Is ERP business process obsession placing your business at risk? -- ERP Business Process – irrelevant, distracting and dangerous

Wikipedia statesBusiness process management (BPM) is a management discipline that focuses on improving corporate performance by managing and optimising a company's business processes”.

“Business Process” is arguably THE buzz word of the Business Information Systems world today.  Every major ERP product provides comprehensive support for Business Process including comprehensive workflow management and related capabilities.

However, this focus on Business Process, the vogue for at least the last ten years is associated with rocketing system implementation costs and escalating levels of project catastrophe and write off, see my Failure Catalogue.

Yet it seems that the industry does NOT stop to examine the correlation, let alone draw the uncomfortable conclusion that consideration of this correlation calls for.  That Business Process Management or Mapping as an INPUT to any business systems or ERP project, is, for the most part irrelevant, distracting and DANGEROUS!

Why should they?

BPM is a license to print money and blame the client for the outcome!

 

Bridgestone versus IBM

An example – Bridgetone Tires are currently engaged in litigation against IBM for damages resulting from a botched integrated business systems supply, development and implementation based on SAP technology.  See "IBM Rips Into Bridgestone Over $600 Million Lawsuit"

The name of the project? OTC – “Order to Cash” – a classic example of the meaningless gobbledygook that BPM proponents use to describe process orientated project activities.  Once one understands the implications the very use of the name “Order to Cash” is a pointer to a project with massive time overruns and high probability of damaging business outcomes – exactly what happened at Bridgestone.

In 2009, with a number of highly successful implementations under my belt – see the ASCO and V3 Case Studies, as evidenced by joint conference presentations with clients, the highest form of testimonial possible, I found myself confronted by a client who claimed that I did NOT know what I was doing because I did NOT “DO” business process as an initial step in implementing an ERP.

They advised me that they would need to replace me with a consultant “who understands ERP”, which translated meant “a consultant who does business process”.  I did NOT know how to respond,  YES, I did NOT do Business Process as an input, I never had and it had never been an issue.  I had always specified business process or workflow as an OUTPUT that followed naturally from the precision configuration which I undertake with every business systems and ERP project that I undertake.  Eventually I walked away from the abovementioned client and started to investigate and consider business process and BPM generally.  Five years later that  client is in the process of replacing their ERP, major inditement of their approach.

In the years that followed I have investigated and diagnosed (see “Pulse Measurement”) a number of disastrous Business Process centric ERP and other business systems projects with massive time and cost overruns, stalled projects and damaged client business being the regular experience.  In that time I have NOT encountered a single high value outcome or, for that matter, a single outcome that has met client expectations.  Some mediocrity? YES!  Success by my standards? NO most certainly not! -- see my article “What does a HIGH VALUE Business Information System Solution look like?

 

Outcome of a successful business information systems project

Let me define success for an ERP or other business systems project in my terms:

1.   1. It goes in flawlessly without drama and works effectively immediately.  Staff are experienced with the use of the installation before commissioning see my comments on the Business Simulation Laboratory on my website – note that specification of the workflow / business processes is an integral part of the laboratory;

2.    2. The new system enables the business to run more smoothly and efficiently than it did before;

 3. 3. The new system strongly supports competitive strategic decision making and effectiveness such that a few years after commissioning the client company is measurably more competitive and more profitable and is growing significantly faster than it was BEFORE the new system.

In other words, a quick call OFF the record, to the CEO results in a strong expression of satisfaction and perhaps some superlatives.

Why off the record?

Because many executives and managers LIE on the record and claim that their system is just fine because they do NOT want the shareholders to know what a mess it is and how much money they have wasted for little or no return.  I know of one multi-national with a big brand implementation on which they have spent over £50 million that is so useless that almost nothing is being done in it and yet executives have been led to believe it is working fine despite the army of contractors and staff who keep things running outside of the ERP – the brand of ERP is not material, any ERP implemented in the same way would deliver the same result.

 

BPM over rated and overstated

Two years ago I presented a paper titled “BPM over rated and overstated” at the BPM Summit 2013 in which I criticised BPM severely – NO ONE objected and a few people agreed! – an interesting experience.

