Saturday, 20 September 2008

How eliminating complexity can help you increase service process productivity by 10-15% in 90 days

Why are apparently simple problems so difficult to solve?

A Rubik’s cube appears an impossible puzzle for the uninitiated. If you don’t know how to do it, it could take days and weeks of ‘trial and error’ to solve the puzzle. And yet the current world record was set by Erik Akkersdijk in 2008, with a best time of 7.08 seconds at the Czech Open 2008 competition. Similarly, the puzzle of improving service process productivity has appeared to be frustratingly difficult for many organisations. Dedicated teams are formed, apply huge amounts of effort over 6 months and yet end up with service productivity improvements below 10%. The secret to transforming your performance in both cases is knowing the most effective strategies to deploy to be successful. So let’s explore in more detail what makes service productivity improvement so difficult using conventional approaches and alternatives you can apply to achieve rapid breakthrough productivity improvements.

What are service processes?
Our lives depend on service processes and they are critical to the success of business and society. They range from ordinary activities such as withdrawing cash from an ATM and changing the calling plan for your mobile phone through to arranging for an operation in the Health Service. In business terms they cover the back office processing in a financial institution through to the restocking processes that ensure your supermarket is replenished each day. Without these ‘invisible’ service processes our shops would stand empty and life would soon grind to a halt.

What are the elements of a service process?
In general, services are defined through a combination of three key elements:
i) The features of the service
ii) A delivery mechanism that defines the where are how for the service and
iii) The supporting processes to make them work.
For example for a cash withdrawal service through an ATM from your bank, the features could include withdrawals up to $500, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The delivery mechanism is through any ATM displaying the Visa symbol in 170 countries using your bank card. The service process from a customer perspective starts by inserting your card and entering PIN, then making a withdrawal request for any amount up to $500 and finally receiving the cash (if you have the money in your bank account) and having your account debited for the transaction.

Why do service processes get so complex?
There are a number of factors that combine in my experience to lead to process complexity. The first is that while the features and delivery mechanisms are tangible whose performance can be easily defined in engineering terms with hard metrics, the service processes being ‘invisible’ are much harder to engineer systematically and so often get overlooked. If you consider your doctor making an outpatient referral for you for a consultation with a specialist consultant; you’ll find that nearly every hospital and health authority will have a different service process with huge variations in terms of how quickly you are treated, the cost per treatment and medical outcomes.

In my experience, new service processes are typically launched with poor productivity; complexity is then added with new rules and decision points to be applied continually with constant further workarounds and hand-offs being created. Each time complexity increases; the amount of work per case goes up undermining your productivity and driving up costs. You could think of the eventual impact as a process version of the movie ‘Super Size Me’. You don’t notice the impact of the first few super-sized burgers, however the cholesterol from each additional super size burger clots up your arteries until eventually a heart attack occurs. Similarly as the added complexity builds up over time and volumes grow day-by-day, the process cholesterol builds up until you suffer an eventual ‘process heart attack’ as either processing costs explode or your service delivery functions collapse from being overwhelmed by too much work.

Why does productivity get compromised in new service processes?
In a new service process, even though it shouldn’t happen in theory, in practice the requirements set for new processes end up being far too complicated. Far too many requirements are included from all parts of the organisation (marketing, finance, audit and compliance). All too frequently, this is combined with a ‘hard date’ for when the new process must be implemented, so as the target date nears the project team (and the operational departments) are forced to come up with a working process no matter how complex to ensure the target implementation is seen by to be met (or face the wrath of the senior executives who are paying for the project). Worst-case scenario is a Heathrow Terminal-5 disaster on Day 1 but to be frank these disaster scenarios are the exceptions.
In most cases a more insidious problem is building up unnoticed. The initial volumes for the new process are relatively small, so the operational departments can cope. The project team is then stood down and moves onto another process leaving their operational colleagues to run the new process. As long as the volumes remain low, nobody notices the problem. You can think of it as an unexploded bomb just waiting to be set off on the operational folks once volumes reach a critical mass.

How does complexity impact service processes?
The more rules, the more hand-offs, and the more decision points within a service process the more complicated it gets. It seems obvious but is so often overlooked – the more complex the process the greater the costs and the more opportunities exist to disappoint the customer. Typically, 40-60% of activities and costs within a service process are non-value added from a customer perspective. Some of this cost may be justified from an audit and compliance perspective but this should be contained to below 5%. If service processes are a major proportion of your operating costs or service quality is critical to your business proposition and operations then this level of waste is both a significant burden and a major opportunity for you to improve performance.

