Innovation and process at BPM Europe 2012

Neil Ward-Dutton

Friday, June 29, 2012 by

I’ve been attending IRM’s BPM Europe events for a few years now, and I’ve always been impressed by both the speakers and the (refreshingly international and diverse) audiences. It’s doubtless a reflection of the great work that†Roger Burlton†(@RogerBurlton) and†Sally Bean (@Cybersal) put into the conference program every year.

Although I couldn’t attend the whole event this year, I did catch the first day of the main conference (I was part of a panel session late in the day on the topic of Business Architecture) and so I also caught the conference keynote from Dr Michael Rosemann of QUT (@ismiro).

I go to a lot of conferences. I see a lot of keynotes. There are times when my tenure as an industry analyst and advisor (nudging 20 years, working across a broad swathe of enterprise technologies) makes it difficult for me to rein in a creeping cynicism.

Dr Rosemann, frankly, blew me away.

His pitch was “How to Innovate Organisations”, and I’ll attempt to do it justice by describing some of what he covered. I spent almost the whole time he was talking typing frantic notes, which must be some kind of indicator (quite often I have my laptop open and primed to take notes, but look back later and just see a line or two written down.)

Dr Rosemann’s entry point was a rhetorical question:†Businesses everywhere are looking to innovate – do they get inspiration from BPM or Enterprise Architecture capabilities, or from people pursuing those disciplines? Or do these capabilities just provide back office facilities?

Rosemann’s contention is that in fact there is a set of tools that you can use, building on the principles of process management and architecture, that can deliver a real contribution to innovation efforts. Key to success, though, is about developing a level of “conscious competence” in delivering innovation-as-a-service. Too often, organisations have the goal of innovation, but the tools they use are simplistic or uninspiring: witness the lazy use of “brainstorming”. Rosemann contends that EA and BPM can both play a significant role in this concept of innovation-as-a-service.

A big chunk of Rosemann’s talk worked through a number of process analysis patterns for teasing out new ways of thinking about how to deliver new business capabilities or existing capabilities in new ways; there’s not the space to go into them all here.

Another of the things Rosemann talked about was how applying a simple but very powerful concept – analysing problems, capabilities and opportunities at different levels of abstraction – can yield valuable new insights.

One of the ways Rosemann talks about this is in looking at the “affordances” of technology or business capabilities. For example, when thinking about how your organisation could make use of smartphone technology, think instead about the “affordances” of the technology capabilities that smartphones and popular apps bring – “commoditised connectivity”, “ability to locate”, “free social communication” and so on. With these more abstract capabilities in mind, it’s easier to think in lateral ways about how aspects of widespread smartphone use can be leveraged for your advantage.†My colleague Mark McGregor (an experienced NLP practitioner) extols the value of “chunking up” and “chunking down” in the context of looking for solutions to problems and uncovering opportunities, and I think this is another way of looking at the same thing.

The last thing I noted from this presentation was another simple but effective idea, and an exhortation to be prepared to step outside the confines of Six Sigma and Lean thinking: if you’re looking for breakthrough changes or improvements, look for “positive deviants” in a given population of workers and get them to share their ideas. What is it about what those standout performers do that makes them stand out? In retrospect this is just something that we do far to rarely in practice in process improvement; it’s in almost complete opposition to our common tendency – which is to focus in on problems and whatís behind “negative deviants”. Put another way: if you want to drive innovation, don’t use tools that are there to help you eliminate or reduce problems.

Rosemann’s presentation covered a lot of the ideas in this paper (free access), and more. I’d advise you – if you have a chance to attend an event that he’s speaking at, book a seat.

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5 Responses to Innovation and process at BPM Europe 2012

  1. Pingback: BPM Quotes of the week « Adam Deane

  2. thanks Neil for your kind words, very much appreciated. I hope we can catch up soon!

    Michael –

  3. What a wonderfully refreshing view, real thought leadership and representation.
    The bit that really struck a chord with me and really empowers the above was “… step outside the confines of Six Sigma and Lean thinking”. It is my experience that the average IT management group are actively chasing the latest methodology silver bullets – Agile/Lean/Six Sigma/SCRUM Ė as they see them as more for less; compound this with the average understanding of these structures by the individuals participating in them and light/lean methodologies can really stifle innovation and transformation in the name of boundaries, time-boxes and restricted domain, linear thinking.
    Thatís not to say they donít have a place, for departmental/point/delta solutions its fine but not for innovative and transformational work which is the key to long term company success. Unfortunately most companies donít incentivise employees in the long term, itís all about targets typically shorter than 6 months based on ancient application structures not modern service structures to process problems, which is itself an altogether different issue.

    • Neil Ward-Dutton says:

      Gavin, thanks very much for taking the time to comment!
      I absolutely agree with you but I’d also say that it’s not only IT teams that get stuck in a mental rut; it’s also business and process analysts from other parts of business organisations.
      Short termism is definitely an issue for many, but another issue that comes up is a cultural and skills gap – there’s just not the right level of awareness high enough up in the organisation about the tools and approaches that *are* available, and the suitability of particular tools to particular challenges.

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