Tweets on 2009-09-21

Tweets on 2009-09-20

  • Physics to ponder. RT @MatthewEGreen: If you're in a vehicle traveling at speed of light, what happens when you turn the headlights on? #
  • Making sense of the box from outside the box. RT @jhagel: Experiencing the absurd is good for our brains – http://bit.ly/16Iwae #
  • Trying once again to 'automate' Travel Agents, in France now. RT @TechCrunch: http://bit.ly/4CPhFp (@robinwauters) #travel #tdsusa #
  • Mktg genius. Create a designer brand- then create & sell a knock-off 'cheap' copy yourself b4 the underground does. http://bit.ly/3v9NmW #

Rethinking Business Processes

Process Mapping is generally seen as a laborious exercise in workflow mapping that is supposed to add value by helping improve business processes. Once the As-Is model has been mapped with sufficient and just enough detail, the analysts are supposed to find ‘obvious’ areas for improvement and can then triumphantly arrive at an obviously improved To-Be process model.

This approach may be adequate for incremental workflow improvement but does not address good design for a business process.

The reason a process exists is because it adds value to the customer. Otherwise the process shouldn’t exist. This is the golden rule for good Business Process Design.

James Martin and Michael Porter have been expounding on the central principle of value creation for the past few years with the Value Steam approaches.  Recently Ralph Whittle reviewed the background and presented Enterprise Business Architecture as the overarching concept to capture the value-driven approach.

Given that (value-driven) process design is the core of any successful organization, I am a little concerned to find Graham Hill bidding good-bye to Process Thinking and welcoming Design Thinking as a replacement.

It may be that his use of the word ‘design’ in this fashion is too generic. A good DESIGN will bring user-centric interface design, user-friendly information architecture and customer-value-driven business processes together into a rewarding experience for the customer – and a profitable transaction for the business. Process thinking (from a customer’s  viewpoint) is key.

Incremental workflow improvements in the guise of process management are ineffective unless they rest on solid business processes built after asking, “Does this add value to the customer?”

Generating Ideas from ‘Crowds’? Really?

Ever been in one of those brainstorming workshops with lunch provided, staring at a blank whiteboard with a ‘facilitator’ exhorting everyone not to be bashful and to think outside the box.

Thinking ‘outside the box’ is the romantic ideal of creativity, but the brutal truth is that there ALWAYS is a ‘box’ that defines at the very least the goal of creative thought – and in most cases – a variety of constraints that need to be respected on the way to creative nirvana. Asking people to think and to begin with a blank sheet of paper will cause a ‘thinker’s block’ in most cases while the ‘thinker’ works through the goals, constraints and assumptions in his mind. Mark McGuinness has a very interesting experiment on thinking ‘inside the box’. He concludes that

‘Creative freedom’ is usually spoken of as a positive thing – but in this case, having total freedom to write any kind of story they like tends to paralyse people.

So, a successful brainstorming begins with something already on the board. There HAS to be a workshop owner (not just a ‘facilitator’) who brings the framework to the table and has a vested interest in the end-product. All participants should be there for their skills, experience or a ‘stakeholder-pass’ – not just to have more ‘heads’ to get to bear on the problem.

The workshop ‘owner’ taps into the entire group – gets them to add more flesh to the framework, validate or repudiate assumptions, extend the concept into the practical execution challenges, push and poke at imagined or defined boundaries and iterate through various cycles of conception to execution to fine tune the solution.

On tools, I prefer mindmaps and structured (lateral) thinking as the two most valuable accelerators for brainstorming.

At the individual level, laying out your ideas on a mindmap is a powerful idea management technique that I can personally attest to as my implementations evolve. It can be scaled up to manage group brainstorming sessions as well  – with similar powerful outputs as Michael Deutch insists.

From a structured thinking perspective, we need to make sure that the discussion has adequate representation of the six color ‘thinking hats’ from Edward de Bono – (Facts, Emotions, Critical-Judgment, Positive-Judgment, Creativity and Big-Picture). I am still trying to digest Jeffrey Phillip’s refreshing new term ‘Elastic Thinking’. More on that later.

Group Brainstorming in itself does not ‘generate ideas’. It helps amplify and sharpen individual thoughts – that need a vehicle for validation and improvement – and an organization framework for implementation.

Dirty Little Secret of Business Rules?

James Taylor is out again revealing secrets. Here is the latest dirty laundry.

Business users don’t want to “maintain rules” any more than they want to “write code”

What they want to do is run their business better……

…..They can’t and don’t want to use the same technology IT does but they can and should be brought into the process. To deliver this requires thought and effort but it will pay off in increased agility, decreased costs and improved precision in decision-making.

I agree with James’ prescriptions on what IT needs to do to make it easier for business users to define business rules that ‘run the business’. The Business Rules Engine interface needs to be intuitive and  familiar;  presented in a business metrics context; allow ‘what-if’ scenario building; and provide audit and governance ‘under the covers’.

The underlying assumption here is that business users do have a reasonably well-defined and agreed-upon decision-making criteria. So when ‘business rules’ need to be built into the ‘business logic’ of a system, the IT team should be able to pick up the binder listing all the rules and start implementing the system. In an Orwellian parallel universe maybe. Not in the real world.

Too frequently the business needs to think through the business processes, objectives, decisions and rules first before any system can be implemented. These rules are again subject to change depending on business direction and market conditions. So IT is increasingly abstracting the business-rules-engine component out of the underlying implementation.

IT can develop and procure Web Services that enable individual business processes – and provide ‘switches’ to configure the process and its interaction with other processes. The Business Rules Engine that brings the full value chain together is then the ultimate responsibility for business domain experts within the business.

No matter how dirty, techie, complex or ridiculous the Business Rules Engine is, the business needs to know where the switches are and how to drive. Can the business visualize a Ferrari dashboard or is a Model-T ‘dashboard’ sufficient?