What are the best measures of service productivity?
The most powerful measures of service productivity are based on focusing on the customer and business performance. The top-three performance measures, I would recommend that you implement are: are a measure of your ‘customer experience’ (such as the ‘Net Promoter Score’ (NPS) or equivalent), cost per activity and a measure of the effectiveness of your process outcome (depending on your business this could be customer lifetime value, asset utilisation, sales per square foot, patient outcome etc).

What's the easiest approach to eliminate complexity?
The simplest and most powerful approach in my experience is to attack the complexity head on. There are straightforward tools that help you to identify the principal components of service process complexity. You simply need to apply a ‘triage approach’ to generate an action plan that removes those elements of complexity that generate the greatest cost and customer dissatisfaction in the fastest time. It sounds simple because it is and it’s an approach that works.

Why do so many IT based productivity implementations disappoint?
My background is in IT and I’ve worked with a number of the largest IT firms and users in the world such as AOL, Citicorp and EDS. I love IT and spent many happy years as a programmer, business analyst and systems designer. Clearly some IT initiatives, such as increased ‘straight-through-processing’ in transaction processing, environments are ‘no-brainers’ as they eliminate work. Well yes they are, but these often make up a minority of the initiatives within the typical IT portfolio. So what’s the fatal flaw that causes so many of the IT investment projects to deliver minimal productivity impact? My observation is that these projects start off by mapping the data, document and process flows within the existing process. By and large, the process is then engineered into an IT process that preserves most of the complexity in the original process. Indeed in some cases it’s made worse because the new IT system can now administer far more rules and complexity than was possible before. So the new (IT system enabled) process starts off with even more complexity than ever. Ultimately the new IT system, even with the latest workflow, image, SOA and web-enabled functionality fails to deliver the goods in terms of meaningful improvements to your productivity, customer experience or operating costs.

Who needs to be involved in removing complexity?
To achieve the best results, ideally you should get 2 to 5 people (from the function that operates the service process day-to-day) that can describe the process end-to-end. A smart front-line person and a team leader/ supervisor are often enough. Typically, just these two individuals can identify 20-40% of the performance improvement opportunities available. In an ideal world, if they could be joined by 1-2 people involved in the process upstream and downstream then you can identify 80%+ of the opportunities.
For the icing on the cake, if you had someone from finance who really knew the numbers and someone from marketing who defined the service offering then you would have the perfect team. All told, you will get great results from getting these 2-10 people in the same room to optimise the process.

What's the impact of removing complexity?

So what’s the bottom-line? I’ve done projects across Europe and the USA across banks, insurance, technology, retail and outsourcing sectors where we’ve achieved 25-30% cost reductions delivered within 90 days – in some cases much higher. These may of course been special cases of high complexity, so to set a more realistic expectation (certainly when speaking to your boss) you should set yourself a target to increase productivity by 10-15% within 90 days. For more in depth case studies of applying these techniques across the whole of a business go to:

Does this all sound too good to be true?
If you’ve been working for years and have now hit-the-wall on delivering further productivity improvements then no doubt this discussion of rapid productivity gains no doubt sounds ‘too good to be true’. If you’ve used techniques derived from manufacturing such as Lean and Six Sigma, you may be wondering what these alternative approaches designed for service processes have to offer you? If you are working on manufacturing processes in an automotive company, than Lean techniques represent global best practice and many of the planning and analysis tools can be used in any environment. However even a world-class manufacturer such as Nissan realised there was much it could do to improve its service processes when Carlos Ghosn joined from Renault. One year after he arrived, Nissan's net profit climbed to $2.7 billion from a loss of $6.1 billion in the previous year. Nissan's operating profit (EBIT, or earnings before interest and taxes) margin increased from 1.38% in FY 2000 to 9.25% in FY 2006. The application of Renault’s expertise to critical service processes within Nissan enabled it to transform its profitability.

Perhaps the most powerful argument is that if you’re finding your existing tools and approaches are not delivering the results that you need, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative approach, an approach that you could learn in a day and start seeing immediate productivity improvements this week.

What are the most powerful ‘takeaway points’ for you to consider?
In summary, the three most powerful ‘takeaway points’ are:
  • Typically, 40-60% of cost in service processes is non-value added from a customer perspective
  • Complexity is the key driver of costs in service processes
  • You can deliver 10-15% productivity improvements in service processes within 90 days by using tools focused on helping you eliminate complexity
When you know how, the seemingly impossible becomes easy
So if you want to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube puzzle, just key ‘Rubik’s cube solutions’ into Google and you’ll know how to do it in the next hour. If you are interested in learning more about how to increase service productivity by 10-15% in the next 90 days just apply the principles you’ve just discovered.

