Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Complex and Complicated

I was first exposed to systems thinking back in 2001 when working with some guys at Detica. The idea of a system of interactions with feed back loops and knock on consequences is fairly clear. Peter Checkland positioned it in literature but his books were a hard read.

Times change and new ways of presenting things appear to help us understand older concepts better. Recently I came across the words Complex and Complicated and although at first it seemed a bit semantic it cleared up some previous thinking with a nice model.

The words sound the same but as presented the complicated system is one with an engineering basis where things are difficult but logical and where 1 + 1 make two. The complex system however is more chaotic where the reaction to changes may not necessarily produce expected results.

How does all this fit with operating models? Well, it re-enforces the idea that there is not one form of operating model if a system some are complicated and some are complex and others have bits of both.  In a practical sense how does this realise itself? In low variability high volume organisations often mass market frequently B2C the model is one that describes a Complicated System - it is about algorithms processes and the elimination of variety in the operation. In these cases the business runs like a Swiss watch made up of many interacting well oiled components consistently delivering the same result time and time again - typical lean sigma territory.

The model of a system that is complex is more likely to be in services where there is a high rate of variety and heterogeneity - each case is different each customer interaction is a unique set of professionally applied offerings, Process maps are almost pointless if not impossible to define. Typically these are B2B or sometime B2C but with a more professional services slant; consultancy, accounting, legal actuarial and other markets. The third option, this is probably highly common, is a mix of the two with a transcational core surrounded by a complex startegic product development outer shell.

This is helpful because often people in BPM or 6 Sigma peddle a "one way fits all" approach and in reality things are not as simple as all that. The words might be clumsy, I do feel there must be better ways to describe this, but the thinking behind it is sound.


Thursday, 4 April 2019

Using tools properly

Business studies is full of two way grids ,matrices and canvasses of one type or another, These range from well known acronym driven tools like PESTLE SWOT to the now famous business model canvas,

As a lecturer in degree level business I see students getting the wrong end of tools; they think as long as they can talk about PESTLE or SWOT or Porter's Five forces they know Strategic management inside out.

Unfortunately the tools and acronyms give a false sense of security; many students know the tools but fail to use them well. This is not just for students business professionals also fall foul of generalist lists or a patch work quilt of "post it" notes on a flip chart. What is missing is the motivation behind a listed factor.

The classic at the moment for any PESTLE analysis or SWOT threat is BREXIT.  Apart from every poorly managed and failing business blaming BREXIT rather than themselves, the threat is rarely explained.

This type of thing is especially seen in PESTLE and if you don't explain the reasoning for something on the list and its consequence clearly stated then doing the PESTLE in the first place is pointless.

Kaplan and Norton also got frustrated when the great Balanced Score Card  resulted in massive lists under the headings and had to write another book to rectify the poor usage - Strategy Mapping,.

Rubbish in rubbish out - no tool or framework is going to solve that for you.


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Senior Management don't get AGILE.

On a recent Twitter discussion a tweeter was complaining about senior engagement and asking where senior managers get their information and attitude about AGILE.

I wrote back and said that software developments whatever they are are so low down in the weeds that C level exec have very little knowledge and interest.

Upward selling of methodologies is always a looser's game and we focus too much of the latest fad or trend ; this is particularly a problem in the technology space. It stems from an over introspective view of what we do and an over inflated importance in terms of tactical issues in the bigger picture.

In the echo chamber where everyone is doing and saying the same then there is little perception that others outside of our world just don't see things as importantly as we do.

Focus on what methods deliver - outputs-  not on selling the brand of the methodology. I have seen too much of people evangelizing about one method or another,  whether it is Six Sigma , Lean or Agile, or anything else for that matter, it is just counterproductive. So many change initiatives start with selling some silver bullet approach rather than getting on with delivering quality outputs.

Forget the selling the method, the training and the overview pitches just use it to do good things - that is what earns respect; the  pay rises and bonuses will follow.


Monday, 28 January 2019

Strategy a difficult lesson.

Traditional strategy theories based on the VMOST type approach and those of Porter and Mintzberg present unconvincing output among students.  Mission, goals and vision are easily stated but the problem comes when trying to teach people to convert these into meaningful actions. There seems to be a missing link ,a gulf if you like, between traditional corporate strategy statements and operating model design.

The development of the business model canvas helps here greatly but it still fails to appear in the main textbooks that stick to the older strategic planning tools and theories.

The business model and the expansion of the "how to" part of that model - the operating model is key.

What we need to do is to try to connect up the steps in "strategy to reality" or "strategy to execution" from these currently isolated separate steps into a more continuous development that logically takes us through iterative developing steps towards a sensible outcome that is meaningful in both strategic and day to day terms.

The four steps to success - strategy operating model development implementation and control need to have tools and techniques that create a much more visible end to end process rather than being stuck in their own worlds.

Strategists, architects, project managers and finally the operational managers ,who have to realise the strategy day to day,  all talk different languages and use different approaches that seem to pull everyone in towards the middle of their own area of expertise.

This year we hope to expand on this thinking as we develop a strategy to execution storyboard to help people link strategy through to business as usual using a set of simple tools and approaches.

I have been trialing these ideas with our third year undergraduate students who are studying the UK's only specialist degree in insurance. The Strategic Management Module has given me a great opportunity as a lecturer to try to stitch the parts together and make some sense of the stages that traditionally are taught in a separate way.

I will keep you posted!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2019 A New Year and a promise.to post more.

This blog has been running for since 2013 and I should post more, I know. It is easy to forget or focus on other things. So let me start the year with better intentions with a new brief post.

As I start 2019 I see  reduction in the interest in business architecture as a term and a discipline as in recent years it seems unfortunately to have been absorbed and assimilated by the "Borg" of I.T. Self important guilds and bodies have just, to be frank,  certificated it to death.

What is clear though is that the underlying techniques and tools still are in demand, but from business people in operations and from elsewhere outside of the I .T. department. In reality the term business architecture is not in their vocabulary at all but what they do is. I suppose in truth it doesn't really matter as we should not be marketing a discipline or role as such, which has been quite common over the years, but what is important is the promotion of the right type of good solid design methods.

Marketing the discipline has passed; let us now focus on the outcomes and how to achieve those outcomes instead.


  1. What is the future operation going to look like and why? 
  2. How do I communicate why we are moving this way? 
  3. How do I analyse this poorly presented strategy?
  4. How do I avoid transformation failure and unnecessary expenditure?
  5. Are buzzword topics  necessary or are they a distraction?
  6. How do I plan what to build and when?
Some key questions, a sample set among many others,   that will be answered in 2019.

Happy New Year.....