Trying to define what’s in a process is like trying to outline what’s in a recipe. Not only are there ingredients, but there is also a set of steps that must be completed in a specific sequence; otherwise, the output or end result may not be what was expected.

 

Imagine a professional chef trying to make pies. First comes the pastry for the pie crust. The chef mixes the flour, salt, shortening and a bit of water to get the pastry to the right consistency so that it can be rolled flat and placed into the pie plate. However, he decides that shortcuts can be taken. Everything is mixed together all at once, and the water is added is not the correct amount. When the pastry is mixed, the chef ends up with paste! Now what? Maybe he can hang some wallpaper with it! The pastry certainly is not going to work for the intended pies, because the recipe was not followed.

 

Baking is a process. To succeed, one must follow the recipe, though there are dishes and meals with which a chef can be somewhat creative. The same is true in business. If an organization is to achieve its desired output with quality criteria met, processes must be defined and followed. Many dimensions and factors come into play with the definition and execution of business processes.

 

In this article, I’ll explore what the dimensions and factors of well-defined and high-quality processes look like. I’ll examine how a business can define and articulate those processes, dimensions and factors so that there is efficiency and effectiveness in the change management and continual improvement of those processes over time.

 

Recent years have seen a resurgence of talk about business process management (BPM). Many books have been written about business process re-engineering, optimization and governance. Finding a sufficient definition for BPM is somewhat challenging, especially when we hear of the many facets and interests of the attendees at the BPM conferences, seminars and exhibitions. Analysts tell us that BPM includes the modeling, implementation, measurement and monitoring of business processes. That’s all true, but before any BPM solution can be successfully deployed, it must be defined at a level that includes detailed information about the automation involved, as well as any manual work processes necessary. There’s the rub. There’s too much talk about the automation and not enough about the people interactions and responsibilities in the process.

 

In even the most smartly automated environments, there will still be a mountain of manual work required to get the job done. Whether a business is looking for an off-the-shelf BPM solution, or whether the initiative is Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, risk management (e.g., SOX), or even a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) or other purchased software solution, the process documentation that drives each of these initiatives must be based on a common design and theme, and it must be reused, otherwise there will be chaos.

 

Usually, that’s just what happens. The reason is not difficult to discern: Large organizations tend to be divided into business units or departments. Each of those divisions has executive leadership and budget. Typically, what happens is that different departments run various initiatives, such as those outlined above. And even if cross-department communication is very good, there will still be gaps. Too often, those gaps come into play as the various groups redundantly create silos of process documentation. Imagine the operational impacts when there are multiple and differing views of the business processes. The people executing the day-to-day business can be confused. They may even decide to go their own way; i.e., not following any of the documented processes of the business. If only the business process leaders had worked together and off one base set of process documentation, much time and effort would be saved, while enterprise-wide efficiencies would be gained.

 

How many views of the process (i.e., the recipe) does a business need? And then, when the business finally realizes that there are multiple views, they will typically have yet another initiative to reconcile all the varying views of the processes. Imagine how much fun that can be!

 

Just like a chef’s recipe, there are ingredients and steps in a process. Typically, there is some type of input or trigger that initiates a process. There’s also data that is created or used by the process. Think of these elements as the ingredients. Now imagine that there are discrete and dependent activities within the process that must be performed when the input is received or data retrieved. Data can come from systems/applications or from people. Actions within the process may be automated or manually executed. For almost every process, there is a mix of automated and manual work. So, two of the dimensions for a process are “systems/applications” and “people executing work.”

 

Other dimensions include the data or transactions that flow through processes. Factors that control process behavior include business goals and strategies, regulations, business rules, policies and standards. Imagine that you have a set of processes where the behavior of the process is mandated by some regulation. Imagine now that the regulation changes. A smart business that is well managed and thoughtfully controlled is able to perform impact analysis when such mandates change. This obviously makes for a relatively smooth ride, especially in such regulated times as we have today.

 

A well-defined process model has much more than a flow defined via a simple diagramming tool. It has actual relationships to the dimensions and factors described above. A flat, static view of a process is only interesting to those who have a one-dimensional view of what they are to be doing in business. The business process management team of any business can turn itself into better performing managers (BPMs) through the use of a true set of business process models.

 

These models will be characterized by not only representing the flow or sequence of activities/work, but will link to the systems that are used to execute the work; they will link to the people of the organization that are responsible and involved in the work; and they will link to the data and transactions of the business to clearly show which data is flowing from activity to activity, and from role to role.

 

These models will have metrics so that the process and work within the process can be measured. They’ll be linked to the governing rules and regulations so that effective and efficient change management can take place. As change management cycles occur, the business will have multiple revisions of the process models. Executives will be able to ascertain the system and organizational transformation plans necessary to effect the change.

 

Keep in mind that for almost every process evolution exercise, there will be more than just systems change (IT change) required. Organizational needs and personnel skills must be accounted for. If the organizational dimension is ignored, there will be another story about failure in process management and business change.

 

So, regardless of why a business is process-driven; i.e., quality management, enterprise architecture, business architecture, business process management, business performance management, or any other such high level initiative, it is essential that the business have a high quality set of business process documentation. What’s more, it is essential to the business in these dynamic and changing days to have a well-defined set of business process models, not just static, flat process diagrams.

 

If a business is to be responsive to change and remain competitive, its ammunition will come from its ability to inspect, analyze and forward-engineer its processes and its business… before its competition! Responsiveness to change is absolutely essential, and only by recognizing what’s in its processes will a business be able to react in a speedy and effective fashion.

 

Just like recipes and baking, business processes can and will continue to be improved and optimized over time. You can even buy ready-made pie crust these days and drop them into the pie plate, just as you can purchase BPM suites from large vendors and drop them into your day-to-day business operations. How do they taste, and how do they perform? That’s up to you! Regardless, only through a full understanding of all the dimensions and factors of your business processes will you be able to optimize. And it’s important to recognize that the job is never done. As soon as you think you have the ultimate process, some other business or competitor will take you to task, and you’ll be right back in the process improvement cycle.

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