How To Be Greater Than The Sum of Your Processes

A hockey team can have a fantastic goalie, a top sniper on offense, and a brick wall of a defenseman – but if the lines on the ice don’t work together as a team, they’ll only be as good as their weakest player.

Units within an organization are akin to players on a team. They might be individually great, but collectively sub-optimal.

Consider common business functions: sales, fulfillment, billing and service. Each function can have one-to-many business processes, however, for simplicity, let’s assume each has an identifiable end-to-end process. Further, let’s assume each function measures their process and, within reason, meets recognized industry benchmarks (for example, orders are fulfilled within X business days, or Y mean -time to resolve service enquiries).

As a result, one can conclude that this fictional business is largely optimized, with sales, fulfillment and billing supported by integrated systems and data, with service underlying and supporting.


Within each function (marketing, service, et al.), the leaders of those units may perceive, and even rejoice, in visible, measurable performance. They may even exceed industry benchmarks. However, disparate optimization often results in overall mediocrity.

Does customer information persist in a secure fashion throughout? Is there a single view of the customer regardless of where a particular order or interaction is along the process? Are employees enabled and empowered to provide service that is responsive to and delights the customer? Are there multiple channels – voice, social, mobile – available to engage with new and existing customers, and are those channels integrated with primary business systems?

If the answer to most of these questions is not “yes,” then rather than neat arrows, you may have a tangle.Tangle

I call this the “lowest common denominator” affect. Indicators of this affect may include:

1.     A majority of business analysis and technology work focuses on operations and integration, rather than strategy, innovation and positive differentiation.

2.     Central administrative units, such as finance, IT and human resources struggle to keep up with competing or even conflicting demands from lines of business

3.     Long internal and/or external time-to-market cycles due to complex change management and implementation time

4.     Unhappy customers and disengaged employees

5.     Overlapping or duplicative applications, multiple instances of the same product, and limited or no master data management. (Hint: Also look for multiple contracts with common vendors such as Microsoft or Oracle, and redundant commodity technology such as storage or e-mail.)

Conversely, signs of customer-centric at scale include:

1.     Majority of capital and talent is focused on strategy, innovation and positive differentiation  

2.     Central units have clear priorities that are aligned with business goals and objectives

3.     Commodity and enterprise systems such as finance, human resources, supply chain, collaboration, and storage are leveraged consistently across most, if not all, of the organization

4.     Time-to-market cycles, both internally and externally, are at or ahead of industry benchmarks

5.     Delighted customers and engaged employees

When processes are designed, implemented and optimized within distinct units – with no alignment towards overall strategy and end-end external and/or internal customer interaction – it is difficult if not impossible to achieve true optimization, and affects an organization’s ability to apply technology that will contribute to positive results. Innovation and effectiveness are therefore not easily achieved.

Automation of business processes in isolation could result in tangles.

(Side note: Terms like sales, fulfillment, billing and service are generic and can be applied to any organization, profit or non-profit industry, including public higher education. Terms such as branding, admissions, shipping, billing, financial aid, or career services can be swapped in.)

Worth considering:

It’s Women’s History Month! Women and men should check out this informative post by my colleague Sue Schade, highlighting notable women and their achievements.

Let’s not repeat history. Around the world, 130 million girls are not in school today. The #GirlsCount campaign is bringing awareness to this critical issue.



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