Regards John.

CLICK HERE to download a pdf format version of this article to read at your leisure

John Corr (Managing Partner)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7748 2225.

PS If you would like to discuss these principles in more detail or for a confidential conversation on how they apply to your specific situation, challenges and objectives - just drop me an email or call. I’d be delighted to help you be more successful.

Additional resources – suggested reading
‘Zero Defections: Quality Comes to Services’ by Frederick Reichheld and W. Earl, Jr. Sasser (digital download from
‘Moments of Truth’ by Jan Carlzon
‘The Service Profit Chain’ by James L. Heskett
‘Managing the Customer Experience: Turning customers’ by Shaun Smith
‘The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value’ by Frederick F. Reichheld
'Customer Expectation Management' by Steve Towers

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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Building the BPM Balanced Scorecard

This is the first in a series of presentations from Steve Towers - enjoy!


Sunday, 14 September 2008

Is your Executive Team Sleeping at the Wheel?

This goes out to all "C" Level Executives struggling with the Credit Crunch
Is your Executive Team Sleeping at the Wheel?

Despite the potential meltdown underway in the financial sector it seems, from my discussions last week as we undertake the annual BP Group survey (see here), that many senior managers, apparently responsible for processes and performance management are oblivious to the immediate dangers during this current crisis. Almost as if the global brand makes them immune from economic reality they put down the failings elsewhere to some sort of black magic. Please if that's the way you feel - wake up and smell the coffee!

Never before has there been a time to step forward and guide your organisation by accelerating cost reduction, improving service and preserving revenues the only way businesses can - through their business and performance management processes.

If you find yourself the pending victim of 'asleep at the wheel' then your choices are straight forward:
1. Blow the whistle and write to the CEO/COO/CIO anonymously (otherwise in the resulting car wreck your job may be one of those that goes)
2. And if you are the CEO/CIO/COO then ask the question "How much can we reduce costs by focusing on successful outcomes?". If the answer is anything less than 30% in 12 months you know where the first cost cuts start!

This is not the time for the faint hearts and excuses. The time for action is now.


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Complexity is insidious. Costs go sky high. People get confused and systems can't cope.

When production and service cycles take forever, and costs are high, chances are that most of your processes are mired in complexity. Since Victorian times, companies have felt compelled to offer consumers whatever they want, creating a myriad of choice with goods and services each having their own process and production lines.

In turn these processes are supported by complex systems and require specific skills for bespoke services and products. How often do you hear the recital “oh we’re very different around here. What we are do is unique in the industry.”
And it probably is to the detriment of the very people you are trying to please - the customer.

Consider a few of the not so hidden costs of complexity:
1. Customer inconvenience – Your customers have to negotiate your complex system and its mind-numbing array of alternatives.
Q. Just how many Moments of Truth are there?

2. Unwieldy sales processes – The sales systems needed to support complex product lines soon grow too cumbersome, whether they require filling out complicated order forms, getting indecipherable invoices or navigating endless voice mail paths.
Q. How many rules exist to ‘guide and direct’ and are now out of date slowing things to crawl?
Q. How many handoffs occur in your processes between people, systems and services?
Eradicating those Moments of Truth, Rules and Breakpoints can change everything.

3. Impact on management – Eventually, even your managers will find numerous products and processes too much to track.
Q. How much money have you spent training people to deal with this complexity?
Remove the complexity and Six Sigma and Lean are simply not required!

4. As an absolute, the greater an organization’s complexity, the less focused its management.
Q. Where does all that management time get directed? Fire fighting and fixing problems caused by the nightmare of complexity.
Refocus management time to helping align processes for successful outcomes.

It doesn’t have to be this way.
Download the free report on ‘Accelerated Cost Reduction’ for the inside track and get on route one to success.

Accelerated Cost Reduction – utilize ground breaking techniques created by the market leaders who have redefined their markets and continue to outplay the competition in every aspect of the game.


Thursday, 28 August 2008

Certified Training in Advanced BPM

Steve Towers Coaching in London September 15-16 - London Chamber of Commerce
includes full Certification @ 995 GBP

“I would like to thank you for making this workshop a wonderful experience for me to know the nuances of Advanced BPM. Taking us to a new level on how to view processes & implement by way of sharing your wealth of experience and enlightening us with the case studies & exercises.”
Director, Quality Management Group, 3i Infotech Ltd.

Course Content

+ + + + + FIVE Specific Questions this Class answers + + + + +

> How can we release 15-40% of the cost in our processes within 90 days (even if you've already tried that with Lean or Sigma)?