In the ensuing two years I have seen further failures, including studying the Court papers of the Bridgestone – IBM case.  And I have finally concluded that in the context of business system implementation, BPM, process mapping and process language are irrelevant, distracting and dangerous!

Irrelevant?

Irrelevant because most parts of most organizations do NOT follow any relevant or meaningful workflow (the accurate meaning of process).  We have functional units that perform tasks to agreed standards, policies and in some cases procedures but generally NOT in terms of any discernible “flow” or process.

There ARE cases where workflow IS important and in those cases it should be optimized (or dictated by senior management), but most of the time we rely  on the intuitive initiative of well trained and responsible personnel to perform tasks in response to whatever circumstances life throws at them from minute to minute.  I refer here to management and administrative functions NOT to repetitive operational functions where there clearly IS a process and where that process should clearly be optimized using Industrial Engineering methods.  On a number of projects I have initiated engagement of Industrial Engineers to optimize repetitive workflows (processes) so I DO understand the value of process in its proper context.

To perform these tasks staff work on computer screens that are logically organized with packages of related information and collated with menus or desktop icons that allow the staff member to gain quick access to whatever function they need to make use of in the moment.

Case study – Workflow solution where BPM / flow charting was a waste of time

Some time ago I was involved as strategic advisor on a project to implement a workflow management solution.

The consultants commenced by drawing flow charts and doing business process mapping stuff – seemed reasonable at the time, after all we WERE implementing a workflow solution and I assumed they knew what they were doing!

However, once it got down to actually configuring the workflow software the fancy drawings that had taken months to perfect had to be all but totally discarded and the work redone because the REAL workflow was MUCH more complex, varied and finicky than the two dimensional diagrams could cope with.  The much more flexible and powerful workflow software was able to cope with this complexity, the text book process mapping techniques not.

A powerful lesson that conventional workflow diagramming techniques with flow charts, etc, as typically used, are NOT sufficiently precise or accurate to in actual fact do anything but produce conceptual sketches of ROUGHLY how things work round here!  EVEN in the case of a process project!

From my engineering perspective, a total waste of time – a conclusion supported by a number of  failed and sub-optimal projects I have investigated.

Hence I conclude that traditional business process mapping in whatever shape or form it takes is IRRELEVANT!

  

Distracting?

Distracting because management consultants spends days and days in intense workshops producing diagrams that are difficult to understand because they are so abstract and inexact and try and capture real time “Process” that is  multidimensional rule based, complex, variable, discretionary and varies from person to person, situation to situation and day to day.

Flow Charts, Swim-lanes, Maps, etc – you name it the industry offers it – problem is that much of the time the consultant does NOT really understand the technique and is so caught up in their creative frenzy and drawing that they totally lose sight of the REAL  goals of the project!  And totally fail to understand the essence of the business and the business requirement.

And, because they are so busy drawing, be it on a white board, brown paper or computer screen, they waste huge amounts of client staff time AND miss the vast majority of the REAL information that they should be harvesting – see my article “Effective Discovery is Essential” for an approach that actually works.

The most extreme case I have ever investigated was an ERP implementation which, after 2 years and over a million pounds had produced numerous large files of meticulous flow charts, swim-lanes, etc.  The project had also produced a number of tearful and frustrated client staff who had been marginalized because of their long hours of dedicated work away from the workplace such that their permanent positions had been filled by others.  The project had one of the most toxic project environments I have ever encountered.  People in tears, others refusing to speak to me except off the record.

The implementer blamed the client but inaccurately described the client’s actual requirement and was developing a solution which was TOTALLY off the mark relative to the requirement that the client CEO clearly articulated to me within ten minutes of my first meeting with her!

The client CEO and management were intensely frustrated that their reasonably simple requirement for a small piece of clever web-based software was NO closer to being met than when the implementers were appointed two years earlier.  The BRUTAL truth was that NOTHING that had been done in any way moved the client an inch closer to meeting their requirement.

