Jim Sutton

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Some Important IT Lessons

At the end of the year we take personal inventory; looking back and ahead, seeking to influence our destinies. Things are never perfect; there’s always room to improve. For me on a professional basis, part of that this year is refreshing my LinkedIn profile, essentially taking it a little more seriously. I looked around and saw some good articles on how to get the best out of LinkedIn, good ideas on what is working. One point that was made was that it is necessary to include, within your LinkedIn summary section, what you have learned. I gave it thought and came up with this for mine…

I learned early on that IT is vital yet rarely the first consideration. I have learned the value and importance of always seeking the truth, of respecting and building on individuals to propel the good of the whole, and of applying the right blend of human, process, and supporting technology factors. I have learned to simplify without losing the path to performance, and to take a principled, knowledge-based approach to the treatment of organizational issues. These learning experiences have enabled me to introduce and implement critical new processes, and to influence company cultures and business models – all of which assumes an understanding of both the applicable technology and the intricacies of navigating across organizational boundaries. I have learned to do this surgically, balancing systems/capabilities against opportunities, risks, and desired outcomes.

BPM is Maturing as Part of the Business Performance Environment

TAKEAWAY: BPM has demonstrated mixed success and continues to  get attention.  Many see BPM playing a central role in handling the ongoing data explosion, facilitating business transformations, and enabling performance in the context of increasing complexity.

Business process management (BPM) has been around long enough that there are lessons-learned, best practices, and improvements to the tool sets themselves. BPM tools are sometimes packaged as a suite (BPMS) and are often referenced as a providing a BPM platform. Progressive BPM casts a wide shadow. 

BPM in its current form is directly embedded with the management of the business, and the underlying processes and data.  Not everyone will be able to accept such an influential view. It’s implications are far reaching. In fact there is an emerging BPM maturity model which can, for those who respect process and are ready to improve, provide insights into each of these managed elements and the associated at-large capabilities that can be achieved. It seems that, in the end, BPM will be tightly related to the fundamental industry-shaping mega-shift away from transaction based client-server systems toward big data and the cloud. In the brave new world, it might very well be that you cannot optimize without BPM, that big data might not be actionable without it (with more likelihood that those actions will be strong analytics and event handling). BPM is here to stay; it is increasing adopted and refined by leaders.

Training for Performance Excellence in Today’s Competitive Environment

TAKEAWAY:  Organizations need knowledgeable and skilled employees in order to improve performance. Training always plays a big part. Now in-sourcing and the departure of baby-boomers means there needs to be more training, and it needs to be effective. So it’s vital to have the right people and the right approach.

Being passionate, in terms of doing what you like, is a very strong force.  If you love what you are trying to do, you are more likely to invest. For example, I love to play guitar and even if I never get any ovations, I will always play and get satisfaction from giving it my best effort. In fact, passion is at the top of a list of things required to be excellent at anything.

If you have the right people (those that are passionate about their work) they are psychologically aligned to participate in training, with a better chance of getting the desired results from it. This psychological (or dispositional) alignment has a positive impact on acknowledged barriers to training. This key of having the right passionate people is largely determined through the hiring process, where it is acknowledged that one of the three prime interview questions is, “will you love the job?”

Through the recent economic doldrums there has been attention on the notion of “doing more with less” – mostly cost cutting while pushing people to keep business alive.  Now, there is a continuing exodus of baby boomers from the workforce. Simultaneously, there are strategic shifts to in-source more of the workload responsibilities. This combination of in-sourcing and  loss of knowledge is confronting business with a new challenge. This could be regarded as one of those nice-to-have challenges for people looking for work – and it’s to everyone’s benefit if the people looking for work actually have passion for the work. And of course the usual profitable growth expectations are there as well. Training plays a big role in this dynamic situation. Knowledge transfer is needed so people can assume existing jobs that are being vacated and so people can handle additional new change-driven responsibilities.

Studies show training programs are not transferring knowledge to learners and that “training needs to be demonstrably effective” (Cheng, 2008).  For training to make the needed contribution, it of course has to be the right relevant content delivered in the right effective modern medium. More fundamentally, the important training productivity factor is the training approach or principle followed. Researchers and training thought leaders are pointing to “transfer of training” or “training for transfer” as a best current approach. This approach defines training success as the  ability of learners to demonstrate what has been learned in the work setting. This concept sounds simple but requires a lot of insightful diligence to be realized. Best practices and refinements associated with train-for-transfer are emerging and merit consideration.

