Workflow Simple

I recently met with a client who was very interested in mapping workflow and getting some traction on his business process re-engineering for a future state he could only imagine. His interest was the product of a two-hour meeting wherein he learned that knowing what his people do would be a prerequisite for developing a new system RFP. As it happens, this shop has been in business since 1977. Had they ever modeled workflow or attempted to look at their activities through the prism of BPM? Short answer: No. Until now, they have relied entirely on policies and procedures. Their P&P haven’t been touched in years. Essentially, this fellow–the CEO, mind you–hasn’t any idea what really takes place on the “shop floor”. Needless to say, it is a shop that is not only bleeding money, it is missing opportunities to serve its customers more effectively and it is missing opportunities to make more money.

Does Size Really Matter?

The company I am referring to is small by some standards at 350 employees. My firm belief is that size doesn’t much matter once you reach a certain point. What is that certain point? I think once you begin managing subordinates, you have reached that point. Once you have to teach someone else what it is you do, you’re there. Another point may be once you realize that no single person handles all your suppliers and customers and products from end-to-end. Once, that is, you have activities and sub-processes that require changing hands.


If your organization is too small to hire a trained workflow or business process engineer or analyst, then I suggest you buy a book or two and start training yourself. Business Process Managementby John Jeston and Johan Nelis is a great starter on BPM and Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook will introduce you to Lean and Value-Stream Mapping. Getting a grip on concepts and beginning to model what you do will automatically open your eyes to what is possible.


Because it matters. If you’re small, it matters. If you work in a large organization, it matters. There are many reasons to commit the time and effort. Most of all, give yourself the opportunity to eliminate waste, innovate, compete, manage your supply chain better and make more money. Any organization can buy that.

“Not an IT Project”

I think the software vendors would be smart to find new ways to introduce people to workflow and BPM. Start by emphasizing that application development and SOA are NOT the only reasons to develop expertise and improvements. Automation is one of the value propositions. Not the only one. Make systems easier to use. Really simple. Make systems cheaper for small organizations. I know there are free downloads but they’re too complicated to use. Keep it really simple. Business and trade group journals and magazines need to do more to popularize simple approaches and the ROI that can be realized when people know what they’re doing in relation to what others are doing.

Broken Record?

I know I’ve said before and I know I will say it again. I feel like am I performing an autopsy when I go into an organization and discover that they haven’t any idea what they are doing. Fragmentation and dis-organization are the rule in so many shops. I use the word “shop” colloquially. Some of these shops are $50M and $100M companies and some are very large governmental organizations. It makes me simply sad to hear that tax-payer money was used to buy technology that nobody knows how to implement, for instance. It makes me sadder still to know that a healthcare organization can’t deliver quality care because the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I think pride is what may be missing as a driver. If you have anything to add, feel free to comment. I’d like to know if this phenomenon stirs you the way it stirs me.


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