A sabbatical – and possibly early retirement…

Readers of this blog might reasonably assume that I’ve been struck with writer’s block. Not at all, in fact. I’ve been involved in some fascinating client project discussions in recent months, many worth sharing. But I’ve been constrained by the paramount need to respect client confidentiality.  This is a small world and many times it’s hard to find a way to describe a real-life situation that won’t be recognisable.

So I’m experimenting with a return to my older and broader blog Sourcing Shangri-La which looks at the intersection between ‘global business services, business process management and the search for continuous excellence’ – with the aim of including there whatever Life Sciences stories I can share.

So this blog is on sabbatical until the end of this year, and possibly headed for an early retirement.  Meantime, if you’d like to continue to follow this thread, and join the conversation, we’re over at Sourcing Shangri-La.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Process Improvement Projects Fail

Interesting times.  There’s an emerging consensus that Lean, Six Sigma and other process improvement programs are failing, and a myriad explanations why.  And yet – I just saw a(nother) Nimbus client video on a remarkable success in sustainable process excellence.

There’s no shortage of doomsayers.  In a PEX Network podcast just released, Nigel Clements, who will keynote at the Process Excellence conference in London in April, estimates that up to 70% of process improvement projects fail.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Sakya Chakravorty estimated that 60% of Six Sigma projects fail. And the PEX Network poll launched last week on ‘why continuous improvement projects fail’ has already attracted 500 voters.

But why? That’s where the divergences start.  There may be common agreement on the symptoms, but there are many different diagnoses of the underlying condition.

Nigel Clements, for instance, points to Deming’s ‘five deadly diseases’ as the root causes: lack of constancy of purpose; emphasis on the short term; compensation that distorts incentives; over-mobility of management; and only using visible figures.

Professor Chakravorty suggests the need for Six Sigma ‘experts’ to be retained on projects for longer; for smaller project teams; and for tying in performance appraisals to adoption of change.

Both though agree on what must be the single over-arching truth here: that success in continuous improvement (CI) is about creating an enterprise-wide culture of engagement and collaboration.  And that it is impossible without leadership from the top.

Even Nimbus Control is not, dare I say it, an essential for success in sustainable process excellence.  It hugely increases the chances of success in setting up and maintaining any CI program. But, ultimately, it is simply an enabler.  Without executive vision and commitment, nothing sustainable can succeed.

The client case study I just saw is on the launch of a global CI program in a Fortune 100 organization. It brings new levels of creativity in how it leverages Nimbus Control. There’s huge attention to graphic design as one of the keys to users engagement.  It has real-time metrics that look beyond process performance to cover as well process adherence and popularity. It also extends the standard RACI model in a way that brings a new clarity and productivity in compliance. And subtly, and throughout, it reinforces this organization’s values.

What made it possible? Executive energy plus the adoption of Nimbus Control as the process platform, and UPN as the process language.  But it was also the Nimbus methodology: the inherent creativity in live workshops for SMEs in the discovery phase, facilitated by an experienced Nimbus consultant, to map out new ways of working.

It’s confidential right now – for obvious competitive reasons – but hopefully might make it into the public domain in due course. It’s a sparkling glimpse of the future in a world of CI gloom and angst. And exactly the kind of story that can fire up C-Level imagination and commitment.

Posted in Case Studies, Continuous Improvement, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Process Excellence in Pharma: And The Winner Is…

The Firm With The Process Platform! [Gasps, wild applause, cheers..]

Harvey Weinstein is said to have transformed perceptions of a ‘quirky retro-wonder’ – and so won, against an outstanding field, a Best Picture for The Artist.

But even the legendary Mr Weinstein might struggle with another underdog, the world of process excellence. Two data points from last week illustrate the Pharma challenge.

The PEX Network report Business Process Excellence in Pharmaceuticals, which has some credibility (it surveyed 600+ process improvement specialists, 39 from Pharma) points up the realities:

  • Big Pharma led the way in adopting operational excellence programs, and typically continues to have more full-time resources working in process excellence. Big Pharma is also heavily invested in Lean and Six Sigma programs.
  • But more than 40% of Pharma respondents reported that interest in process improvement ‘had peaked’, or that their process improvement program was ‘experiencing declining returns’ or even was ‘at risk’.  More than 20% expected their operational excellence budget to decline in 2012.