Reference

  • Cheng, E., & Hampson, I. (2008). Transfer and training: A review and new insights. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10(4), 327-341.

Applying Rules for Business Performance

TAKEAWAY: Rules are getting more attention because, more than ever, they demonstrate ability to impact productivity. This article provides insight into why this is the case, and how rules can help companies succeed in today’s competitive environment.

Rules have always been around, even taken for granted. Of late rules have been subjected to increased diligence, and increasingly subjected to automation. New approaches are enabling rules to be proactively used in business analysis, change facilitation and solution development. Progressively approached, rules are an integral part of the business blueprint and vital to performance.

Rules that can be applied to make repeatable decisions on a predictable basis are the starting point. Such rules reside in different places, like policy, regulations, legacy computer systems, and “tribal knowledge”. These rules work in direct conjunction with decisions and processes to impact performance.

Why Companies are Investing in Business Rules

  • Rules bring efficiency to structured repeatable decisions, so productivity is improved and more predictable. Additionally, this operational efficiency keeps experts free to spend their energy on the more unique unstructured situations.
  • Rules can be made clear and transparent, enabling team understanding of how and why decisions are made. In operation you can see precisely what might need to change, and there is a workable path to do so.
  • Rules, as defined and owned by the business and as supported and facilitated by IT, provide a vital opportunity to get the team communicating and working together. The nature of rules injects discipline and attention to detail, while directly serving strategy.

How to Approach Business Rules (and Get the Desired Outcomes)

Rule-oriented techniques and tools have evolved and are a proven path for business analysis, using a genuinely business-driven approach. This is resulting in high quality business requirements, and leading to the best available solutions – solutions that are flexible, get used, and deliver results.

Rules are vital and need to be treated in context of the productivity improvements that are available, and their ability to bring a company to relatively high performance teaming (or even influence the culture). To establish rules as an important element of a company’s performance architecture, deliberate steps must be taken to recognize the commitment, keep the right people involved, manage the initiative, and assure a solid support structure. In hope of distinguishing this from the usual motherhood and apple-pie, the following points are offered to help make a rules-based program successful:

  • A rules-based program can start to resemble “moths drawn to a flame”, so be prepared and take advantage. Business people will have their interest piqued and stay engaged if the effort shows promise. IT will be anxious for true requirements that brings them closer to the business and the allure of high system ROI. Recognize and stand up to the pervasive challenges of credibility and communications. Start with (and maintain) a communication strategy that includes development of a business vocabulary (not geek speak).
  • Recognize that business people do understand and care but will be hard pressed to stay engaged because there is real cost when they are pulled away from operations. Organize the program to involve the right business people at the right times and in the right ways. Prepare and work to cultivate the active, high-impact participation of business stakeholders with an absolute minimum time investment. Administer the program with the same clarity and transparency that is to be embodied into the rules themselves. Continuously clarify and validate roles and responsibilities.
  • Recognize that IT people are required and can assume the role of program leader/facilitator. There is a significant list of items that must be diligently addressed, all from an unwavering business perspective. These include scope, charter, goals/objectives, issue management, business and system analysis and modeling, reporting/metrics, and ultimately the rules themselves. Certainly the right IT people can do this, and it is true that a rules-based program typically leads to system requirements, design etc. However, more fundamentally, note that rules present a unique opportunity to link to strategy, something that must be done in close cooperation (even deference) to the business. The point is that this is one of those key opportunities for IT to be one with the business, and it is no place for trial-and-error, poor communication skills, or questionable credibility. Send the A team.
  • Use methods and spend energy to extract rules from their natural state, where ever they are (policies, systems, peoples’ heads, etc.). and establish them as a baseline within a business rule management system (BRMS).  Along the way, seek to gain real-business-life insights into successes and failures. Recognize that the goal is not simply to have a centralized repository of rules, but to proactively apply them for performance improvement. Map and refine rules in relation to the established vocabulary and key performance indicators (KPIs). Decompose and understand the affected decisions, and place those decisions in their process contexts. Analyze the rules in context of affected processes and supportive automation. Automation makes a huge capability improvement, but there will always be need for a practical understanding of how it works (if the system rejects someone, it’s not acceptable to simply say it’s because the system said so). Test specific rule adjustments to anticipate their impact before deploying. Maintain a clear path for business stakeholders to realize timely adjustments as required. Treat the program as a well-qualified source of company knowledge and best-practices.
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