a different technique is needed to capture each type of process.

What is BPM in plain English? Explained to Small and Medium Enterprises

What is BPM really? When we think of BPM or business process management, we often think of ‘expensive’, ‘for large companies’, ‘takes up too much management time’ or ‘we are not ready for that yet’. Is that really what lies behind BPM?
All those perceptions are wrong. In fact, a Small or Medium Enterprise should worry the most about its business processes in order to grow faster. No organization should postpone this issue until it’s too late because the solution might not be as simple.
SMEs that want to have a chance in the market should start by managing its business processes;maximize customer satisfaction and its inner efficiency, all of which is crucial to grow.
In a previous post we discussed the main difficulties and fears of a SME when using BPM and we suggested specific solutions to face those issues before they become irreversible.
Now we will present the BPM discipline in a simple and specific SME-oriented language, taking into account their problems and worries, showing why this is such an urgent issue. The sooner you start applying BPM solutions, the better will your company function.

What is a business process?

A business process is a sequence of activities that take place in your company to achieve any of its objectives. Usually a business process involves several people who contribute with a particular task.
Let’s think of the following example: Your company receives queries and products requests via email, telephone, website, call center, or through direct contact with salesmen. In any case, after receiving the request, it is assigned to a vendor, who communicates with customers to better understand their needs and build a business proposal for them. There are standard proposals, which go directly to the customer via mail. And there are complex proposals that require additional approval of commercial managers and then go to the customer. Let’s say that the client can only do three things: buy, reject the proposal or ask for modifications. If they buy, your process continues through the seller, who coordinates the delivery.

Modeling a business process

The previous example could be illustrated with a diagram (or workflow):
Hooray! We have the first version of a workflow for our selling process. Using a diagram helps us to:
  • Understand how our process is working and raises questions: Do we want this logic to complete a sale? Or a different one?
  • Identify bottlenecks: The Commercial Manager is able to review everything in time to send to the customer?

Process automation

Ok, the workflow is ready, now what? Automate a process using a BPMS (BPM System). That means ‘translating’ the process into a computer system that allows us to automate each process stage.
In our example, once the vendor completed a complex proposal, it is sent directly to the ‘Inbox’ of the Commercial Manager, without having to send physical documents or exchange mails. The BPMS “knows” that after the Seller, if the proposal was marked as complex, it should be delivered to the Manager, who can approve or return it.
The most important concept here is the ‘Inbox’. There the users will find the tasks that have been assigned to them in the previous stage of the process. And once the user completes the task, it will go to the ‘Inbox’ of the next user
In our example, the proposal will reach the ‘Inbox’ of the Commercial Manager, who will have two buttons: ‘Approve’ or ‘Return’. If returned, the proposal will be sent to the ‘Inbox’ of the person who wrote it in the first place. If approved, the proposal will be sent to the client (via email if he has no access to the system).
In addition to managing ‘inboxes’, the process automation allows us to:
  • Create new instances of processes in different ways. In our example, create new business applications, regardless of their origin (call center, salesman, etc.).
  • For each of these instances, facilitate collaboration and show at which stage is each instance.
  • Set deadlines for each stage. In our example, we could make sure that the client gets our quote before a certain time limit.
Plus, all instances of the process (in the example, the commercial proposals) are stored in the system, the history is recorded (who wrote it, when it was approved, etc.) and all related documentation is stored (different versions of the proposal, comments, observations, etc.). Thus, in a single system we have all relevant information of all commercial proposals (instead of having it scattered in countless mails or Excel ® spreadsheets).

Process analysis

After having automated a process with a BPMS, you need to identify:
  • How many proposals are at each stage (i.e., how many opportunities at each stage)
  • Set alerts with deadlines in each stage (How much does the client have to wait for a quote?)
  • Exactly how much work is each person responsible for (Are we really swamped in work or just a few stages are stuck and impact on the entire process?)
Measuring tools in a BPMS allows us to:
  • Issue reports that show the number of quotes, the time required at each stage and the productivity of everyone involved in the process.  In our example:
  • How many applications I quote the last month?
  • For which product?
  • How many ended in a closed sale?
  • How many belonged to each seller?
  • How long did the process take?
  • How long did each stage take?
  • Is the Commercial Manager a bottleneck?
  • How long does the Commercial Manager take to review each proposal?
  • How many proposals are pending review?
This is called measuring and analyzing the processes. This way you can know for sure how well each process is working and where there are problems. This is helpful beacause you know where to use your resources and where not to waste your time and money.


When an SME starts functioning, each process is quite simple. But once you start growing, can you handle everything manually? What will happen when you have 10 processes per week? Or 100? Or 1000?
The answer, although obvious, is not always considered in SMEs: You simply can’t grow if you manage your processes manually. So many SMEs start using tools like the email or Excel spreadsheets. Both are temporary solutions. Excel spreadsheets become unmanageable and useless. Something similar happens with the emails.
The example that was presented in this post shows clearly these effects. But it is important to understand that all other processes in an SME eventually face this reality, regardless if they are production, administrative, or customer-related processes.
When we put it like that, it seems quite clear that it is impossible for an SME to grow beyond a certain size unless its processes are optimized. This is done in four stages, which are the pillars of BPM:
  1. Model your processes using a diagram to visualize how they work.
  2. Automate processes using Flokzu.
  3. Measure time and quantity of work done, to draw objective conclusions about where and what to improve.
  4. Introduce improvements and repeat stage one.
SMEs shouldn’t first worry about surviving and competing, and then think of BPM. It should be the other way around: adopt BPM to achieve efficiency grow faster.
If you want to get started in the world of BPM but don’t know where to start, don’t worry. We designed a form that will help you identify the key processes that you must work on and how to start automating them. It also includes an estimation of the required time for each stage of the automation.