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BPM: Theory to Practice

Tim Huenemann

Vince (yes, Vince) Lombardi BPM

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Vince Lombardi: Legendary football coach. Green Bay Packer hero. BPM discussion topic. Wait, what was that? Now that the NFL season is back on (almost!), let's have some fun overlaying a BPM metaphor onto the activities of a football team.

Business Strategy
The business strategy and guiding principles of the organization are inherent in the football team's overall philosophy. Run v. pass focus. Aggressive vs. "bend but don't break" defense. The coaches use these guiding principles to design processes and manage execution.

Process Owner
A head football coach is the overall "process owner." The head coach has overall responsibility for design, execution, and results, end-to-end. Each assistant coach teaches and improves the techniques used by the employees to execute the processes.

In the context of football for this discussion, I'll focus on the actual game activity, as opposed to broader football operations. Each play is the execution of a process. Processes are defined and designed. A football play is a carefully choreographed process with many participants. These processes have a lot of moving parts and uncontrolled variables. Lombardi's offense is epitomized in the famous "Packer Sweep." This relatively simple play best indicated his thinking; the foundation of Lombardi's offensive philosophy was "freedom within structure." [Quote from When Pride Still Mattered, by David Maraniss.] Some of the "adaptive" or dynamic concepts that have recently become popular in BPM certainly apply here. Do the employees in your organization have the ability to "call an audible?"

Process Repository
Mature process-based organizations usually have a process repository of one form or another. The football playbook functions as the process repository.

Practice and Simulation
Much more so than in the business world, football plays are practiced -- simulated with varying degrees of realism and detail, in a training environment. The simulation is done to minimize variation and build predictability. It also prepares for the adaptive needs of the live process execution. The famous Packer Sweep was practiced over and over; it wasn't a complicated play, but it was practiced to perfection! Businesses do something similar with live "walkthrough" simulations (and with training, of course).

Measurement and Metrics
It's easy to judge the results of a play on the football field - e.g. five yards gained, incomplete pass. This is similar to a final quality inspection or the total cycle time of a business process. But there's more to measuring a football play than the final result. Each small part of the play is analyzed during practice and on game film. Today's football world has advanced far beyond the coaching analysis of Lombardi's day - there is sophisticated statistical analysis of formations, individual performance, and trends. Similar to the tools and techniques available to businesses today!

In addition to bringing his own strategy and processes, Vince Lombardi brought about a new corporate culture. It didn't take him nearly as long to do so as it does in most businesses, of course. The key analogy for BPM is that often a shift to a process mindset is a big culture change.

Change Management
Instituting a major set of changes requires some sort of change management. Lombardi had his his own methods for change management - mostly by edict and force of personality. He also was a great (and demanding) motivator. Regardless of what some thought of his methods, he managed the change, that's for sure!

In my experience, most existing staff can perform well or even thrive in a new process-based environment, but sometimes people don't accept the change or just aren't a good fit. That happens when a new football style is brought to a team, as well. Lombardi's new system led to great success for some players who thrived in it (such as Bart Starr and Paul Hornung), but the departure of others (when Lombardi took over, he got rid off players who were good but weren't right for his system). This is of course a big part of change management - how you deploy the changes into your organization and select, assign, and equip your staff.

I'll leave you with some questions. Is your team ready for BPM? Is there a common vision for success? Is your playbook documented and well understood? Huddle up!

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This blog offers a true “practitioner’s perspective,” with issues and commentary based on real-world experience across many industries.

Tim Huenemann

Tim Huenemann is the senior principal for business architecture and process management at Trexin Consulting. He has more than 20 years of experience in process management and business-focused IT. In his consulting work, he helps organizations execute business strategy by implementing effective process management and IT solutions. He regularly translates BPM theory into practice, and practice, and more practice. Contact Tim at tim.huenemann[at]trexin.com.

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