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Process Management – Basics or Bust

Have you ever heard commentary on a professional sports team that seems to crumble just as they seem like they are going to win it all? They tend to show brilliance and a high level of technical skill, able to execute complex plays but then they seem to lose an element that throws them off their game.

They’ve got to get back to basics.

This isn’t just true for sports. Having the basic fundamentals in place is becoming a downfall for organisations as well. With technology advancing rapidly and ‘digital transformation’ being the buzzword of the decade, who could blame organisations for buying into the hype of everything a certain technology can offer? It’s true also in the area of process management.

This post will hopefully provide you with some clarity on why it’s dangerous to invest in process management technologies without getting the basics right, and provide you with four steps to get you started.

There are many emerging process management technologies that are exciting (or maybe I’m just a nerd…) such as process mining, process intelligence, robotic process automation to name a few. And although these technologies have the potential to provide exceptional returns on investment and drive productivity, I would argue that if you don’t have the basics in place, these technologies will only lead to confusion and abandonment.

“Gee, Mike, isn’t that a bit extreme?” I hear you think. Perhaps, but let me explain why.

Let’s take process mining as an example. The premise is that you have existing systems that do things. Great! Those systems within their databases hold data that tells what happened and when. Three pieces of data are required to do process mining, with additional attributes being cream you can work with later for further analysis: Timestamp (preferably not just date), ID number (just as a sale/invoice, or purchase order number), and event name (the thing that happened for it to be recorded by the system).

Example:
12345             
12:01:00 12/10/2020             
Receive Purchase Order

The idea is that within the log of event data, the process mining system will consume the log and return a process model overlaid with some cool operational results such as cycle times, waiting times, and costs, along with showing how many paths were taken alongside exceptions. All of this is wonderful, but only until you realise that to even know which systems to extract data from to find the performance through process mining, you need to have mapped the process showing those systems in the first place.

Ouch.

By skipping the mapping component, how can you possibly know what to expect out of the process mining results? You may get away with it if your company is only using one system, but as you grow and the environment becomes more complex, without a mapped process, the more likely the process mining results will serve as a detriment.

Step 1: Get Familiar with What Process Management Really Is

Business Process Mapping Management encompasses more than just a process map. If the sole benefit is the map and knowing the current state, it will be outdated in five minutes and be doomed to a life in a 3-ring binder that sits on the shelf.

Below is the business process lifecycle as described in the book Fundamentals of Business Process Management.

This model takes us on the journey of first identifying the need of a documented process through to monitoring and controlling the process. The key is that once it is monitored and controlled, there is no need to discover it again. You bring it into a new cycle of analysis and redesign for continuous improvement.

As you see, process management is more than just a process map. It combines in data from operational systems to ensure that the way we designed the process is actually working for real.

Step 2: Determine Why Process Management Is a Good Fit

“It looks nice but why do we need it?” Put yourself in an executive’s shoes. Why would they invest in something like process management? Consider how process management aligns with the firm’s strategy. Will having process management techniques help push the organisation toward its goals?

The goals of business leaders encompasses decision making. Decisions are best made with as many ‘visible’ variables as possible. The process map is one mechanism to help with that, but it also serves a purpose of ‘bringing together’ other pieces of relevant information to help make that decision easier with a higher chance of success.

Step 3: Establish a Strategy & Framework for Success

The question “How are we going to use the solution?” needs to be solved prior to an implementation. Without knowing how you want things to work, and putting together a list of requirements of how you want to ultimately manage your processes, you run the risk of choosing the wrong process management solution to fit your needs (they are not all created equal!), and you increase the chance of the initiative falling over down the track because people had little guidance on why and how to use it.

Strategy

Strategy deals with answering the question of why and what you hope to achieve by implementing process management. Here, describe how it aligns with the organisation overall business strategy and how implementing a solution will help achieve better results. Describe why process management is important. Here are a few examples to get you started:

Describe what business users will experience and how it will improve their lives. Use cases, studies and storytelling, as these are powerful selling methods.