> What are the most important things we should focus on in making our processes world class?

> How can we simultaneously reduce costs, enhance service and improve revenues?

> What is the approach that makes the process change sustainable?

> Which tools and techniques provide a guaranteed return?

Only a few seats remain so if you or a colleague would like to attend please BOOK HERE
includes full Certification @ 995 GBP

In conjunction with BennuGroup ( the Certified Process Professional (CPP) class offers full Certification including ONE YEAR access to all materials online, resources, templates, full online training suite, process repository and CPP resources only (latest case studies, presentations etc.)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

How you can accelerate your IT cost reduction to enable you to reduce costs by 5-15% within 90 days

Will your IT Cost Reduction programmes deliver enough savings for you to survive the Credit Crunch?
Here’s why they won’t (and what you can do about it)

Holding IT costs steady is no longer good enough
As a senior executive you are almost certainly under severe pressure to accelerate the delivery of significant cost reductions within your IT and back office functions without compromising service quality severely. Simply implementing cost containment strategies that hold IT and back office costs steady is no longer a sustainable approach if you are to survive the pressures of the Credit Crunch on your earnings. How has this difficult situation arisen and what can you do to respond successfully?

Over $1 trillion of value already destroyed by the Credit Crunch
The ‘credit crunch’ has wreaked havoc across financial institutions; not only in the USA but across Europe and Asia. Some estimates suggest that the total losses, related to US sub-prime mortgages and leveraged loans, could hit $1 trillion (source Guardian 12 August 2008). The UK saw its first bank run since 1866 with the collapse of Northern Rock, which required the UK government to nationalise the bank and ensure its survival with a £24 billion loan.
In his quarterly report, Mervyn King,the Governor of the Bank of England, declared that “the nice decade is behind us” (14 May 2008). In response, major financial institutions are being forced to reexamine their business models and seek to make structural reductions in their operating costs, in order to ensure their long-term viability. Those banks who are unable to make the adjustments face being taken over by stronger rivals as we’ve seen with the takeover of Alliance & Leicester bank in the UK by Santander. The CEO agenda in those financial institutions that are determined to be survivors rather than acquisition victims has moved to focus on how to deliver significant cost reductions in IT and back office processes.

IT and back office costs dominate the operating costs of financial institutions
The reason for this is simple; IT and back office costs are amongst the largest cost drivers within financial institutions. Typically IT represents 20-30% of operating costs and back office admin a further 10-20 % of operating costs. At the same time your IT and back office functions need to support a dynamic business environment that has to cope with fluctuating workloads, staff shortages and ever increasing demands from the rest of the business. Your success as a senior executive will depend on how well you can deliver significant cost reductions while meeting these conflicting demands. One thing is certain; you cannot deliver significant sustainable cost reductions by using the same solutions you have turned to in the past. For a start, let’s take a more detailed look at some of the problems you are probably facing right now.


Problem 1 - The complexity of large-scale IT systems
IT systems and back office processes within financial institution are extremely complex and everything appears to be connected to everything else. So where do you start? You can't afford to set off a damaging domino effect on service quality by inadvertently cutting out a critical function. But if you are overly cautious, you risk your cost reduction programme delivering too little too late. But who wants to rush across a minefield?

Problem 2 - Large-scale complex projects are high-risk
Delivering strategic projects within IT and back office operations is a difficult, high-risk endeavour. Everyone knows that the capability to translate 'strategy' into 'execution' is critical to business performance, but that doesn’t make it easy. Far from it. The failure rate on strategic projects can run as high as 60-80% (see the Working Council for CFOs at The greater your project complexity, then the higher the risk your project will suffer budget overruns, time delays and shortfalls against the benefits case. Failure to deliver sufficient cost reductions frequently occurs when your overall cost reduction programme is overly dependent on too many large-scale projects with protracted timescales and over extended teams.

Problem 3 - Offshoring and outsourcing can create significant service delivery issues
Offshoring offers significant savings of 20-65% whilst outsourcing offers attractive savings of 20-30% savings on your current costs. Yet implementing these strategies puts you at substantial risk of seriously damaging service delivery to critical revenue earning business units and clients. The savings from both strategies can unravel as offshored units demand additional staffing and outsourcers exploit their negotiating power to hold you to ransom on 'change requests'.

Problem 4 - Over reliance on ‘silver bullet’ enterprise level solutions
Many financial institutions turn to large, global technology firms for advice on how to reduce technology costs. It shouldn't be surprising that they frequently advise you to undertake large-scale complex ‘enterprise level’ IT transformation programmes requiring significant investments on your part. Alternative strategies that emphasise simpler, lower cost approaches that still deliver significant cost reductions can often be overlooked. Your promised cost reductions can so easily evaporate as the implementation timescales for these ‘silver bullet’ programmes slip further and further.