Which just confirms what’s already evident to any Pharma observer:  that the industry’s huge investment in process excellence programs has had only limited success.

Why has progress been so difficult in Pharma? A meeting last week with a Head of QA provided the second data point, perfectly illustrating two of the biggest barriers to operational excellence in Big Pharma.

This person had a refreshing candor, admitting freely that their organization had so many SOPs that they couldn’t possibly see the wood for the trees. And that it was a ‘nightmare’ explaining to an auditor how it all fitted together.

Which illustrates the first big barrier: compliance requirements have driven Pharma into a weird world where knowledge about the joined-up real world is ‘understood’ through SOP fragments.  Bizarrely, these SOPs are often inpenetrable, overlapping and confusing for the user – and yet they underpin compliance.

We talked about how leaders like Novartis are moving to process-based approaches that could also address this organization’s SOP challenges.  The discussion came to a polite but abrupt end when we moved on to discuss how a process platform could also enable Lean and continuous improvement. That was way outside of the QA scope, and so not relevant.

Which illustrates the second big barrier: that Pharma organizations are more than usually silo-oriented. It’s a natural response to a very complex world but it’s dysfunctional behavior in the context of operational excellence.

Ultimately, even Harvey Weinstein’s influence is second to box office performance. And that’s why The Firm With The Process Platform will take the Oscar eventually, as case studies and ROI build the momentum towards its triumph.

Because our hero firm will have the joined-up perspectives that enable its people to see the big picture, and to get engaged in continuous improvement.  They will collaborate effectively across functional silos. They will have the visibility and governance framework to manage outsourcing progams far more effectively.  And they will reduce the cost burden of quality and compliance – while at the same time increasing its effectiveness.

A true Hollywood ending, in fact.

Posted in Continuous Improvement, Cracking Complexity, Integrated Compliance, Next Gen Pharma, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Process SOPs, Shared Services and Outsourcing, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hello Checklists, Goodbye Process?

My little world wobbled as I read Atul Gawande’s bestseller The Checklist Manifesto.

It seemed to challenge head-on my conviction that process matters most because it provides the language that enables effective collaboration amidst complexity.

It’s superbly well written (Dr Gawande is an eminent surgeon but he’s also a staff writer on the New Yorker). It was ravishingly reviewed in the FT, the NY Times and The Economist, whose reviewer described it as ‘a meditation on the growing complexity of the world, and how to cope with it’.

The book sets out the evidence on the value of the humble checklist in saving lives (and much else – injuries, time and costs) in even the most highly complex activities – in the operating theater, on skyscraper construction sites, and on the flight deck. It is utterly compelling.

Why do checklists work? Firstly, because ‘they get people talking’, suggests Dr Gawande. They break down hierarchical barriers and encourage the teamwork that can ensure the best possible outcomes – in surgical teams, among construction engineers, even in due diligence teams working for private equity investors.

Checklists also encourage discipline. They recognize that, in a fast-paced world, we can all too easily forget the obvious. Kitchens in top restaurants use them. Checklists can ‘force reflection’ says Dr Gawande, even in complex and dire situations like the loss of an aircraft engine.

As I read the book, I feared I was hearing the distant rumble of a paradigm shift. It seemed entirely plausible that my approach had been turned upside down, that process had been a wasteful diversion – and that checklists were the new process.

The truth though seems to be more subtle and interesting. Checklists and process may overlap but they are essential, and complementary, in enabling us to deal with our enormously complex world.

Both enable collaboration and ensure compliance. ‘Checklists are not comprehensive how-to guides’, says Dr Gawande, ‘they are quick and simple tools to buttress the skills of expert professionals’. Sometimes a checklist could be easily substituted by an end-to-end process and a Storyboard. In other circumstances, only one of them will work. What’s appropriate will depend entirely upon the context.

Context is one of the exciting themes of the book. The best checklists work because their creators are painstaking in understanding the context in which they will be used. They care about the tiniest details because they know that it matters in effective communication. Those who have advocated ‘publishing’ business processes that are static, generic and described in technical gobbledeegook might want to read and ponder these sections.

