Does Apple Have Great Processes?

  • August 29, 2011
  • Scott
  • 6 Comments

Jacob Ukelson recently said:

There was an interesting discussion on ebizQ around the question “What does enterprise tech have to learn from Steve Jobs’ success?” What made it even more interesting for me is that even though the question was asked of the process community, not one person answered “better process management” and certainly not “leveraging a BPMS”. So does that mean that even the process community doesn’t see any way to link outsize success to better process management? – or is this just a quirk related to Apple?

Two thoughts:  first, I think it is a good thing that BPM/BPMS advocates weren’t attempting to take credit for success we didn’t cause.  This doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t have good processes or differentiating process, but with all modesty, I think we have more to learn from Apple than vice versa when it comes to how to run a business process.  It isn’t enough to point at Apple’s success and declare victory for our (or someone else’s) interpretation of how they run their business – we have to tease out the correlated or causal elements and then show that they can be applied intentionally elsewhere.  Instead we should be pointing to those who are succeeding as an example to emulate, not a proof point of our approach – they’re only a proof point if they’re following our lead, rather than the other way around.

Second, I’ve actually made a connection between Apple and BPM several times over the years. I linked to the thread of articles in my ebizQ comment but I don’t blame anyone for not reading them all!

In particular, this one gets the most page views: https://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2009/01/apple-and-business-process-management/

Jacob is wrong in saying that process isn’t what makes Apple great, but he may have a point that process is “table stakes” in the areas we usually think of it (supply chain management, manufacturing, etc.).  Apple’s differentiated processes are their processes for product design and user interface, not to mention their go-to-market decisioning process.  All the great designs in the world wouldn’t be enough if they didn’t have the supply chain process prowess to back them up. But, similarly, all the process prowess in the world isn’t enough if you don’t have the ability to design (see Dell, HP).

Moreover, Apple doesn’t just excel at process where it is obvious.  They’ve innovated with manufacturing process (aluminum casings, glass casings, etc.) that have also differentiated their profit margins and product designs.  These are process improvements – but they’re also process improvements where it really matters.

Jacob goes on to say:

It is clear that companies need to manage processes well, but that isn’t what makes a company great. I am sure Apple had some really good processes, but today those are table stakes. The real battlefield is in the realm of knowledge workers – design, user experience, innovation, customer understanding – and most of today’s process thinking and tools don’t help much there.  That is why I don’t think ignoring process as a success factor is a quirk related to Apple, it reflects what is really important for a company to be successful in today’s world. Process won’t make your company great – design, user experience, customer understanding and innovation will.

Design, by the way, is a process… So is developing a good user experience. The companies that are good at this have process around it – just ask Genentech or Frog Design, to name two. It isn’t “automation” the way most people think when you say “process” but it is a process nonetheless.  But if your focus on process doesn’t include user experience (voice of the customer) – you may find yourself non-differentiated on measures other than price.

I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the ebizQ crowd being momentarily focused on product design, etc.  I’m sure that there’s good process behind those efforts at Apple, and it looks to me like we just take it for granted.

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