90 mph on the Frankfurt autobahn

by kirangarimella on April 13, 2007

I just got back from a hectic tour in France and Germany, where we held BPM MasterClasses in Frankfurt and Paris. This is the second time I have been in both cities.

Frankfurt ist auch eine schöne Stadt (Frankfurt is also a lovely city). 90 mph in a Mercedes Benz cab on the autobahn in Frankfurt is an experience!

The first time, I stayed at the Sofitel within a stone’s throw from Versailles and did not get a chance to visit it!  Heck, I didn’t even get a chance to throw a stone at it.

This time, I did not have the time to look around Frankfurt, but Paris offered a respite. We did a quick tour of Notre Dame (awesome!), swung by the Eiffel Tower (both during day and night), and did plenty of walking through the streets. webMethods has an office next to the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris in April – one cannot complain!

There were a couple of interesting differences between audiences in Europe vs. the United States.

For one, over 90% of those who registered showed up for the class; we had to scramble around to find extra chairs!

Second, they all spoke at least two languages, more often three and even four. We English speakers were cautioned to stay away from idiomatic expressions and jokes based on the American context; apart from that, their fluency in English is astonishing.

I wrongly assumed that the language barrier would prevent participation, but there was plenty of dialog; just as much as in a US class (and perhaps a tad more than the interaction we got at a couple of US locations).

The European attendees seemed less exposed to Six Sigma and Lean compared to their US counterparts; however, they showed greater appreciation for the concept of discipline.

One favorite question I pose to attendees is, “Does your company have a Project Management Office, and if so, what is the attitude of the rest of the company towards the PMO?” I get the classic roll of the eyes: PMO is viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy (except by the PMO folks, of course).

In an environment that demands agility and rapid execution, any hint of oversight, process, or tollgates is viewed negatively.

Not so in Europe. They seemed to appreciate the need for discipline. They do not make the mistake of confusing discipline for bureaucracy.

Discipline means being responsible, having a plan, and sticking to it.

Good financial traders know this. It turns out that the key to superior financial performance is to pick a decent trading strategy and stick to it without second-guessing it.

Research shows that changing horses midstream is a sure way to get wet and miserable.  (Now I have to wonder how much money was spent on establishing this fact!)

The best companies speak of “responsible growth,” meaning, how to grow shareholder value without compromising on ethics or taking on irresponsible risk.

For public companies, governance has additional regulatory implications. But the concern remains, how do we take the concept of discipline and make it an enabler of agility and execution? How do we take out bureaucracy?

One, by making discipline an integral part of what we do, so we make the time to do it. For example, no one complains about having to brush one’s teeth every day, does one?

Two, by making space for discipline in our methods. Traditional project methodologies waste a lot of time discovering the current state of the business and by documenting requirements in different formats to suit different audiences.

When process governance is an integral part of BPM, it enforces this discipline. Governance becomes a seamless part of how projects are done and business operations are conducted.

By eliminating the need for endless documentation and translation between various models of requirements, BPM also makes space for responsible behaviors in project execution and business operations.

Does lack of a formal Six Sigma or Lean methodology seriously hamper the quest for continuous process improvement? Hardly. While the formal methodologies are extremely useful, we are now seeing a move away from overly relying on the heavy frameworks towards a lighter approach.

The caveat here is to adhere to the spirit of Six Sigma and Lean and not to slide into bad techniques.

The specific ‘get started’ strategy I’d advocate is to measure the state of your business first, and use real data and metrics to drive the discussion around process improvement.



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