Successes in Process Automation

The Adelaide BPMLink presentation this evening provided an interesting insight into achieving process improvement through the implementation of a technology platform and the adoption of dynamic processes. I have previously written that I do not favour either of these approaches; however I am having a re-think!

Jane and Marc from Bradham Consulting discussed a process that they successfully implemented using the Handysoft BPM suite and more specifically utilising the BizFlow Office Engine. The business process dealt with very sensitive material that needed to be handled differently depending on the nature of the content; dynamically determined tasks allowed for each instance of the process to be automated while still being controlled and audit-able.

One of the lessons learnt from this exercise was the need to also educate the participants in IT to ensure they have the required level of maturity. I have often through that a big part of the facilitation activities for improving processes is to educate the participants on process management thinking; IT is now an additional important step.

Marc gave us another tip – to help the participants understand the process; get them to draw it.

The team mentioned that there was a large amount of effort put into developing the forms, including incorporating the “reality” processes that were not part of the original analysis. This mirrors my own experience, where I have seen traditional BPMS solutions full short because they do not handle the interface between the user and the automated process – and that is where the majority of the business rules and logic can reside.

My final thought was that the project demonstrated a good use of technology to solve the business problem; which was not necessarily improving the business process. BY doing this well, the organisation is now better equipped to embrace real process management. I’m shifting my approach, how does this compare to yours?

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?

What does BPM mean .. in reality?

When I use the word PROCESS in a meeting or presentation; is everyone thinking the same thing? Even when I had just put a definition up on the wall only minutes earlier?

The answer to that question is probably: “No, of course everyone has interpreted it differently!”

This is an on-going challenge for anyone involved in organisational change, and a key source of resistance and conflict. I think BPM is the toughest type of organisational change as it crosses all areas of the business, introduces a new way to manage what we do and a new way of thinking.

Even on this website, I will use terminology in a different way to my peers, and it will cause comment and conflict! To help you out I have added a new page to the Executive Guide to BPM that provides a Glossary of BPM Terms in the way that I use them. The glossary will never be finished, I will continually add to it. I hope it helps.

What process terms are causing conflict?

One term that I have problems with is SERVICE, or BUSINESS SERVICES. What is a service? How does it relate to processes, work practices and IT systems?

A related question was asked on the BPM-Collaboration website, “What is the difference between a process and a service?”. This generated an interesting discussion (registration to the website is required to access).

I see a business service as a discrete function that is provided to abstract over a sub-process or software solution, e.g. Create a New User. Multiple business processes can utilise the business service without any knowledge of how it is implemented, only that it will achieve the desired result. The functional manager of the service can then change the implementation without needing to change any of the referring processes.

If all of the functional requirements of a business process are met in this way then they become very easy to sustain; however there is a requirement for strong governance and change management to ensure each business services continues to deliver the agreed results.

One solution to the terminology problem is to adopt an organisational Process Taxonomy, describing the meaning of all of the terminology used. When this is linked into a Process Methodology that is trained and adopted across the business, then you will have a much better chance of achieving real common understanding. My glossary may be a good place to start!

Do you have any word based war stories to share? How would you achieve common understanding?

Does the Customer have a place in the Process?

I have previously written about Finding the End-to-End Customer Perspective, in which I wrote about the scope of the defined Business Process having a big impact on the value proposition for the customer or stakeholder. Another aspect of end-to-end thinking is including the customer inside the Business Process.

Why do we need to include the Customer?

Think of a typical Business Process where a customer is making a request of your organisation, maybe they are filling in an application for credit.

The current (as-is) process is considered inefficient as customer contacts the Accounts department and an Accounting Clerk collects all of the relevant information from the customer and then faxes the customer a nearly completed form to finalise and return. It is decided that implementing a self-service web-site will improve efficiency and save the company several staff years in the Accounting department.

The new (to-be) process is implemented, at the start everything looks good, the customers are able to fill in the form on-line and easily print, sign and send the form in. The form is also easy for the Accounting department to process as the information is already available in the accounting system.

However, the Accounting department is busier than ever, the phone seems to be ringing more and staff morale is down. What happened?

The customer is not part of the process. A key part of this process, getting and completing the customer application form, has been pushed out and is no longer considered part of the process; however customers are taking longer to complete the information required, they often don’t understand what is require and they are ringing up for help to complete the form. Once submitted a high percentage of forms are rejected back to the customer because they are incorrectly completed, causing re-work and unhappy customers.

If the customer part of the process was measured, then it would show that the end-to-end process is now less efficient at achieving its customer driven goals than it was previously. The process design may be more efficient from the Accounting department’s perspective; however that is the wrong way to look at it – unhappy customers and staff is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

Another example of this concept is in Gary Comerford’s e-book, The Perfect Process Project; In Chapter 6 there is a great customer perspective story relating to a call centre. Call centres (ironically they are often called customer service centres) are always a good source for processes examples that do not include the customer!

Finally, Michael zur Muehlen has written a great article on the BPTrends site, Service Processes: The Customer at the Centre.

Can you think of one of your Business Processes that does not include the customer? What difference could you make if it did?

Starting with Customer Value

I have had several conversations recently where I have been asked to describe what I do and what is Business Process Management. As part of the reply I have referred the inquisitive person to this website, however I realised that there was no simple description of BPM here – until now.

The Executive Guide to BPM provides some basic information about Business Process Management and what I see as being key to implementing BPM. This page will also be a springboard to a number of artefacts that I will be creating about Process Management and how to implement it!

While writing the guide, I realised that many of the concepts will require further explaining, along with a few good stories to support them. This is a story about Process Thinking and understanding Customer Value.

Eating out in Canberra

A few years ago I was in Canberra for a training session ran by Roger Burlton, a large group from the class went to dinner at a local restaurant. At the end of the evening we all pooled our money and went to the counter to pay.

One of our group was visiting from overseas and needed to separately pay for and get a receipt for their meal to be able to claim a refund from their organisation.

The restaurant had a “We do not split bills” policy, we asked nicely if we could pay for this one meal separately and explained why. The proprietor was serving us and he was sticking to his policy. After some back and forth conversation he was heard to say “It is my restaurant – I set the rules”. By the end of the conversation, he had finally agreed to separately charge for this meal – if we agreed to pay a very small processing fee (we are talking $1 added to a $500 bill).

This is a great example of a policy that is focussed on efficiency, however it clearly destroys customer value – which do you think is better for the business long-term?

Where’s the Customer?

How is process demonstrated in Real-Life?  In a good way – a magnificent moment, or more commonly like this…

Last week I had my first “And they call that a process!” moment since I started this blog, it has only taken a few weeks for this to happen.

There I was, minding my own business, doing my daily check of my Post Office Box. One of the contents was a non-descript – window faced envelope. Thinking it was a bill, or boring government mail I did not open it and left it for later processing. (Coincidentally I also dropped into the bank that day to deposit a cheque, something that I don’t do very often – why is this relevant? You will see)

Later that night I opened the letter to find a Remittance Advice and attached cheque for $3.70. It was from the South Australian Government, Motor Registration Office (note that the last time we paid car registration was over 6 months ago).

There was no letter explaining the remittance, the description did not tell me anything, it just said “Other”.

My question for you (especially if you work in a process area at Motor Registration) is, Where is the customer in this process? Why did you send me a cheque for such a small amount, putting me through the effort to bank it and the associated intrigue, definitely reducing the value that I get from your processes?

The unfortunate part is that no-one will probably be very surprised by this example. Do you have a similar story to share?