The Process Talk

Jeff Sipes, Principal, Back2Basics
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Jeff Sipes, Principal, Back2Basics

Introduction

Have you had the “process talk” with people in your organization? You know what I’m referring to… similar to the talk we have with our kids, except this is all about “processes” in our businesses. If you are a BPM change agent, you either have or will have that conversation with bosses, leaders, process owners, peers, etc.

This really is a serious issue. When a company addresses BPM as an important strategy, you should expect to see that issues regarding overall workflow and interaction between/among functions, departments, and other segments of the business are highlighted. Understanding and executing effective processes is essential to business success. Yet once an organization gets past the shiny veneer of spot improvements, the lack of process understanding becomes glaringly apparent.

Why is “Process” important?

Managing the business around processes is counter-intuitive. Most of us have grown up being instructed to focus on our own work. Others have to take care of their own work. Along comes the BPM change agent saying let’s be process-oriented. For a company early in its transformation journey, you can expect major pushback… especially from middle management.

“Hands-on and intimate is the most effective way to help people with their individual journeys from function to process”

Why middle management? Let’s start by understanding why not front line or executive management. The front line folks have narrower scopes of responsibility. In many cases, an individual’s work happens within a single function. Although the front line individual’s job may be impacted by BPM, they usually do not have to give up control, turf, or freedom. For the executive management, most of these folks are already managing large enough pieces of the business that each is responsible for multiple functions and has a bigger view of the business. Unless there are entrenched politics among the executive ranks, they should be willing to adjust their responsibility and alignment of workflows to accommodate process thinking. They have lots to gain and little to lose.

The middle manager, on the other hand, has worked to achieve a comfortable career status. Maybe even boot-strapped their way to this middle management position and don’t have much upward potential (i.e., there are fewer spots the higher you go in the organization). Although I do not believe this to be true, the perception may be that the changes to go along with business process management take away authority, reduce span of control and generally limit the middle manager’s job. Again it is perception, but not reality.

If we take a mature look at the business, then we look at it from the customers’ point of view. This is necessary for a company to get and/ or stay competitive, and even more necessary for a company to be an industry leader that every other company in the industry is chasing. Customers do not care about your functions, whether a manager has worked hard to achieve a comfortable status, or whether process-oriented changes will disrupt the status quo. They just want excellent service, products, and results.

Approach to Organize Around Process

A good starting point to organize around process is to define the processes that make up the business. The effective BPM change agent should develop the capability to take inventory of the company’s business processes and then begin to categorize them. A basic categorization that works well is to place them in core, support, or management categories. A brief explanation of each includes:

• Core— Those business processes that define the essence of what you do and why customers are willing to pay for product or service. These are the business processes that can separate you from your competition.

• Support— Those business processes that enable the core processes to be successful. Generally in the background as far as customers are concerned, usually do not excite the customers (until the support process is broken, and are then very important to the business). These are on-going, everyday business processes.

Management— Those business pro­cesses that are conducted by manage­ment, represent major commitments to/ by the company, and tend to happen peri­odically. Examples might include annual budgeting, setting strategy, and execut­ing major contracts.

The BPM change agent’s challenge is to help other people in the company to understand process inventory, the categorization, process model, and how the processes fit together to describe the business. It helps people to see how they and their work groups fit in the business model.

This provides a segue to introduce the idea of moving from a focus on vertical execution (functions rule) to one of horizontal execution (end-to-end…from the customers’ perspectives). This is a huge shift in thinking about work. It requires changes in behavior, modification of metrics, and perhaps even realignment of the organization structure. The sort of changes described here go way beyond the shiny veneer of spot improvements referred earlier.

You must invest time and resources for people to develop the process understanding and have an appreciation for the impact this has on traditional workflows. Techniques to develop an appropriate level of understanding include one-on-one coaching with BPM change agent, small group book studies, benchmarking with other companies, and involvement in process assessments and designs. “Hands-on and intimate” is the most effective way to help people with their individual journeys from function to process.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the BPM change agent must be prepared to step up and have the “process talk”. In addition, there is need to understand that the reactions may be different from person to person or group to group. The middle manager and the middle management group may be the most challenging to convince that business process orientation is the way to go.

Technology can help. BPMS can bridge the gaps but people still need to understand the fundamentals of business process orientation and horizontal end-to-end focus. The technology should be an enabler for the people, not a solution in place of the people.

If you get the deer in the headlights response when doing the process talk, you know you need to try again. Be persistent! Without basic process foundation and understanding, you decrease the probability of business success. Don’t assume that people understand, even if they say they do. Talk process with them to confirm there is understanding.

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