Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Jim Boots

In books, business, consulting, nonfiction, writing on August 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Jim Boots

Jim Boots. Photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli (2012).

An introduction to Jim Boots, founder of the consulting group Global Process Innovation and author of BPM Boots on the Ground (Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2012), a book about how to implement strategic business process management (BPM). Boots shares what he learned from working for one of the world’s largest organizations, and gives readers an idea of how to create change within any company. When Boots recently retired after thirty years at Chevron, he pursued a new adventure as a BPM consultant that began with writing this book. As Boots explains it, BPM is about representing processes graphically “to get people to think very deeply about what they do together and how to improve on it.”

Quick Facts on Jim Boots

  • Jim’s company: Global Process Innovation and the BPM Blog
  • Home: Danville, California
  • Comfort food: chocolate
  • Top reads: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, Bringing Out the Best in People by Aubrey Daniels, and The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
  • Current reads: The Consulting Bible by Alan Weiss

What are you working on at the moment?  

I have a client that I’m supporting with business process management. This client is trying to develop their own BPM initiative. Eventually, working with three or four clients would be just right. I’ll be speaking at a conference in the fall, and I am also involved with a consortium called the Innovation Value Institute. And, I’m working on my golf game. 

What made you want to write BPM Boots on the Ground?

At Chevron, I had a whole bunch of different jobs, and my first exposure to process management was in the 1980s with total quality management (TQM). Over the years, it started to occur to me that this was a recurring theme. I realized that I actually liked this process stuff and looking for ways to deal with processes better. It occurred to me that this is really my calling, my bliss, to use Joseph Campbell. I decided to try to develop my expertise on the technology I’d come across, and I started reading even more than I had in the past.

Around 2009 I told myself, if you’re really going to commit to this you need to write a book. It came together nicely with the Innovation Value Institute that I’ve been involved in. They have developed something called the IT Capability Maturity Framework, with thirty-three different capabilities. One of those is BPM, and I became the lead for that one. I realized I could use that framework for the book and that Chevron would be a tremendously rich case study.

Who should read this book?

The CEO of a growing organization or a high-level executive in a company. Someone who, in reading it, starts to have his or her own ideas about what could be done in their company in terms of productivity, engaging the workforce, and that kind of thing. And then, ideally, they would hire me, right? What I mean is, they would seek help to do this. To really make a big change requires management behavioral change first. You need someone with vision, who is committed to making things happen.

You need someone with vision,

who is committed to making things happen.

What do you hope readers will take away from BPM Boots on the Ground?

Well, BPM is a kind of approach that can be applied to anything, to almost any process. It’s a capability that can help people address processes to improve or solve inefficiencies in their business.

How does that happen? Why does it work? The fundamental nature of BPM is really graphical representation of processes, of what we do. You begin by identifying the steps in a process and who does them. The point of BPM is to break things down in a way that allows people to talk about them very simply, to say, “How do we make this more effective?” It’s designed to get people to think very deeply about what they do together and how to improve on it.

What does it take for someone to make change happen within a company?

They should put resources toward accomplishing their goals. They should establish expectations of their organization around aspects of the implementation, which would include a governance structure and measurement of performance on these processes. It requires relatively frequent monitoring of the program.

They have to think about what’s the bottom-line impact. You’re not going to necessarily see that in the first couple months but over time, by the end of the first year, you should start to see results. So, insisting on results, on quality work, insisting that people follow the processes the way they are depicted. Ultimately, I try to help leaders have “a single source of the truth” about the way things get done.

What are some characteristics of effective leaders in your experience?

Well, someone who does not blame people. A good leader is someone who tries to understand the system and the process, rather than lashing out at the people involved. Even if the competency isn’t there, this is also sometimes part of the process—why weren’t the skills there? Lack of training or hiring guidelines? Constancy of purpose is critical.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

Research is something that I’d probably give myself a ‘B’ on overall. I drew a lot on experience, although I also read a lot of books on this topic. I did read a lot to be able to represent the ideas properly, but you have to be willing to recognize that you’re never really an expert in something, there’s always more out there.

 “You’re never really an expert in something,

there’s always more out there.”

How do you balance content with form?

I knew this was fairly technical content, so I wanted enough tables and figures to break it up. That was part of the fun, trying to bring the concepts to life with a picture.

