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Death by KPI

the budget is the voice of the customer

Business process modeling typically starts with the assumption that the stated business objectives are the function and purpose of the service; on the surface of it, a seemingly reasonable proposition.

But think about the sum of all activities in a business … are they all explainable in terms of the officially stated objectives? Even when you subtract wasteful activities, there will still be many useful and essential activities which don’t map cleanly to the approved value streams.

The Cost to Business is Incalculable

We see this problem often when managers go on a rampage to prune away any activity that doesn’t have clear traceability back to the officially declared objectives, marking it all as wasteful activity; many essential activities find an untimely end as a result of these kinds of top-down initiatives. The cost to the business is incalculable.

Successful Service Discovery gives us the means to capture it all, taking in essential and relevant activity that is rooted in the process, in addition to activity which does have clear traceability back to Key Performance Indicators. Having the discipline to stay focused on what is actually going on is very helpful indeed, postponing the impulse to inject judgements about what should be.

Before launching into a Service Discovery workshop, we need to start by building a shared understanding of how we’re using language: to articulate the various taxonomies which constrain and define our problem space.

The Budget is the Voice of the Customer

A budget allocation represents affordance, but other things, such as access to information and resources are usually afforded as well.

In software, a development team implies performance, but the whole story is rarely told through the narrative of the usual suspects. To truly understand a service, we need to dig deeper.

The real nature of a service can be discovered through studying the alignment of affordance with performance.

  • Affordances represent supply
  • Performances satisfy demand.

Demand is storing the potential of a service, and is represented by Artifacts and Events.

In order to render preferred conditions, Artifacts and Events depend on Capabilities and Resources.

Supply is expressed by Availability and Activities. Demand is expressed by Access and Tasks.

We’ll drill down into a methodology to apply this vocabulary in the next section, The Art of Service Discovery, but suffice it to say, if you don’t take the language seriously, you’re unlikely to find your virtual survey pins later, when you need to know the system boundaries.

Happy Service Hunting

Inventing greenfield services out of thin air is not the most common scenario you’ll find yourself in. In most cases, the services you are tasked with discovering already exist, hidden in plain sight. Lacking a clear language, you’ll end up chasing shadows. Well defined taxonomies give us the means to communicate what we see more reliably. Once clearly seen, our service will seem obvious.

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.

— Alfred North Whitehead


Thinking in Systems  by Donella Meadows
Thinking In Services: Encoding and Expressing Strategy through Design  by Majid Iqbal
High Output Management  by Andy Grove

Photo Credits

unsplash-logo Marek Studzinski — "friedhof hamburg ohlsdorf, Hamburg, Deutschland"

pattern language

Let's agree to define productivity in terms of throughput. We can debate the meaning of productivity in terms of additional measurements of the business value of delivered work, but as Eliyahu Goldratt pointed out in his critique of the Balanced Scorecard, there is a virtue in simplicity. Throughput doesn’t answer all our questions about business value, but it is a sufficient metric for the context of evaluating the relationship of practices with productivity.