Ensure at this point you have an executive sponsor lined up. Start to identify people who may be able to be a part of an evaluation team and who will be able to add value to the framework discussion.

Framework

At this point, it’s where the rubber meets the road. How do you want to conduct the process management practice within the organisation?

Establish an architecture

Business process architecture shows clear boundaries of business functions, how they are related to one another, and establishes a path on how the work that needs to be completed within the organisation is broken down into smaller pieces. I would recommend checking out APQC and APICS (for the SCOR framework) as a starting point. Use these as guides only, as every organisation is unique and will have different architecture based on their own circumstances.

Establish ownership

Each one of the functional components of the architecture should be assigned a process owner. Process owners are accountable for the process. The higher level of process, typically the higher level role that will own that process. Example: Level 1 & 2 processes are typically owned by C-suite or other equivalent executive roles. As you get lower, you’ll see heads of department and operational managers handle Level 4s and Level 5s (operational end-to-end and activity level processes).

Establish responsibilities

Accountability is sorted, but who is going to execute the process, be informed of outcomes of the process, and be consulted within the process. Careful, this is to do with the operational execution of the process, not the change or continuous improvement of the process, as the process of changing a process is separated as its own line of accountability. This is because the executive responsible for managing the change portfolio may be different to the one managing operational activity. Here, I recommend a RACI chart as a starting point.

Establish a sustainable operating rhythm

One of the biggest challenges with establishing a robust process ecosystem is ensuring that documentation remains up to date as processes change. One of the main criticisms of process management is conceptually it’s all good but the time it takes to manage the documentation is cumbersome. This is because businesses are sold on the idea, but then abandon the solution when things get too ‘busy’. The irony, of course, is that the purpose of keeping the documentation up to date is that you save resources on future discovery, thus making the delivery less busy.

The key here is to ensure that within the change framework process and procedure documentation tasks be embedded into the change process.

Example: Your organisation uses agile product delivery. You are a sprint ahead of the sprint and planning the next change. You have a new future state map with requirements that go into the groomed backlog for the developers to start the next sprint. As soon as development is complete and deployed, you move the future state map into the current state ecosystem (bonus tip is to always keep current and future state repositories separate). This means a couple of important things: A) The documentation is deployed with the change and remain intact as a true state, and B) you have 2 versions of intellectual property, the future state shows all changes in the discovery and design as part of the project, and the current state version only ever changes on a deployment, showing only the history of when the process was changed.

Evangelise and build relationships

Process management is a wonderful way to engage with people, as you have the opportunity to empathise with business users. It’s through this engagement that you will build up the culture conducive to process management success; always showing how process can help people in their work lives and demonstrating why it is important.

Step 4: Execute the Strategy & Framework

It’s time to get cracking. Get your case signed off by your executive, get the implementation prioritised, use your framework as a tool to select the right solution, and start documenting your processes. Soon enough you’ll have an ecosystem of hundreds or thousands of processes that will serve the business and its people to save time, identify further opportunities for improvement, and ultimately deliver tangible cost reduction and productivity improvements.

So there you have it. As you can see, there is quite a lot to think about when it comes to process management, but it is key to keep it as simple as possible. Keep the basics intact, and you’ll see people come more to terms with the benefits they can derive from it. You’ll also be ready to take on more challenges in other process management technologies coming to market. Put the 3-ring binders in the charity bin, and watch as you reap the benefits of a process centred culture.


Michael Fox

Michael is a passionate business process management professional. He is currently a process analyst at Auto & General, bringing thought leadership in the development of process management strategy and frameworks encompassing business, change, technology, and broader architecture. He was previously at Hitachi Consulting involved in the development of a process intelligence and IoT platform. In his downtime, he spends time with his young family, listening to podcasts, and catching up on professional League of Legends matches.