Tag Archives: streamline

Is It Time to Redefine the Boundary between Outside-In & Traditional Process?

We (HYM) commonly characterize O/S (office & service) work as O-I’s natural domain and production as more apropos for inside-out approaches, especially Lean, which is our preference. Since most work directly affecting customers happens in the O/S, this creates for a nice, clean, understandable distinction. But every once in a while, complexity does help – as is the case with accurately describing the O-I/production process dividing line.

Case in point. A very high volume reconditioner of capital goods interviewed us for a process engagement intended to increase throughput (we formally kick off next week). The company’s customers had voted with their wallets that they wanted to sacrifice pristine quality for a lower finished price point, which made throughput and efficiency the primary goals. Sounds like a job for Lean (or LSS) rather than O-I, no?

No. During an initial day observing we quickly discovered the major impediments to reducing cycle time. Communication breakdowns and slowdowns only addressable through systems architecture changes plus an infusion of new, communication-based process automation technologye. Yes, we’re to recommend plant layout changes and work force disposition and training, but this client’s primary issues aren’t origi9nating on the shop floor.

From our perspective, neither Lean nor LSS redesign communication process well, especially at the level of specifying systems architecture and application layer changes. In contrast, the full O-I regimen – which aligns strategy to customers; process to strategy; and then technology to process – gets deep into enabling technologies. So we made what I believe is fair representation saying that O-I was a better fit than Lean or LSS, crossing over the basic O-I/production process dividing line. The client agreed with our thinking.

I know our saying that Visual Workflow, the O-I approach we use, will outperform Lean and Lean Six Sigma in this setting will rile up some traditional process types, who’ve at least had safe competitive refuge from O-I Process on the production side. But I’d venture a prediction that we’ll soon see more encroachment by O-I on what’s been accepted as traditional process space as O-I continues to grow in share of overall process redesign work.

Are “Bolt-On” Business Process Management Systems Running Out of Market Space?

I confess–over many years designing office/service (O/S) process, I’ve never once introduced a client to free-standing BPM technology. Too expensive, especially for SMEs, but often in large company settings as well. Too hard to implement, complicated by increased IT outsourcing. But most of all, in O/S settings BPM technology is largely redundant and often irrelevant. Everything BPM systems do that’s appropriate for the O/S space, we provide using alternative methods–especially process management facilities embedded in more and more application software.

For example, SAP’s application layer workflow engine obviates using “bolt-on” BPM systems. And when ERP systems don’t offer BPM functionality, for O/S purposes we typically look to very extensible and configurable CRM systems for process management and measurement. That works especially well because HYM designs O/S process from the customer in, so we’re already enabling customer-company interactions with CRM software. And in the back office, supply chain management systems including SCOR, which is based on “outside-in” process principles, provides more granular process management support than generic BPM technology.

And speaking of granularity, a new wave of “communication-based process” applications embedded in telephony systems will soon appear, offering very granular management of unified communication across the enterprise. Still less need for freestanding BPM in the O/S space.

And there are other tools as well. In fact, although not yet widely used or understood, Microsoft’s XRM supports development of multiple “applications” on a single platform with replicable, multi-use code, which will enable users to integrate office/service process management technology at the application level, a huge advantage over using free-standing BPM technology. We’re drooling over the opportunity  to apply the XRM concept to our Visual Workflow O/S process approach.



Because office/service environments are so highly collaborative and interconnected, the exact opposite of manufacturing, content management tools including SharePoint (used by Microsoft as part of XRM) pitch in and carry part of the load. Project-heavy companies are adopting workflow managing project management applications, which again drill down much deeper than free-standing BPM systems. often much more robust than PM capabilities in freestanding BPM systems.
Add it all up and we have “bolt-on” BPM technology that most SME’s can’t cost-justify; that’s not specific enough to support much of O/S process; and that replicates application-level functionality already at work in many O/S settings. And ERP-based applications increasing have the manufacturing space covered.

Not exactly a rosy picture, when vendors are still stumbling over themselves to introduce new, “bolt-on” BPM systems.

A Shot Across the Bow

A warning to managers seeing the recession as an ideal time to streamline office/service process


Yes, this deep recession is an ideal time to restructure and streamline front and back office process to lower fixed cost and increase scalability for “low-hire” growth in the recovery. In fact, companies taking this critical step will enjoy a distinct competitive advantage once the rebound starts, which economists are predicting in Q3 (of 2009!). They will, that is, if they restructure and streamline office process using a 3rd generation, “outside-in” process approach (think “customer-in”) as applied by such customer-centric “stars” as Virgin Atlantic, Best Buy, Tesco and Amazon.

The right time but the wrong process approach

Unfortunately, most that restructure will instead use more traditional, “inside-out” approaches such as Lean or, worse yet, Six Sigma. What’s lost? I’d like to share with you a Linkedin reply I wrote to a Lean devotee who posted an offensive message dissing the process capabilities of everyone working in the office, front or back–while also spewing forth lots of process nonsense.

[I’ve CRM-ized the message a bit and removed the process-speak (this exchange occurred in the Linkedin Business Process Improvement group following a question regarding whether Lean and Six Sigma had run their course and what would replace them). And please forgive my tone. A large number of contributors had posted great stuff in this thread before this bloke came along and accused a whole bunch of deep thinkers of “not scratching the surface” because they didn’t dig down and find Lean.”]

My reply

(Name withheld) – your point #11, questioning how many office/service (O/S) managers can spell “Lean,” gives you away. You are the prototypical process professional fulfilling Maslow’s prophecy (introduced in this thread several times previously) of all the world tending to look like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer.
Lean is hardly the be-all and end-all of process. Yes, it’s very effective in most manufacturing settings. But serious O/S process developers (including the ones you demean) eschew Lean because it’s relatively ineffective in most office settings. Unlike Six Sigma, it doesn’t typically damage the office environment. But Lean barely scratches the surface of O/S process opportunities.What’s wrong with Lean in O/S settings? Let’s start with lacking robust tools for assessing and redesigning systems architecture (and I’m not talking about “bolt-on” business process management systems that provide little value in the O/S world). Just as Lean is legendary for rearranging the factory floor, good O/S design methods rearrange the flow of work – which is now information rather than sheet metal, facts rather than components. Lean doesn’t go there.

Next, let’s talk about the application software that enables O/S process–CRM, supply-chain management, communications-based process management, SharePoint, project management applications, proposal development applications. This whole genre of automation software doesn’t exist on the production floor, so manufacturing-based process methods don’t have to account for them. A good O/S process approach should be able to define application software requirements, extending all the way out to fields, forms, views and navigation. Lean doesn’t go there.

And what about alignment? Effective O/S process design should be fronted by a systematic approach to aligning business strategies with customers, not just the desire to do so. Lean doesn’t go there, either. Then it needs to systematically align process to business strategies. As practiced, Lean rarely goes there. And lastly, effective O/S process design needs to align technology with process. Lean never goes there.

If you objectively read all the comments in this thread preceding yours (or read them at all), you’d realize that you are the one who hasn’t “scratched the surface.” Others have.



I would respectfully challenge you to visit
http://www.h-ym.com/officeprocess.htm, scroll down a bit, and study the chart differentiating the O/S process environment from manufacturing. Then I’d like to read your defense of how a process methodology designed for the latter could migrate to the former. And why anyone would bother trying? Or are we back to Maslow again.

If you’re going to restructure, do it right

If you’re going to restructure and streamline O/S process during the downturn, please use an appropriate process design approach. You’ll be amazed at the outcomes.