Perspective | Process Management
Is your company ready for BPM software? Maybe there are still some steps to take internally.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Let’s assume that you know the need for clear business processes in your company. The problem is that if you’re the only one then it will remain an idea. So how do you build internal support step by step? This article is based on our learnings from hundreds of conversations with people that have worked on building the case for Business Process Management software in their organizations. Some have failed and others have succeeed. Here we summarize the do’s and the don’ts, so you don’t have to repeat the mistakes for others.
The three stages of business process awareness
Before we dive into this I want to spend a moment to reflect on what awareness really means. Just like in all other business areas you – and your colleagues – go through different stages of ‘business process awareness’:
- The ‘unknown unknowns‘ – you don’t know what you don’t know. This is when you keep seeing the same problems over and over again but you don’t see that they are related.
- ‘Known unknowns‘ is when you start realizing that there is a root cause behind your problems. You just don’t what it is.
- ‘Known knowns‘ – now you know the root cause. E.g. the many unhappy customers that complain to your support desk had a used a specific product in a way that it wasn’t designed for. Now you can work on related processes to ensure this is clearly communicated and can be handled by customer support.
With this in mind, we would like to suggest that you ask yourself these four questions to uncover your organization’s process awareness:
- Do I see a critical and urgent problem that is related with our use of business processes – or lack thereof?
- Does my organization see a critical and urgent problem that is related with our use of business processes – or lack thereof?
- Do we have a formal function or role for defining and strengthening our business processes – and ensuring they are used?
- Has our process function realized that drawing a process map is just a start?
A clear ‘Yes’ to a question means a higher level of awareness and that you are ready to go to the next level. Let’s explore each question a bit more:
Do I see a critical and urgent problem that is related with our use of business processes – or lack thereof?
It all starts with you. If you can’t articulate a problem that is both perceived as critical and urgent for your organization to solve – and clearly connect it with a business process that isn’t working – or simply isn’t known, then you have to work on that. Or as one of the fathers of modern production puts it…
”If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”W. Edwards Deming
What Deming is saying is that the basis for understanding any recurring problem is to understand the activitiy behind it in a systematic way. This is where a process can serve as a common language for the company’s responsibilities and activities.
To summarize, you can clearly say “yes” to this question if you can formulate a statement like this for your problem:
“I know that many customers are unhappy since they use [product X] to [purpose] which it is not made for. Our product marketing team doesn’t align its communications clearly with our sales and support teams, so they end up setting the wrong expectations and can’t explain why [product X] isn’t fit to [purpose].”
With a clear answer to this question you’re ready to go to next level of awareness.
Not there yet?
Then take these steps:
- Make a list of five critical and urgent problems that you see in your organization.
- Prioritize them based on their severity and frequency.
- Try to relate each with related, underlying processes that may or may not exist.
- Formulate it as a problem statement just like the one listed above.
Does my organization see a critical and urgent problem that is related with our use of business processes – or lack thereof?
Remember the problem example from earlier? Let’s revisit that. If product marketing doesn’t see and realize the problems that their communications are causing, then they may perceive the problem to be with sales, support or even the customers. Now the scene is set for a political infight with no winners.
Often the problem is realized but no one knows how to solve it since there is no ‘Product introduction process’ that can help the different functions to work together. So with no knowledge of what to do and no clear lines of responsibility, then each function head may blame the others and nothing happens to solve the problem.
So, is there a common perception that the lack of a Product introduction process has the consequence that the different functions involved can’t solve this problem once and for all?
This is often one of the biggest hurdles. If managers are seeing most problems as unique and doesn’t recognize any underlying patterns, then the need for business processes will not be realized broadly. It is more a culture of ‘fire fighting’ where people are rewarded for putting out fires, rather than preventing them from starting again.
If it is widely recognized by employees at different levels that the company suffers from a lack of clear, common business processes, then you are ready to go to the next level of awareness.
You can tell by how often the word ‘process’, ‘procedure’ or ‘way of working’ is used when speaking about recurring problems.
Not there yet?
Then take these steps:
- Talk to the colleagues that suffer the most from the specific problem not being solved. E.g. you can use the Lean philosophy’s ‘Five why‘ questionning technique to get them to reflect on root causes. Let’s take the example from before:
WHY are customers unhappy?
WHY is the product used for purposes it is not made for?
WHY doesn’t product marketing communicate the uses more clearly?
WHY don’t they know this customer feedback?
WHY isn’t there a product introduction process?
- Formulate a 1-page problem outline using e.g. this A3 template.
Do we have a formal function or role for defining and strengthening our business processes – and ensuring they are used?
Is the problem with customers using a product the wrong way the only one that can be traced back to a lack of business processes? Most likely not. What about the sales people that perform so differently? Or the new hires that often leave us again fast? The root causes behind these problems can probably also only be found with the systematic approach that a process can give us.
When management teams realize this and start caring about ‘the business system’ as a whole, then they most often see the need for a Operational Excellence, Lean or Process Excellence function. Depending on company size it most often starts with a first, dedicated and experienced hire. Often that person has to go back to the second question and start building the case for a comprehensive and systematic approach to business processes.
Not there yet?
Then here are some suggestions for what to do:
- Collect a number of problem outline that each is supported by colleagues. Now you’re showing that the problem is systemic.
- Write a case for action and circulate this. This 1-page business case example may help you – it’s written for the example that I’ve mentioned in this article.
Has our process function realized that drawing a process map is just a start?
Unfortunately, some Process Excellence teams see their purpose as doing requirements specification for systems only. They map process flows that serve the basis for ERP implementation. While this can be very useful and a great driver behind Business Process Management it has to be closely connected with the rest of the organization.
This is where the process experts realize that mapping and modelling alone doesn’t solve real business problems.
Have you created lots of process maps but they are not being used? Then maybe you are ready to go from Visio or Lucidchart drawings that can be found on a SharePoint or intranet site, to turn these process maps into tools for helping and engaging the rest of your organization.
Now you’re ready for Business Process Management for People.