The implementer? – the IT arm of one of the Big 4 Accounting firms – trusted advisors whose incompetence, indifference and process obsession was staggering!

Hence I concluded that the business process activity on this project had totally DISTRACTED all involved from the REAL objective of the project and wasted huge amounts of time and money and seriously jeopardized honest and hardworking personnel!

Were the consultants incompetent and process obsessed or greedy and using process to milk the client?  That is a conversation for another day!

 

Dangerous?

The above example massively compromised needed client competitiveness, cost the client major expenditure and removed the best personnel from the workplace for a large portion of two years.  The project never went live so client losses were contained.

The Bridgestone example evidences what happens when a system badly designed and executed on the basis of Business Process goes live, see the reference in the Failure Catalogue.  Tires stacked in parking lots, a huge warehouse rented to store stock.  Orders unfulfilled and frustrated customers going elsewhere for desperately needed supplies.  Remember that it is the nature of things that once you lose a customer through this sort of problem the customer virtually NEVER comes back – so the IT failure resulted in long term sustained loss of revenue and damage to profitability and competitiveness.  See the Failure Catalogue for further examples of the things that are happening.  Follow the links for more examples and more examples and more examples …

Business process is NOT the only culprit, it is but ONE component of consistently ineffective and unreliable methods and incompetent practitioners associated with a massive lack of accountability and questionable ethics.

There is a huge need for statutory regulation of the industry and licensing of practitioners.

So I conclude that business process mapping and other business process related obsession is DANGEROUS!

 

Conclusion

Having hesitated to stick my neck out for over eleven years I have concluded that to all intents and purposes business process related activities on business information system projects, an area in which I can justly claim expertise, is irrelevant, distracting and dangerous and should be avoided.

My article, “What to do INSTEAD of Business Process” discusses the approach that I advocate to achieving high value practical system outcomes.

The articles "The RIGHT Information to the RIGHT Person at the RIGHT Time Enabling THRIVE Decisions – THE Fundamental Requirement" and "Answers to the Questions YOU have NOT yet thought to ask – NOW! -- from your Business Information Systems" provide further detailed discussion of the CORRECT way to implement business systems and ERP.

In considering the above articles please keep in mind that it is humanly impossible on ANY project in ANY business to do Precision Configuration AND Business Process MAPPING concurrently.  Either Precision Configuration leads and Workflow is an output of a well-structured engineering project done my way or BPM leads and Precision Configuration gets ignored (the industry norm).  Both need the same people in the same room at the same time for the same length of time so it is one OR the other.

See also my article on "The Critical Human Foundation" for a further discussion of some of the reasons why BPM is so totally inappropriate as a discovery, communication and design method.  Also read the Bridgestone articles for more comment on process obsession.

See "Introducing Dr James Robertson -- My Passion for Executive Information Excellence" for an overview of my credentials and interests. For more detail about my credentials see the "About" page on the website.

Should you be battling with a business process orientated project that is NOT performing and needing to understand where you are and how the project can be turned around, or be planning a new system implementation, please email me or call me to discuss how I can be of assistance.

 

  

Dr James A Robertson PrEng

Tel          : 0044-776-862-2875

Email          : James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.eu

Website      : http://www.James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.eu

LinkedIn    : http://uk.linkedin.com/in/DrJamesARobertsonERPDoctor

 


Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Std 026 Old Software IS Viable

Many business information system projects are motivated on the basis that the existing systems are obsolete.  This article challenges that argument with regard to a significant number of systems and presents information that will enable executives and managers to take a pragmatic view of this debate
Std 010 Procurement: 02 Laboratory Approach to be Applied

The Business Simulation Laboratory is a fundamental component of a successful project.  This document specifies the manner in which the laboratory will be run
It is vital to test the software and the configuration thoroughly in the laboratory with the express purpose of breaking the software and the configuration by testing situations that cause the software either to fail or to fail to return the correct result
One the software and configuration have been adjusted to the point where it is NO longer possible to cause failure then the configuration can be used as a platform for configuring workflow, developing and testing reports and business intelligence models, developing policies and standards, developing training manuals and interactive training material and training staff
The project should ONLY go live once all the above had been successfully completed and ALL staff are trained up in the laboratory
At this stage the Certificate authorizing deployment should be signed by all parties.  As you will see further down the page this is a fairly onerous certificate and should ONLY be signed if ALL parties are FULLY satisfied the software and configuration is fully stable and all elements that are necessary for a successful deployment are in place


Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Sem 05 IBIS – The Strategic View of Business Information

A three hour Executive Briefing that outlines the most important aspects of what I advocate with regard to Integrated Business Information Systems, including ERP
TxM 102 Taxonomy Manual Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References

Discussion of how to do it, real world complexity, challenges and opportunities, preparatory steps, design and development, coding conventions and standards, a series of case studies in which dramatic benefits accrued through use of Precision Configuration and other references

Dr James A Robertson PrEng

Business Systems NOT delivering?

Call the Business Systems Specialist

Dr. James Robinson

Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.

Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.

He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.

If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com

Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.

Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.

All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.

There HAS to be a better way!

This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control

We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website

We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues

Click here to read more about the Engineering Approach

By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT

This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.

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Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Cnf 083 Strategic Analysis and Design -- An Engineering Approach to Strategic Planning

A rigorous (engineering approach) to strategic planning using critical issues based analysis techniques and structured gap analysis techniques to develop a comprehensive and rigorous multi-year plan that is measurable and actionable and traceable back to the original analysis in order to produced high value outcomes, requires effective strategic facilitation

Std 019 Procurement: 10 Certificates for Use on the Project

A selection of tough Certificates designed to focus ALL parties attention on accountability for outcome, rigour and quality of work, create a platform for tough contractual responses in the event of non-performance.  Please consult your legal advisor in terms of exact wording in your jurisdiction
Std 016 Procurement: 08 Bid Adjudication Score Sheet

The Bid Adjudication Score Sheet is a set of weighted factors designed to focus the adjudication team on those requirements that are CRITICAL to the success of the project measured in terms of Business Outcome.  Factors are determined in close consultation with the client Chief Executive and Executive Team
Sem 02 ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results

Much of what goes wrong with business information systems is that the procurement process is NOT robust enough to filter out lightweight and doubtful bidders and does NOT result in a tough contract that has the teeth to ensure that the successful bidder delivers on their sales promises

Book -- The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success

In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.

Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:

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Articles by James A Robertson and Associates

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Table of Contents

Home

About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics

Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures

About the Engineering Approach

James Robertson's Value Add

Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution

Recognizing Business System Failure

The Critical Human Foundation

Old Software IS Viable

From South Africa

Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng

About Professor Malcolm McDonald

Table of Contents

About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing

Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics

Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson

Reference Articles

List of Articles

Article Catalogue

Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes

Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?

The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody

Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration

Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

IT Project Management

Pulse Measurement

CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement

No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes

Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™

The Pulse Measurement Workflow

The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement

Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations

What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?

Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years

Sample Pulse Measurement Reports

Strategy

Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems

Strategic Essence: Overview

Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined

Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation

Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different

Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure

Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence

Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?

Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment

Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual

A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting

Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works

Robust Business Systems Procurement

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc

Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters

Procurement Documents

Guidance and Advisory Services

The Art of Project Leadership

Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital

The Business Simulation Laboratory

Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture

Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies

The JAR&A Cubic Business Model

Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal

The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration

Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask

Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration

092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013

088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa

026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf

018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf

011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering

Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations

Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment

The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual

Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples

Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software

Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References

Example General Ledger Manual

Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous

The RIGHT Approach

Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction

Standards for Custom Software Specification

What IS Software?

IT Effectiveness

Organizing Outlook

Critical Factors for I.T. Success

A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail

Case Studies examining Business Information System failures

The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle

The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict

Speaking and Training

Showcase of Conference Presentations

Most Viewed Presentations

Briefings and Seminars

Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results

The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success

Other Seminars

Conferences and Public Presentations

Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present

Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009

Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005

Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996

Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994

On-Line Seminars (Webinars)

Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars

Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited