You Can’t Make A Baby In A Month By Getting 9 Women Pregnant

While talking about the Obama stimulus package, Warren Buffet recently said “You Can’t Make A Baby In A Month By Getting 9 Women Pregnant” (he was referring to the fact that some things take time). And continuing on that theme, this article asserts that neither do many small incremental improvements make for “Business Transformation” – changing the culture takes time!

In his blog a few weeks back, Phil Gilbert raises a number of important questions: (paraphrasing)

  1. What is Culture – and why can’t we change our BPM behaviors?
  2. Why do BPM people promise fast incremental, continuous improvement, and then go and start every program by ‘boiling the ocean?’
  3. How do we get from “Project” to “Program”?

He was talking about the fortitude required to take BPM to the long term – where the (existing) culture is the single biggest impediment. One could interpret Phil’s post as suggesting that cultural change is akin to “boiling the ocean” (attempting to fix everything at once); a strategy that is destined to fail.

But in order to move beyond putting a band-aid on a broken process (Project to Program), you need to take a step back and really set out to engage the hearts and minds of the business itself. And that implies challenging the established behaviors – creating a new vision of how to run the business – one where Process is part of the bloodstream; where the customer is king and effective processes deliver the great experiences they expect. Moreover, it also means challenging the way in which the organization is run (using processes to manage rather than just managing processes); indeed every facet of how the organization delivers value to its stakeholders.

Just because the new tools and technologies of BPM allow fast incremental, continuous improvement as a means of business change, does not mean we should do this everywhere – we shouldn’t! Sure, to get the initial project up and running, you need to stick to the core 30% of functionality that delivers 70% of the value and then iterate from there, spiraling toward better performance and a better fit with the underlying business need.

But getting the attention of the organization (taking the BPM challenge to the wider enterprise) and changing the established behaviors requires different tactics. Modeling the desired behaviors again and again just wont do it. Or putting it another way, endlessly tweaking existing processes within the current architecture fails to deliver – what you will get is “Better Sameness” not “Transformation”. Hoping that the pain of it all will enable the organization to develop an inner moral strength – one that is powerful enough to overcome the challenges associated with this transition misses the opportunity to re-energize.

The greatest obstacle to culture change is that once a culture has developed, the assumptions that led to it are so deeply engrained, that no one recognizes them and therefore, no one challenges them. In order to change a culture, it is first essential to identify the right underlying assumptions of the current culture and challenge them head on – before trying to implant a new culture.

It’s Wells – not Oceans!

So, what to do? Well, the good news is that a big, transformational vision does not involve “boiling the ocean”. The best way is to ‘Find a Well’ (the analogy being the Well of Life needs no external drivers – it is a life-giving source).

I have spent many years as a business strategy consultant helping organizations find effective, long-term, sustainable business strategies. I help them find a Well that shareholders, suppliers, customers, partners, the market and the community can all draw upon to enrich and energize their business and satisfy their needs.

What do these Wells look like? They are the values that are at the heart of that business area. Collectively, these values give direction, guidance and are rich source of ideas and new ways of doing things. So, we do not need to boil the ocean, just discover what drives and inspires the business and its people to adopt new ways of doing things and developing new behaviors.

In this approach, internal drivers that everyone values (because they see the relevance to their own business and business success) replace externally imposed behaviors (as the means of creating culture). Values come from an eternal spring – energizing again and again – hence sustainability is not an issue.

The even better news for BPM is that it is almost certain that any properly facilitated Business Strategy Workshop should lead to a Transformational Vision (the Well), with “Great Customer Experiences” as the source of Competitive Advantage.  Why is this good news for BPM? – because Great Customer Experiences rely on carefully designed Business Services, supported by effective Business Processes that provide the foundation for staff in delivering these experiences.  

At last – BPM and Incremental Improvements!

A full program will then spring from the facilitated development of the transformational vision and values. Now, having begun with the development of a transformational vision it is possible to build a program of projects; driven from the same source and fully aligned with the agreed business strategy. Those projects are built and driven by the business themselves; for the business.

However, as each individual project is taken forward the power of BPM technology then becomes clear.  BPM allows business process developers to re-iterate their designs and carry out successive re-designs – all aligned with this vision. The Center of Excellence (or IT function) provide some of the resources for those projects, but the real work, on the behaviors of the employees and the experience delivered to the customers, is carried out by the people in the business. Since they are involved in designing their own processes to support their customers, they develop a much stronger sense of ownership.

When it comes to cultural change, it is just not possible to impose a solution. You have to engage the business properly, which means winning their hearts and minds. Start with fast incremental improvements using BPM whilst convincing yourself you are being ‘business driven’ and you will end up with better sameness. Others will ask whether it worth all that effort?

On the other hand, begin with a transformational vision and your program will be truly business driven and energized. You can then move toward that vision, using the full power of BPM technology, as you continuously improve your new services and new ways of working. And your customers will become raving fans (and your staff will like it too)!

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6 Responses to You Can’t Make A Baby In A Month By Getting 9 Women Pregnant

  1. [...] your #BPM Culture Kick-Started October 15th, 2009 by Scott Francis I read this post when it first went across my reader, and I went back and read it again today.  Derek Miers once [...]

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  5. Benson Alex says:

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