Business Process Agility Part 1 | process

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The Bengal cat is a lean, athletic animal that moves fast to kill prey, play or escape danger. Alert and sensing what’s happening in its immediate environment is rarely taken by surprise. It is agile and responsive to any changes in it’s environment.

To survive in a fast changing world, organisations must also be agile. But agility is more than implementing the agile methodology currently promoted in software development. Agility is achieved by ensuring that business processes are effectively connected together as part of an organisational system and that these processes don’t carry any excessive weight or process flab.

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Photo: www.freeimages.com/JulienTromeur. Annotations Brian Hunt

Lean Practitioners will recognise process flab as another way of identifying process waste. Wasted effort and wasted resources are common to both perspectives.

By itself, process optimisation is insufficient. In some organisations, islands of excellence can develop where processes are excellent within the confines of a functional silo but do not connect effectively to other processes or people within an organisational structure or system. For example, a great sales process has little value if production capability is insufficient to deliver the products or services sold.

Looking at business processes as components of an organisational system shows that the communication lines between them are similar to the connections within the nervous system of an animal or person. The brain is equivalent to the executive chairman and managing director.

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In a healthy body, the nervous system connects the peripheries to provide rapid communication of the nerve stimuli received by them onwards to the brain. On receipt of these communications the brain makes a decision. For example, touching your fingers to a candle flame sends a signal to the brain which results in you quickly withdrawing your fingers. In the same way, the people at the periphery of an organisation, i.e. the customer-organisation interface, may be the first to sense any change in environment. The changes seen by them may include things like an increased demand for particular product, an increase in customer returns, complaints or even compliments. The more rapidly and completely these changes are communicated to the top of the organisation, the more effectively it can respond to align itself to new opportunities and threats

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The Iceberg of Ignorance study shows that communication between the top of an organisation and the bottom is frequently poor. In effect, the nervous system of the organisation is then inadequate with only 4% of what’s seen at the peripheries being seen (and thus acted on) by the head or brain of the organisation.

To become agile requires senior management to get out of their offices and listen to and learn from the bottom of the organisation, the people at the organisation-customer interface. Creating and maintaining effective communication paths (which are not degraded by filtering from managers and supervisors) will improve the ‘ nervous system’ and hence the agility of the organisation.

Improved communications between the bottom and top of an organisation will improve the quality of signals sent and lean and effective business processes will improve the speed and accuracy of response.

I will finish this post with two of my favourite quotations:

If you’re not simple you can’t be fast and if you’re not fast you’re dead in a global world‘ Jack Welch ex-CEO General Electric

It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change‘ Charles Darwin