Are your business processes still up to the required standard?

Particularly now, in the major economic recession that has set in due to the Corona lockdowns, the quality of your business processes have to be top notch. After all, this is the determiner of the operational performance your company delivers.

Over the years your customer base will have changed, but so too has your supplier base, your products and services, your employees, your IT-infrastructure and your organisational structure. With every change your processes have been affected and now they are rather a tangled web with insufficient performance.

Understanding how your processes behave – a prerequisite for improvement

The scale of the current crisis requires companies to move quickly. You want to cut costs, slash cycle time, serve customers faster, get things right first time, improve reliability and be more agile. Therefore, you need a 100% fact-based insight into how your business processes are currently performing – and this can only be obtained through Process Mining.

Process Mining – the gateway to rapid operational performance improvement

How business processes behave is determined by the way those processes are designed and represented in IT-systems on the one hand and how your employees behave on the other. The good news is that this information is already captured in the log data in your IT-systems. This log data can be loaded from your IT-systems into the Process Mining software tool and, literally at the touch of a button, it then displays your process, as it behaves in daily reality, with all the process variants, rework loops, bottlenecks, compliance issues and more. Static, as a process flow, and dynamic, in the form of an animation. In short, a fast and effective way to understand processes and make an effective impact on those things that really matter.

The power of Process Mining

Process Mining (PM) quickly puts an end to “underbelly” discussions because it is fact-based. With PM, both the entire process and an individual case can be analysed – and everything in between. After loading your log data into PM, interactive “deep dives” can be organised with the people involved in the process. Our experience is that the root cause of problems is discovered in a short time and it quickly becomes clear which actions need to be taken to solve problems and seize opportunities.

Steering the company in volatile times

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a swell across business markets, in terms of both volatility and financial risk. To sail the company ship through these rough economic seas, your compass needs to be accurate and the quality of decisions and actions taken must be right. All crew members need the appropriate information to make the right decisions and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. More often than not the crew sails blindfolded, unable to act effectively; the company drifts off course and targets are not met.

The Performance Management System

This is where the Performance Management System (PMS) comes in. In Part 1 we focused on an appealing vision and ambition – the dot on the horizon to sail to. In Part 2 we considered how to align the cost structure with this vision. In Part 3 we deployed the vision and ambition through all organisational levels and made sure that everyone in the company was aligned and owned the targets. In Part 4 we looked at how to design the key business processes. The PMS ties all of this together.

The PMS is like the control panel in the bridge of a ship. In fact, it is a set of fast and slow Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles. PDCA – the good old Deming cycle. The basic principle is shown below.

On the right is the “P” column: turning the annual budget into a daily activity schedule. The lower horizontal part is the “D” area: the actual business processes where activities are done. On the left is the “C” column: reporting actual performance against the targets. In the middle is the “A” column: the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meetings in which actions are formulated and decisions taken to drive actual performance to KPI targets based on the information and insights supplied through the reports. The fast cycles occur shift-to-shift, day-to-day and week-to-week. Above that the slower cycles are active.

It is important to ensure that the PDCA cycles are closed and that the faster and slower ones work in synch. Closed PDCA cycles drive actual performance to KPI targets.

Purpose of the Performance Management System

The purpose of the Performance Management System is to (1) manage the organisation and the business processes to ensure delivery of the company goals, (2) support the development and continuity of effective behaviour of people at all levels in the organisation, and (3) facilitate people to work as “one team – one goal”.

In November 2020, McKinsey published an interesting paper entitled “Value creation in industrials”, a survey of the US industrials sector. The purpose of the analysis was to gain insight into the factors that determine performance in the industrials sector. Value creation was used as an indicator, measured as annual growth of the total shareholder return (TSR). The research covers the period 2014–2019. So, what are the conclusions on how to create value in Industrials?


The industrials sector is broad and diverse. In order to compare companies in a meaningful way, McKinsey divided the sector into 90 so-called microverticals. More on that later.

The main conclusions about how to create value in Industrials:

  1. Even in good times, TSR performance across and within microverticals is highly variable.
  2. Despite the tailwind or headwind, companies ultimately determine their own destiny.
  3. The TSR performance gap between the best-performing and worst-performing companies within a microvertical is substantial and growing.
  4. Companies with strong balance sheets for 2019 have, on average, outperformed their competitors: the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the best and worst performers.
  5. Operational performance, and in particular margin improvement, is by far the most important factor in value creation.


