This post is best read with the post, Innovation Cycle, Part 2: Travelling the path to success.
A business process is a business process is a business process. So what? It means nothing without some association or context.
This graphic is still one of my favourites. How do we know the value of a process without understanding the bigger picture of where the organisation is going versus where it is at today?
I regularly see too much time expended in trying to understand the detail of things; in this case a business process. Without context to that detail, it’s like we are each speaking a foreign language when trying to work out the problem or solution to the business process. The amount of time management wasted in figuring out that we are indeed speaking different languages can cost organisations not only financial heartache, but also brand and loss of good talent.
Enter the value chain, or value map. This is an easy-to-understand graphical or visual representation of why a business process matters and where a process sits in the context of the broader operational landscape. Here's an example to identify value:
I no longer have any fingers and toes left to count the times I’ve seen big corporate projects kick off without the proper understanding of the value meant to be delivered. For example, most traditional projects have cost-reduction or efficiency-styled business aims. Yet they suffer from not articulating any clear success factors, other than perhaps to deliver efficiencies by implementing this process here or upgrading that system there. There’s an innate belief (suggesting here there is no supporting evidence) that these processes will be the answer to generating those efficiencies.
The result is that no one challenges why these processes will generate those assumed business gains. The project team is there to perform, not question a business case even if it has been poorly put together. In a command and control environment everyone simply accepts the underlying assumption. The less questions asked, the better.
The problem is not isolated to the operational structure. It is exacerbated by the fact that most business analysts and project architects, the two most capable groups who might question and challenge, do not understand this larger business context. Their job is usually mired in the details, the business process world. So if they are not the ones to help put together these value map pictorials, who is?
The traditional approach is to hire a management consulting firm to assist in building out the strategic vision and value proposition. Sometimes they even cobble together a value map or two. Unfortunately, more times than not this work does not cascade down into the project delivery community. The dots are never connected in a way that provides delivery traceability back to the strategic planning that was developed elsewhere. The management consultants, as good as they were, did not have adequate history or context for the client there were employed to serve. They were not able to translate into an effective map what the ‘head of’ was trying to do. That lost opportunity remains a key business delivery gap until it surfaces way too late in the delivery process.
So why do leaders outsource their strategic planning to consultants who fly-in-fly-out? Why not spend the money instead on embedding people who can identify, maintain and govern this important business value? The risks are just too high to not invest. It’s really about performing effective strategic execution.
If there are no strategic planners within an organisation, those who can connect the logical plans to the physical world of delivery, then why bother performing any strategic planning at all? Don’t commit to and plan for multi-million dollar projects. Don’t hire an army of detailed specialists if there is no clear value chain or map illuminating the pathway forward.
To those leaders who may be reading this, I encourage you to have courage to question why this important planning landscape does not exist, and take a stand. The rewards for bringing in strategy execution talent who can question and challenge business assumptions will reap significant business gains in the process (no pun attended).
This is just one of many roles where questioning can lead to greater innovative thinking.
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