Problem 5 - IT infrastructure costs are profoundly difficult to rollback
Your largest IT operating costs relate to IT infrastructure and yet this is your most difficult area to tackle. The situation is made more difficult by the remorseless increase in demand for IT storage, network capacity and the latest technology devices. If you turn for advice to large global technology firms to help you reduce your significant IT infrastructure, network and desktop costs the proposed solutions can require significant capital investments that are unlikely to be agreed to by your CFO.

Problem 6 - Financial Service companies are a lot more complicated than car plants
Strategies, tools and techniques that work in car plants may not work as well in financial services. Complex regulatory and compliance obligations, 'invisible' products and services rather than physical products and dependency on large-scale IT legacy systems all combine to make delivering meaningful cost reduction in IT and back office operations supreme challenges. Methods such as Six Sigma and Lean may provide initial benefits however such approaches cope poorly with the variability and complexity of the IT and business architecture of financial institutions and trying to force a square peg solution into a round hole problem causes disappointment.

Problem 7 - Investments in automation and workflow have a mixed track record
You understand the potential of automation and workflow to increase productivity - but these investments have a mixed track record. Many automation projects end up recreating the manual processes they replaced and unsurprisingly the productivity improvements and cost reductions achieved are disappointing. The key challenge is to refocus the project team’s efforts to streamline and enhance key processes from a customer perspective first and foremost. This should come before starting coding with automation and workflow software tools.

So what can you do to get sustainable results?
For over 25 years we have assisted financial institutions that are frustrated with IT and back office cost reduction programmes that promise the world but fail to deliver measurable and sustainable results. Leading financial institutions and technology companies including: AOL, AXA and Citicorp have all increased their profitability using proven approaches and methodologies that build on the processes and systems that you most likely already have in place. Fundamentally, anyone can cut costs using 'slash and burn' approaches that give short-term relief to budget pressures, however the only way these cost reductions can be sustainable is by improving the underlying productivity of your people and processes.

We don't believe that this needs to be an overly complicated process, nor should it take many months and years to implement. In fact our clients will attest that our system will enable you to achieve:

  • Productivity increases of 10%-15% in 90-120 days within key service processes in your IT and back office operations.
  • Reduce your costs by 20-30% through more aggressive use of Outsourcing.
  • Reduce labour costs by 25-65% through more extensive use of Offshoring.
  • Reduce the service quality gap by 50% between Offshore and Outsourced operations and inhouse operations within 90-120 days.
  • Reduce the cost of external products and services by an average of 13%.
  • Eliminate demand on IT services by 10-25% by business departments (and have them be happier about your IT support).
  • Reducing the overall IT project and investment portfolio spend by 25% whilst increasing cost reductions delivered to IT and business operations.

If you've been concerned by the slow pace of cost reduction, then you owe it to yourself to request a free copy of our most recent report. It will take you less than 15 minutes to read and these are just some of the invaluable insights that you will learn:

  • The one factor that prevents your cost reduction programmes delivering rapid results. Change this and all the other pieces fall into place.
  • Why do Lean and Six Sigma approaches get stuck after initial success? The answer may surprise you.
  • What is holding back your ability to pursue outsourcing and offshoring strategies with much greater pace and impact?
  • Why do so many banks find IT transformation programmes fail to deliver their promised results?
  • Why most investments in automation, image and workflow solutions are likely to turn into little more than a sinkhole of wasted money.
  • Why so many of your IT and back office productivity initiatives result in a lot of noise but very little in terms of cost reduction. The good news is that by focusing on this one area you can improve your revenues in less than 120 days.
  • These are the two issues your cost reduction plan should relentlessly focus on. Ignore them and your strategy will flounder.
  • Ultimately, sustainable cost reduction is about increasing your productivity. In order to be successful you must focus on stimulating this one factor.
  • Why the productivity of your IT and back office operations is likely to be decreasing. The answer has to do in large part with the natural impact of new product, compliance and technology changes. And yet, what is the key factor that is frequently ignored that is undermining your long-term efforts to reduce costs and improve service?
  • The three questions you must ask yourself before embarking on any cost reduction initiative.

If reducing your IT and back office costs significantly is mission critical, I can guarantee that you'll find the information in our report to be helpful and immense value to you. Remember, it's free and you can request it by clicking here.

Best wishes John.
John Corr (Managing Partner - City Process Management)

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