While the manufacturing sector performed well at an annual growth rate of 11 per cent between 2014 and 2019, performance varied widely between the ten subsectors. Now the diversity between and within the subsectors is very great. In order to properly identify the factors that determine the performance, the study worked with 90 groups of companies that carry similar products and that focus on a similar end market: the so-called microverticals.


Five categories emerge from the research: (1) regulation, (2) consumer and socio-economic, (3) technological, (4) environment, and (5) industrial structure and movements of players in the market. Any one of these trends can cause a tailwind or headwind – often both. Measured in revenue and margin growth, these trends predominantly work out well for the top-performing microverticals and negatively for some of the bottom microverticals.


First of all, the fact that the company is in a top-performing microvertical is no guarantee that it is a top performer. It can also be seen that the best-performing companies within a microvertical perform substantially better than the worst-performing companies within the same microvertical. The performance gap is substantial and growing.

McKinsey found a 2,600 base point difference in TSR between the best- and worst-performing microverticals. Approximately 30 per cent of companies performed significantly better or worse than what the performance of their microverticals would have predicted. So success depends not only on whether you are in the “right” microvertical; a company’s actions are also important. Individual companies can do a lot to determine their fate, even when headwinds and tailwinds affect microvertical performance. Furthermore, the survey found that, on average, companies with strong balance sheets for 2019 outperformed their competitors, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the best and worst performers.


To determine which actions matter at a company level, the TSR performance of individual companies was analysed. To this end, the TSR was divided into three broad elements:
1. Operational performance
This element refers to how a company uses its capital to increase revenues and operating margins; this category also includes a company’s ability to generate value for its shareholders in a scenario with no growth and unchanged profitability. The latter is a measure of the starting position of a company.
2. Leverage
Leverage refers to how companies use debt to improve their TSR performance.
3. Multiple expansion
This element refers to opportunities to take advantage of changes in how investors see the future.

Figure 1 provides insight into the way in which companies secured their position.

Figure 1. The way in which companies secured their position.

 Of the three elements of TSR, operational performance was found to be the strongest predictor of TSR CAGR from 2014 to 2019 for all quintiles (Figure 2). Operational performance had the highest correlation coefficient with TSR performance, at 50 per cent, followed by leverage (about 30 per cent) and multiple expansion (about 10 per cent).

At the top-performing companies, operating performance contributed to 18 percentage points of the 27 per cent TSR growth. And for the worst performing companies −6 percentage points of −11 per cent TSR growth.

Figure 2. Operating performance had the strongest correlation with the company TSR.

 Within the operational measures, margin expansion was a major contributing factor and also the strongest determinant of the company’s TSR performance (Figure 3). With a 90 per cent correlation to business performance, the profitability extension (margin) adds an average of 8 percentage points to the 18 per cent operational performance of the top performing companies and takes 8 percentage points away from the lowest quintile companies, where the business performance is on average −6 percent.

Figure 3. From the operational statistics, margin expansion proved (often made possible by technology) the main determining factor for the company’s TSR.

Looking at the top-performing companies, it turned out that their success had depended mainly on taking three steps:

  1. Leveraging technology to achieve profitable growth.
  2. Establishing better supervision.
  3. Building a platform for future expansion.


 To further increase the likelihood of continued success, companies need good supervision. Executives must balance their time between creating and executing strategies, and periodically reassessing and rebalancing the business portfolio. Along the way, they should look for ways to improve earning power through rapid (two-year) cycles of margin transformation, leveraging technology wherever possible.



Industry 4.0 is in the spotlight. And rightly so. The possibilities are great: higher productivity, a better customer experience, lower costs and perhaps a new business strategy with innovative products and services. And there is an outright need: without Industry 4.0 a company has a limited future. Unfortunately, many Industry 4.0 implementations get stuck. Let’s find out why this happens and how to prevent it happening to you.


There can be three issues with data: not good, not available, poor quality. This is often due to IT systems not being set up properly, data not being entered or being entered incorrectly, log switches to register log data not being set correctly, or the data entered being of poor quality.

In addition, the knowledge of business processes is seldom up to standard. How do processes behave in daily practice? How should they run? This means that people are unclear as to which data should be captured and how the data should be managed.

