The Process Practitioner: An Independent Evaluation of Lombardi's Blueprint

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Companies are right to be cautious about employing software to solve process problems. Automating a broken process simply serves to make it more efficiently broken. However, documenting processes is the first – and in my opinion, the most important – step in the improvement cycle. When Lombardi recently offered to demonstrate Blueprint, their web-based documentation and collaboration product, I approached the demonstration as a business professional with processes that need improvement, rather than an IT analyst or industry expert. Criteria for evaluation were ease of use,

Companies are right to be cautious about employing software to solve process problems. Automating a broken process simply serves to make it more efficiently broken. However, documenting processes is the first – and in my opinion, the most important – step in the improvement cycle. When Lombardi recently offered to demonstrate Blueprint, their web-based documentation and collaboration product, I approached the demonstration as a business professional with processes that need improvement, rather than an IT analyst or industry expert. Criteria for evaluation were ease of use, a short learning curve, and good collaboration features.

Ease of Use

Anyone who works with PowerPoint, Word, or Visio will find Blueprint intuitive.  Input process steps in visual or text format in one of four views:  process map - a high-level visualization, used as a quick process overview; workflow diagram – a swimlane view, including exception and execution detail; documentation – details in Word format; analysis - used to spot opportunities. Each view automatically updates the others. 

Short Learning Curve

The mechanics are simple to understand. People have different ways of expressing what they do and how they do it, so a choice of visual or text input fosters collaboration.  A drag and drop capability allows for movement to a different milestone or swimlane.  Business users not familiar with process modeling conventions need not concern themselves with anything except describing the process steps as they know them, and drafts are easy to modify.

Collaboration Friendly

Multiple users can view a process simultaneously, and see updates as they happen. The process owner accepts or rejects changes, or reverts to a previous version.  Version control is automatic whenever a user saves a process change. This ensures change control and audit trails. An Instant Messaging (IM) feature allows for on-line conversations during collaboration. Blueprint has all the advantages of a sticky-note session with none of the transcribing. 

How To

Starting at a high level, enter process “milestones”, a term intended to imply a broad-brush look at the process at the enterprise level.  As with other levels, type these in an outline level, or use drag and drop icons – whichever is more comfortable for the user. Milestones do not have owners as process steps do, but there is a place for a process owner. 

Each of the milestones then opens to allow creation of unlimited levels of sub steps. At any level, the program allows the entry of the process step participants, owner, subject matter experts, inputs, outputs, and known problems. 

Features

Impact Analysis:  Known problems in a process step – e.g., a seasonal bottleneck or parts not being available – are described, then given severity (high, medium, low) and frequency (high, medium, low) ratings. The analysis view presents these issues in a list with impact scores. This view makes it easy to see which processes need quick attention.  

Embedded Documentation: Each step has a page for related documentation. The process documentation steps can contain direct links to training aides, escalation lists, or instructions on how to handle exceptions – anything that the business finds useful. 

Documentation View: This provides a comprehensive view of process details. The owners, inputs, outputs, problems, and impact scores all appear in a single list. This view is exportable to a variety of programs, including Lombardi’s BPM suite, Teamworks. 

Projects: Blueprint’s concept wraps one or more processes into projects. These projects carry a high-level description, budget, owner, charter, scope, and goals. The user assigns a weight to each goal. This ensures that processes are consistent with the company’s strategic direction. All information is exportable to PowerPoint, making presentations on the current state of the business easy.

Reusable Elements: It is simple to copy processes, or create a library of common process steps – approvals, budget cycles, etc – for use in future processes.

The Specs

Lombardi hosts Blueprint on secure servers, available only as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).  It is exportable to Lombardi’s process execution application Teamworks using Business Process Definition Metamodel (BPDM), the OMG standard.  Each user pays a $50/month subscription fee.  Subscription is instant.  A free 30-day trial is available for the unlimited version, or a free subscription with limited capabilities can get you started.  Lombardi updates this package every 5-6 weeks, based on user feedback, so not having it installed on site is an advantage for those that want new features deployed quickly and without overhead.

My Take

Overall, business users will find the application intuitive, easy to use, and helpful.  For those still using an unstructured graphical program, or trying to describe their processes in text form, this tool has advantages over both.  Depending on the number of users in the organization, cost might prove to be a barrier; however, factoring in productivity gains and licenses for alternate documentation tools, companies trying to get a handle on their process will find this tool worth the price.

 

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