BPM: Solving the Right Problem

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Business Process Management projects often end up as "shelfware" for a number of reasons: lack of identifying process goals, misunderstanding the processes themselves, vague initiatives and lack of organization-wide understanding and support. Tammy Adams identifies the main reasons for failure and the necessary steps to follow in order to make process improvement work.

Tammy Adams is a Certified Professional Facilitator, and is a member of the Institute of Management Consultants, American Society of Quality, and the International Association of Facilitators. She is a Business Process Engineer and Facilitator for Chaosity and works with Fortune 1000 clients to identify and transform their business requirements and process constraints into viable projects and system deliverables.

In her talk, Adams discussed several scenarios where BPM is used to improve business processes. Three common triggers for launching a BPM project are quality initiatives, the adoption of new revenue targets, or a business growth opportunity.

With a quality initiative, the business usually calls in a consultant to help identify and document their processes and establish the required process measures. The usual result is some nice shelfware that nobody uses. "Shelfware, like Tupperware, stores good things that left unused, will quickly go bad," said Adams.

The problem with quality initiatives is that too often, the company goals are vague or not tied to anything specific. Adams said it is important to ask the company whether what they are asking for is what they really need. For example, often a company has asked her to document their processes in order to become certified. "Why do you want to be certified?" Adams would ask. She would be told that the order to certify had come from the executive suite, or that marketing told them it was needed, or someone thought it would cut costs. "What actual value will this give the company?" is the question that needs to be asked.

In order to achieve usable results, Adams recommends that a business first establish a cross-organizational team to:

  • Identify the process goals
  • Understand the process (target and future)
  • Assess impacts
  • Identify measures to assess progress to goals.

It is important to identify the end-to-end process owners and develop a realistic implementation plan, then to actually implement the plan.

The second trigger she discussed was new revenue targets. Businesses often restructure their processes to reduce operating expenses and reorganize, then proceed to lay off employees. The end result causes workloads to be handled by fewer people with loss of employee moral. In this case, the goal was to generate revenue, but the process action that resulted was cost cutting, which isn’t the same thing at all, and won't achieve the goal of increased revenue. Doing this usually negates the desired process improvements. The same thing often happens with outsourcing, according to Adams, where the knowledge transfer to the outsourcer comes from employees who will be the first to go.

The most important factor is to clearly see the target. It is necessary to understand the need from various frames of reference, meaning from various problem definitions. Seen from different viewpoints, the problem itself will change. If the problem is framed within the context of cutting costs and layoffs, one set of solutions arises. If the problem is expanded to state that the company is not making enough money to fund its operations as they currently exist, more and different possible solutions are created, such as new revenue streams or making some units a profit center rather than a cost center. Alternate solutions need to be investigated because it helps to understand the problem within the context of what the company is doing. The impact of various solutions needs to be understood and planned for. Some solutions always impact the company more than others.

The third common trigger Adams discussed was a business opportunity. The company defines a new market or product, then builds the requirements and enhances their systems. The result is an enhanced system that supports new needs based on the same old processes. A good example of this is "webifying" something without automating it, such as an online order system that generates a hard copy that is fulfilled manually. In order to see real improvement, it is necessary to involve the processes, the technology, and the people of the whole organization. Employees have to understand how the process works, how it helps them, and how it furthers the goals of the organization.

The answer for quality in Business Process Management depends on asking the right questions:

  • Have you defined a compelling business problem?
  • Have you determined clear goals?
  • Have you received a strong mandate, supported by authority?
  • Have you performed a cost-analysis?
  • Have you projected the effects of your changes on the organization, people, and technologies?

Adams said that many companies still define process ownership in a non-distributed way, where a process is owned by whatever business unit is using it at the time. This means changing or enhancing a process has to be accomplished unit by unit. Other hurdles that need to be overcome include:

  • Competing corporate priorities
  • Business unit resistance
  • Limited understanding of business goals, processes, and measures
  • Getting an end-to-end owner for the process
  • Inadequate senior-management support

In order to get it right from the start, Adams advises:

  • Defining the project and process goals.
  • Delineating process boundaries and the relations with other processes
  • Involving those who know how it works
  • Identifying needed project and process measurements

Adams said that getting process improvement right is a balancing act among the processes, the people of the organization, and the technology. All have to be included to make Business Process Management produce the expected results.


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