It is therefore important to know ​​the business processes and how they work both in theory and in practice. This is the basis for a good KPI and reporting structure. Getting this right will ensure clarity around which data must be collected, which information is required for whom at what time and how to manage the processes for maximum effect. It will also mean that data availability and quality will increase – thus building the foundation for Industry 4.0.


Many companies still have a strong departmental orientation instead of an end-to-end process focus. This leads to limited insight into and understanding of the interdependencies between functions and departments. A strong departmental orientation also means that data is locked up in silos.

Industry 4.0 focuses on the integrated control of the end-to-end processes that run through various departments and even across company boundaries. That is why departments are asked to work together seamlessly and to share data and information. An effective IT infrastructure facilitates this.


The introduction of Industry 4.0 requires a significantly higher level of knowledge of the

industry, of business processes and of analysis applications. At every level in the company and within every position, people must be able to handle data well and be skilled in its analysis.

The technical structure of these cyber-physical systems is becoming more complex, and more and more decisions are being made by algorithms. Therefore, it is important that companies develop the knowledge and skills to build applications and assess the behaviour of algorithms and the insights they provide. The introduction of Industry 4.0 requires intensive collaboration between departments and disciplines to develop people and resources at pace.


The introduction of Industry 4.0 affects all aspects of an operating model. The top team needs a shared vision about the value that is required for various stakeholders, and how that value is delivered – the operating model.

Too often, a joint vision is ill-considered and not adequately thought through, resulting in insufficient alignment with the roadmap. In such a situation, an implementation inevitably comes to a standstill.


The biggest challenge in an Industry 4.0 implementation is not so much choosing the right technology, but dealing with the absence of a data-based and digital performance culture and the corresponding skills gap in the organisation. Investing in the right technologies is important – but success or failure ultimately does not depend on specific sensors, algorithms or analysis programs. The crux lies in a wide range of people-oriented factors.

Since Industry 4.0 transcends not only internal departments but also the boundaries of the company, its success is predominantly dependent on skillful change management.


In essence, the reasons why Industry 4.0 implementations get stuck are no different than with other company-wide transformations whose aim is to create a sustainably high-performing organisation. It will not surprise you that the chance of failure is roughly the same: 70%.

Therefore, in the first instance, do not focus too much on just the technical side of the transformation. Instead, concentrate on skilful change management. The technological content side of the transformation is not your main problem. The development of a data-based and digital performance culture and the corresponding skills set is.



Inevitably, after every recession the economy grows again. Research by Bain & Company, Harvard Business Review, Deloitte, and McKinsey shows that the best companies continue to grow their EBIT during a recession and also accelerate faster after it when compared to other companies (see Figure 1). Let’s take a look at what the winners do differently to accelerate their profitability during and after a recession.

Figure 1. “Winning companies accelerated profitability during and after the recession, while losers stalled” (Source: Bain & Company).


 We’ve integrated this research material to generate a clear picture of the 7 key actions you need to take for success.


How do you want your company to look and run in three to five years from now? And in one year? What are the vital few strategic initiatives to focus on? Make sure your leadership team is committed and fully aligned.


Mapping out your plans depends on your strategic and financial position

(see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Mapping out your plans requires an assessment of your company’s strategic and financial position (Source: Bain & Company).


This is not about blunt cost cutting; the focus is on aligning your spending with your vision and strategic initiatives. Zero-based Alignment / Budgeting is a good way to select and make lean  those activities that are fully aligned. The “currency” you free up can strengthen your balance sheet and support your investment agenda.


 Retaining your customers is so much cheaper than acquiring new ones. The margin impact is significant. Explore ways to help your customers through the downturn and strengthen your relation with them. And be sure to focus on the right customers.


 Nobody knows when and how a downturn will unfold and when the economy will start to grow again. The winners have developed various scenarios, and they know how they should act in each scenario. This allows them to move quickly and decisively.


Winning companies act quickly and decisively, both in the downturn and particularly in the early upturn when the opportunities start to arise. They have already created the “currency” to invest.


Not all companies have been equally aggressive in adopting new technologies. There are many opportunities here for improving efficiency or generating more value and thereby gaining a competitive advantage. The current COVID19 pandemic could well be an important catalyst.


This means that you have to be prepared for an economic downturn to come out as one of the winners. It should be noted that in these key actions, there is, in fact, no difference between being prepared for an economic downturn and running a business for continuous and maximum success. This picture is consistent with one that emerges from one of our other articles “How to create value in Industrials?”.