In the structure that I used, there are three parts to the book. The first part is called “Context,” and it explains a little bit about me, about BPM, and about Chevron. It’s basically setting the stage. Part two is “Capability,” and this is where I dive deeply into the building blocks of BPM. Part three is called “Catalysis,” and it’s about putting it into action. There, I stepped away from those capabilities and looked at how it could be done, what it might look like, and the possible impact of BPM on the future.

The whole idea was to make it as real as possible for people so that they can see themselves doing it. Then, I wanted to make them excited about doing it by discussing what all this stuff means.

Did you worry people would find the topic dry?

I wrote in first person so that it would have a human feel to it. And, what makes the book unique to some degree is the compelling Chevron story. There are lots of other books about BPM out there, but most were written by consultants who bounced around from one organization to another—so they’ve seen a lot of different implementations. My unique perspective is that I witnessed the development at Chevron for almost thirty years. As the whole concept of process management evolved, I happened to be involved in a lot of it. Not only talking about it, but actually being the one to help with implementation of this stuff. My book is a personal, very deep perspective on one case study rather than a whole bunch of examples from many companies.

What was your writing process like?

I do most of my writing in my office at home. Sometimes, usually at night, I’ll just get out my pen and paper and do some drawings, like a mind map, to see if it triggers anything for me. Other times, usually more during the day, I sit down and I know what I need to work on, so I start writing. I’m not really disciplined with my writing routine. I might be very productive for a couple days, and then get lackadaisical or need a break or something.

One of the things that helped me with the book is that several trusted readers provided me feedback on “middle drafts” (versus early drafts), and two people in particular read all chapters and gave me some great insights. A good editor was very helpful, but also not cheap.

I more or less worked on a chapter at a time. One big difference between writing a book and writing a paper is that with the latter you can keep everything you’ve already said in mind. With a book, there is a lot to keep track of and it can be a challenge to make sure everything is consistent.

To be honest, it took me quite a bit longer than I thought it would. It took me two and a half years from inception to end, and I originally thought I’d be done in a year and a half. It all came out a little longer than I thought it would, too.

What do you find most challenging about writing?

The day in, day out discipline of it. Sticking with it even though you’re the only one holding yourself accountable, and not being too hard on yourself when you don’t produce much sometimes.

For this book in particular, there were a couple of challenging times. A unique thing about my experience was knowing that Chevron wouldn’t necessarily want to be written about. I didn’t ask them up front. Once I had what would pretty much be the book, I knew it was time to try to get an okay from Chevron. I actually started by having Chevron review a couple of articles I wanted to publish, to open the door. That worked, and then I introduced the book to them.

How long did it take to go through the approval process with Chevron?

It took about six months. They were very reasonable, and they had a few people reviewing it. They were very fair.

Is there a quote about writing that motivates or inspires you?

There’s one quote I actually put on my wall. It’s not famous, but it helps me. Here’s the last line: “Major in the major, don’t major in the minor.” In other words, don’t get off track and spend time on something that isn’t the key point. Stay focused on what you’re trying to get at. I have a tendency to want to answer more than I need to. I had to really remind myself it was okay to cut things out. Yeah, they might have sounded okay, but they really weren’t to the key point. 

“I had to really remind myself it was okay to cut things out.”

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write a lot. I have no doubt I’m a better writer now than I was twenty years ago. Show your work to people you trust, people you’re willing to get feedback from, and listen to them. They usually have a point even if they don’t hit it right on. For me, it was don’t get too worried too early about the structure. Don’t get too hung up on how it’s going to look in the end.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

Not to be too flippant or casual with comments. Don’t go for the clever line. It’s not really why people are reading the book. Striving for an unbiased point of view was also important to me.

When you’re not writing, or consulting, what do you like to do?

Mountain bike, run, lift weights, play Hacky Sack, golf, watch The Daily Show.

About Jim Boots

Jim worked at Chevron Corporation for thirty years in a wide array of functions including sales, total quality management, business development, supply chain management, business management, e-commerce management, health, safety & environment management, enterprise architecture, and BPM program development.  He was the primary force behind the building of Chevron’s BPM foundation from 2005-2010.  He also is a Principal IT-CMF Professional at the Innovation Value Institute with responsibilities that include a role as Lead Architect of the BPM Critical Process.  He now runs his own BPM consultancy known as Global Process Innovation and is author of the book BPM Boots on the Ground: How to Implement Strategic Business Process Management: Lessons Learned from one of the World’s Largest Organizations.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Jim Boots.” Words With Writers (August 17, 2012),]

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