Is “military business process” an oxymoron?

It came as a surprise that as I left the Navy officer’s life that so many people thought that my former world was so different from the ‘civilian’ world I was entering. In my first assignment with Perot Systems, I heard comments like, “easy when you could just order someone to do it,” and, “everything is drilled into people so it isn’t like they have to think.” Oh, if they only knew.

Quick impact

The reality is that military people spent the vast majority of their time performing work just like anyone else. We had a time to be at work, we had tasks to perform, processes to follow (and improve), and we had periodic evaluations. The fact that we did these things in a uniform (that had to be spotless) was just part of the package.

I would argue the military strives for business process excellence to an even higher degree than elsewhere. Each officer’s assignment was a fixed-term opportunity to improve on what was inherited. There was great pressure to create more efficient schedules, better ways to train, and more cost-efficient ways to maintain aircraft within the short six to nine months in a particular position. It was all continuous improvement, all the time. A career depended on showing progress…and quickly.

Know the basics…cold

On top of the continuous improvement culture, there was a serious emphasis on being able to perform the basic tasks without hesitation. Emergency procedures in the aircraft were the best example of having to know the important things cold.

When everyone on the crew knew exactly what was expected and had the clearly defined processes to do their work precisely, the result was a well-oiled machine that was able to sustain performance regardless of the external conditions or pressures. When detailed processes is second nature, the culture is continuously reinforced and the outcomes are guaranteed. If only most customer service-focused businesses had that approach.

Taking a page from the military life, if our most-important ways of doing business are accessible, managed and distributed to all, the same result is possible. The entropy that results from people hunting for information or, worse, guessing at how to do work is devastating to a business. We all know very quickly when we seek support from a business whether they have solid processes or not. We know if their people are informed and empowered. Ultimately, it decides when we stay or go elsewhere.

The goal

Consider a world where the basic ways of doing business are defined, deployed and then, of course, measured. I’m not referring to the prevalent approach of expert systems in the hands of experts, but rather to systems that can capture process in a simple format that can be grasped immediately and used by all. When that sort of power is in the hands of everyone, the enterprise has a culture that wins. Gartner is reporting their view that companies that fail to embrace this approach will likely face significant pain and possible collapse.

As the world gets more competitive every day, the need to escalate business process capabilities is only going to grow. In the coming years, the winners and losers will be sorted along the lines of who gains the capabilities to capture, manage and distribute all processes, whether human-centric or system, much the way the military does. The software exists and now it is time for the mindset to catch up.

Of course, there’s the greatest video of all about following proper process…

Chris Taylor joined Nimbus in 2009 as VP Consulting Americas, and leads a team of business process improvement consultants who serve major corporations across the world. Chris’s clients include Nestlé, Cisco, Northrop Grumman, ThyssenKrupp and many others, who use Business Process Management (BPM) tools and techniques to drive process standardisation, improvement, quality and compliance initiatives. His insight to what makes BPM a sustainable success for so many client organisations makes him a valuable industry commentator. Before joining Nimbus, Chris held senior consulting and leadership roles focused on business transformation with ILOG (now IBM), Perot Systems and Accenture. In his early career, Chris managed aircrew and flight operations while flying for the US Navy. He is an avid skier, hiker and sailor and spends most of his off time exploring the mountains and coasts near his home in Southern California and the rest of the world.