Why Processes need Projects and Projects need Processes

In a recent post, and some back and forth with The Process Ninja, we discussed the Good and Bad of Process Projects; this led me to think about my days learning about process and projects, both of which I am quite passionate about.

Whether you call it a project or not, the only way to make a significant change in an organisation is through a project, as defined “A temporary endeavour … undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives”; however I believe a project is not where a Business Process is made!

How are Business Processes conceived and enacted?

Business Processes have existed in organisations forever, and they will exist regardless of any specific Process Management activities. A Process Management initiative is about improving the way a Business Process is defined, resourced and operated. Therefore, a process project is really about creating capabilities to support the Business Process, not the process itself!

A common theme across my favourite BPM methodologies (Process Renewal Group and BPTrends) is that;

First the organisation understands it’s processes at the enterprise level;
Then, governance at the enterprise level decides to improve a particular process;
A process project is born.

Contrast this to a more traditional approach, where a project is created to improve an area of the business and one of the many outputs of the project is to model the related processes!

So what’s the difference? Firstly, improving the Business Process is why a project exists – so doing process analysis and design is fundamental – not just another output, then once the to-be future process is well understood, then the project is about building capability. This is why a project is necessary – we are changing the organisation to be able to enact the new process!

Roger Burlton defined six areas of capability that projects build to support processes, they are;

  1. Human Competency
  2. Business Rules
  3. Organisation
  4. Facilities
  5. Technology
  6. Motivation

The outputs of the project are to build the required capabilities to support the business process, e.g. The required people skills, decision model, organisational structure, capital equipment, computer systems and reward structures that match the requirements of the business process.

This leads me to a key point; A project does not implement a Business Process; instead the organisation uses the outputs of the project to execute the process the way it has been designed!

  • Projects are created to improve a Business Process (or part of one).
  • Project OUTPUTS are the capabilities that support Business Processes.
  • Improved Business Processes are OUTCOMES of Projects.

Have you found the Problem?

On one side of my world is the process management brick-wall, the other side is the chasm of process theory. Criss-crossing the terrain are the fast flowing reality rivers. This is often what it feels like when I am trying to get buy-in for developing a Business Process Management program.

Why is selling BPM so difficult?

Over the past few years, nearly every BPM conference, user group or meeting of the Australian BPM Roundtable has had a session about executive buy-in, selling BPM or simply, Why don’t they get it?

At the February Australian BPM Roundtable, Andrew Spanyi gave an interesting presentation on Leading Process Change (registration is required to access the BPM Collaboration.com site). One of Andrew’s rare practices for leaders is to have A Compelling Case for Change. Too often BPM is interesting but not compelling.

What is often compelling to leaders is single-points of process improvement; I cannot change the organisation – but I can fix the process in front of me. Andrew covers this in his summary, “No one single successful process improvement, innovation or transformation effort is likely to convey lasting competitive advantage; Process Management across the enterprise does!”

Therefore, there needs to be a compelling reason to do Process Management at the enterprise level – which may be much easier to find in a struggling organisation than in one that is already successful. So what are some of the common problems the may be compelling?

  1. A desire to create “one” organisation – when it is recognised that silos of operations are dysfunctional and there is a desire to create consistent processes across the organisation.
  2. Reducing costs – when there is a need for far cheaper processes.
  3. Improving customer value – often after a poor customer satisfaction survey identifies the need to vastly improve the service and value being delivered to customers.
  4. Poor financial or sales performance – a need to adopt a different approach to save the company!
  5. Increasing visibility – executives want increased visibility of the performance of the organisation, usually coming from a renewed strategic approach.
  6. Fad – a desire to implement process management or a process management system to be adopting an architectural or business approach that is thought to be desirable.

This was just a short list off of the top of my head. I want to explore this further at the Australian Process Days conference “birds of a feather” sessions; please add a comment; sharing problems that we an discuss at the conference session.

Finding the Business Problem

One approach to finding the business problem is to use an analysis tool to understand where your organisation is and where do they want to be, in relation to Business Process Management. The measured desire for change can represent the problem to be solved.

One way to determine the desire for change is to conduct an audit (survey) of key stakeholders and use the information to develop a process model, where is process management in the organisation today (as-is) and where do we want to be (to-be), what are the requirements (KPI’s) and what change is needed to get us there (the process project).

This can be done using an existing BPM Maturity Model, which is not an area I have had much experience in; however my initial experience has been that finding and adopting a suitable tool is not easy; either to find or to use. What’s your experience?

Good Projects versus Bad Projects?

A passionate spiel from The Process Ninja entitled, “Lessons from a Process Project Failure“, hit home with me as I was reading it today. Craig has reflected many situations that I have also experienced with projects, especially the paradox when a project is celebrated as a success when the end result has been less than ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to celebrate the achievements of the organisation; however the issue is that the lessons are not learnt and the failings of the project are destined to be repeated.

The most disappointing project failures I have seen have been where the initial benefits sought included a strategic vision that the new process would be delivered to increase customer value and maximise enterprise value – by the end of the project both of these ideals have been de-scoped and the organisation is often left with another process implemented in isolation, committing the organisation to a maintenance and integration burden and not adding any real value to the customer. Innovation has most likely been lost to “just making it work”.

I often start a project with big picture thinking; “What is the best way this process can be done for the organisation, the customer and our part of the business”, how do you think I go? Generally I don’t get very far, it’s a great idea to be strategic; however the project owner has already scoped and budgeted the project – there is rarely enough money or brain power to do it right. “That’s OK, we’ll pick the rest up the next time around”; but we never do.

The worst part is that the people who are really passionate about Business Processes end up delving down into the analysis or the system and are never heard from again, paradise lost.

There are a number of solutions to this problem, including integrating portfolios, projects and process management. The solution I will be looking at involves adopting Process Thinking across the organisation… If a project is hard, how can we achieve such a deep change in thinking?