It’s also, in an odd way, heartening to read of the widespread resistance to checklists, despite clear evidence of their value. Organizations and individuals, across all industries, often applaud the idea of checklists – but have some reason why they are ‘special’ and should be exempt. They have to be won over – even if they subsequently emerge as the strongest champions of the idea. Inviting us to re-think how we define heroism, Dr Gawande reflects on this inertia:

“…We don’t like checklists. They can be painstaking. They’re not much fun. But I don’t think the issue here is mere laziness. There’s something deeper, more visceral going on when people walk away not only from saving lives but from making money. It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be – handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocol and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.” [p.173]

Replace ‘checklist’ with ‘process’ and it’s the journey of most organizations towards process thinking, and towards a recognition of the process platform as an essential enabler for sustainable operational excellence.

Posted in Cracking Complexity, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chalk One Up For Sustainability

Delighted call yesterday from a client whose CEO had made a stand for sustainability.

The CEO had invited in a well-known consultancy for a year to drive a Lean program on a payment-for-results basis.

I had received a despairing call two weeks ago, after the Lean consulting team had arrived and explained its methodology. They didn’t care that this organization had implemented Nimbus Control as a process platform at the heart of the business. They insisted that brown paper and Post-It notes would be used for all their work.  Amazingly, they were so attached to this that they refused to use the client’s paper. It had to be their brown paper.

When it was escalated to the CEO, he didn’t equivocate.  He insisted that his organization’s process platform must be the alpha and the omega for the Lean program.  It was, he explained to the Lean consultants, an integrated business management platform, but not in any abstract sense: it was supporting people doing real work 24/7. So it was the perfect framework to identify, design and deliver sustainable improvement projects.

What tickled my friend and led to his jubilant call was the CEO’s remark at the end of the meeting, as the consultants left the room, that if he saw brown paper being used in future, he would ‘personally escort them from the premises’.    

The price of sustainable excellence is eternal vigilance. [as Jefferson might have put it… ]

Posted in Continuous Improvement, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making Sustainability Stick

True story – and I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t heard it myself…

The global head of a Lean/Six Sigma team was explaining why a presentation to his senior leadership team didn’t go entirely brilliantly.  After years of leading performance improvement projects, he’d come to see that what really mattered is sustainable improvement. 

He knew how difficult it is to make cost cuts stick. He had seen for himself what McKinsey described last year: that many cost-reduction programs are “illusory, short lived, and at times damaging to long-term value creation”.  And that only 10% of cost reduction programs show sustained results three years later.

So he was pitching Nimbus Control to his exec team, as the platform upon which to build sustainable operational excellence across the enterprise. But in the Q&A there had been some unexpected resistance, focussed on how disruptive and expensive change would be. After some dialog, the underlying objection came out:

“Yes – but if we go down this route, we are going to have to keep all our documents, everything in fact, up to date!”  

You might expect that the exec who said this was taken for questioning by the Chief Compliance Officer in a corporate dungeon.  But it went unremarked and was taken as legitimate.  It was left to our hero to note that keeping things ‘up-to-date’ might not be a bad idea anyway (this is an FDA-regulated organization).

Reading the The Sustainable Organization, published this week by Accenture, it’s easy to run away with the theory and forget how far this is from quotidian reality in many organizations.   

You can’t build a sustainable high performance culture overnight. The organizational process maturity that delivers sustainable continuous improvement is a set of capabilities that can take many years to develop. One vital provision for the journey towards a culture of continuous excellence – to borrow Nestlé’s famous phrase – is a process platform. But nothing can happen without vision, understanding and leadership. And, in far too many organizations, it’s folks at C-Level who have yet to join up the dots…

Posted in Continuous Improvement, Integrated Compliance, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Case Study: Finance Transformation and Shared Services

True, it’s not Life Sciences – though it’s also from a highly regulated world -and its scope, at this stage, is limited to just one country… but still the video case study from BAE Systems released today provides another great example of Nimbus Control as an enabling platform for Finance Transformation and shared services. 

As a case study, it breaks new ground in showing the new normal for Nimbus clients: how the controls and audit framework is embedded within the operational end-to-end processes, with all the efficiencies that can deliver.  

The focus is on standardization, service excellence and continuous improvement. What the video doesn’t mention is that it was also enabling an ERP consolidation…

BAE Finance Transformation Case Study

Posted in Case Studies, Continuous Improvement, Finance Transformation, Integrated Compliance, Process Platform, Shared Services and Outsourcing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment