We’re different.

By Steve Stanton

Promapp is a business process management tool and business process mapping software that helps companies build, improve and share their process knowledge from a central online repository

On 12/6 at 4PM EST I’ll be participating in a webinar with Ivan Seselj, the CEO of Promapp, a BPM software company. One of the topics we’ll be discussing is process standardisation.

“We’re different.” – Every organisation proclaims this common phrase, arguing that they’re unique, they’re an exception, no one could possibly be like them.

Sound familiar?

It’s a pretty useful phrase; it can be deployed as a barrier to organizational change, an argument against standardisation, and a demand for local control. But if every organization claims to be different the only logical conclusion can be that all organisations share the same illusion.

Nevertheless, in 2016 most organisations that we’ve spoken with are actively seeking increased process consistency. Yet most of these standardisation projects are failing as compliance is minimal and the “we’re different” argument prevails.

How is your process standardisation going?

Whether the standardisation focus is as trivial as consolidating on procuring a single type of ketchup to be served in global cafeterias, or as problematic as occurs when redundant tool sets within IT clash, or as mission critical as the existence of multiple pricing processes for common global products, the battle for consistency is always tough.

The consequences of unintended process variation are both huge and hidden. One major energy company justified their enterprise standardisation program on eliminating the maintenance costs of local software programs. But too often, the costs are distributed and invisible. They’re buried in different line items in different accounts in different ledgers. Their very differences make capturing their costs difficult.

Yet the benefits of process standardisation are brutally clear: 

Despite these benefits, why is process standardisation so difficult to achieve?

Part of the problem is a diminishment of enterprise focus. When success is defined locally it’s difficult to sacrifice local winning for organisational winning, especially when incentives are driven by local measures. In this case the enterprise is a subordinated, distant, and academic idea while reality is experienced within local silos and stovepipes.

Just as fragmentation is the enemy of process improvement it’s also the primary constraint to process standardisation.

As organisations become larger and more complex it’s far easier to focus on smaller units than the entire global enterprise. Citizenship is felt locally. This creates a weak corporate center with limited power to mandate compliance to process standards. As power moves to the periphery of the organisation and is held by geographic, product, and functional leaders, it’s very difficult to focus on enterprise success.

When the center is weak, lip service is often the outcome of standardisation.

The first tool for driving process standardisation is a powerful enterprise strategy formulation process that identifies process consistency as a critical organisational goal. The antidote for a weak center is a strong governing process. But when there are multiple business strategies within an organisation, it’s tough to get support for standardisation.

Another important way to power up standardisation is to carefully calculate the true cost of process variation. This is easier said than done as the real costs are distributed and often intentionally hidden. A strong project team, with powerful executive sponsorship, and deep accounting expertise is needed to find and total up the real costs of process diversity. Variation thrives when there’s no perceived cost, so making the cost of process variation explicit inevitably helps build support for standardisation.

Finally, driving compliance requires serious executive support. When there are no consequences for non-compliance, any process standardisation effort will be long and difficult.

In our workshops and our public and private courses we work with organisations to build the case for change and for process standardisation.

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