Process Transformation
December 7, 2023

Discover how to achieve Process Transformation

By Paul Laughlin

So much focus in the world of Digital Transformation is on products, too little attention is paid to Process Transformation. Agile ways of working can also cause a mindset of Minimum Viable Products (including data products) to be the focus for opportunities.

However, the worlds of business & customer experience already know how vital it is to have efficient and effective operations. To be able to deliver your promised products or services in a cost-efficient way via an enjoyable experience for users.

So, I was delighted to receive a copy of “Revolutionizing Business Operations” by Tony Saldanha and Filippo Passerini. Regular readers will know I was a big fan of Tony’s last book, “Why Digital Transformations Fail”, so I was intrigued to read his latest thinking. In this book review, I hope to persuade you that this is an important book for businesses today. Evidenced by so many case studies and personal experiences, the authors bring to life both the need for and how to revolutionize your processes. I hope the central model helps you as much as it has inspired me.

How is the book structured? How does it operate?

It is fitting for a book advising leaders on process improvement to be tidily constructed with a clear process to follow. After personal & theory introductions, this book is laid out in five parts. In part one, the authors bring to life over 2 chapters both their central model & why it is needed. That central model is called the Dynamic Process Transformation Model and it provides a guiding framework for the rest of the book.

Parts two to five each contain 3 chapters. These walk the reader through the 15 components of their Dynamic Process Transformation Model. Each of the four parts focuses on advancing maturity stages, from Default, through Intentional and Integrated, to the most advanced stage of Responsive Maturity. Within each of those parts, the 3 chapters explain in detail what is needed to benefit from 3 drivers of transformation at that maturity level.

Consistently, throughout the model (and thus the book), those 3 drivers operating at each level are:

  1. Open Market Rules: Think beyond your own past & local standards, as if competing in an open market for the best processes relevant to this stage of maturity.
  2. Unified Accountability: Ensuring clarity of ownership of end-to-end business process outcomes, again relevant to the complexity & cooperation needed at this stage of maturity.
  3. Dynamic Operating Engine: Consistently improve and translate strategy, goals and designed processes into repeatable day-to-day delivery by the people & systems involved.

How can this book help data & analytics leaders?

By this stage, you might be thinking, ok, but that sounds like a book for operations directors or business process transformation geeks (Lean Sigma etc), not for me. Well, I’d advise you not to give up so soon. Firstly, the book is well-written and engaging, with short sections and plenty of practical examples. Secondly, the lessons you will learn apply across functional silos. Like all good leadership & management thinking, the authors transcend organisational divisions to help us grasp the bigger picture of what is needed.

Beyond all those benefits, as you read the examples of applying improvements at each stage of maturity, I hope you’ll see how applicable these are to the data world. For years now we have learned to focus on data products & improving analytics & data science methodologies by learning from the world of product management. This boom rightly opens our eyes to equal opportunities for improvement by learning from best practices in process improvement.

Reflecting on the conversations I have with different data leaders, I am also struck by how many of their present challenges lie in this remit. Many data science teams are struggling with execution limitations (often a process issue). Innovative AI teams need assistance to enable scaling successful pilots (again often constrained by limiting processes). Data engineering teams fail to secure the investment they need to deliver the infrastructure upgrade needed for future processes. Many analytics & insight teams feel constrained in how they can achieve the personalization customers expect (often because of a focus on improving products rather than processes).

What is there to learn and what were my takeaways?

I explained above the high-level structure of this book, let me tempt you further by outlining what you can expect in each chapter. Although such consistency of structure might sound boring, it results in a book that is easy to navigate & so will also be a useful reference guide.

After the introductory sections, each chapter starts with a picture of the Dynamic Process Transformation Model, which becomes a map for the content of that section. In Part One, that image is the framework of the model. For the subsequent parts, an expanded part of the section of the model for that maturity level is shown in context (giving you key bullet points to recall). Every chapter also has a Key Insight (normally one sentence) at the very start. Then the content is equally divided between explaining the theory for one part at a time & sharing illustrative stories. Those are a mix of both personal experiences from the authors & many case studies revealing theory in practice.

For me, I found two parts of the book the most helpful. The first is how part two reveals the danger of driving only efficiency in business processes & neglecting how effective they are for users. The P&G international relocation process debacle is a great example of such cost-cutting at the expense of employees (a timely warning for many employees today). I also appreciated the detail provided on creating a Service Management Framework & how to communicate a Business Value Proposition from process improvement (rather than just new products).

Should you buy this book?

So, we come to the nub of all my book reviews and my answer is yes. Whatever the maturity level of your business or your processes, I believe this book will help you. Even if your primary focus was not on process improvement, there are some great tips and models for driving greater ownership across organisations.

In many ways, this book reminded me of Tony’s last one (“Why Digital Transformations Fail”). It also has a guiding model which provides a framework for all the content. Both also culminate in a stage that is about how to embed ongoing continuous improvement & innovation into the culture of the organisation. For those leaders who have Digital Transformation programme responsibilities, I recommend reading this book as a complement to the former. It has more to say on the people & process aspects of achieving & sustaining such a change.

Another great sign that the focus of the authors is on helping people apply their hard-won knowledge is the discussion guide at the end of this book. They include two versions (for executives/consultants and teachers/students). Given the primary challenge for most transformation projects is breaking through barriers (structural & mindsets), I recommend CEOs or CDOs use this discussion guide. Working through the provided questions (after everyone has read one part before the meeting) should provide both insights & the needed debate/sharing for collaboration to flourish.

A great practical book for leaders on a topic that matters for business survival.