Business Process Management: Managing Complexity and Chaos For the Sake of Simplicity

Make no mistake about it – if you’re new to this field as a business process engineer, business process analyst, as an operations manager seeking to discover your inner workflow IQ and archetypal process warrior – you will find that the start of the journey can be chaotic and complicated. BPM is not for the faint of heart in terms of managing complexity nor is it for the meek, quiet, introverted isolationist.

However much simplicity is one of our aims, we have to remember that it’s a little like declaring photosynthesis is elegant and simple. Only in the end is it simple. Only after a great deal of chaos and complexity is managed with some small dose of serendipity, can we look upon it as simple.

Order From Chaos

Your organization, business unit, team, or process reflects many dynamic systems:

  • people of various nationalities, cultures, age groups, and genders
  • people representing various professional specialties, domains and subject matters
  • people from various strata within your organization often with different sources of stress and tactical responsibilities (sadly, even competing interests in terms of performance and appraisal)
  • varieties of educational levels, experience and expertise
  • information originating from various places, transmitted in different mediums and managed (and analyzed) in different ways often made to mean different things
  • policies and business rules akin to social taboos, laws and regulations that attempt to govern behavior
  • physical environments that present opportunities for success as well as barriers and impediments
  • suppliers and customers with often contradictory needs and dynamic systems of their own
  • tools and supplies of varying quality
  • technology and system supports built atop logical models and strict codes

The list goes on and on and all of it is your raw material.

Our job is to take a morass of variables, factors, information and document it logically in order that it can then be understood, analyzed and modified. It’s a rather holistic science, really. Trans-scientific in that it transcends the boundaries of:

  • biology
  • computer sciences
  • engineering
  • business management
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • anthropology
  • physics
  • and political sciences.

Don’t under-estimate (or over-estimate) the significance of what is happening or what is at stake. When we do, business process management becomes superficial and creates a “box” that people under-perform in.

Analyst or Facilitator?

The human dimension of this work begs the question: are you an analyst outside the system looking in or are you part of the experiment yourself acting as the facilitator? I think BPM very much involves the scientist in the experiment. So much so that your facilitation skills – your people skills – can make or break the success of what you’re doing. The act of observation and all of our interaction with the objects of our “analysis” have a direct impact on the outcome of our observation.

The Role of Visibility

Thankfully, we have tools and methods that allow us to take myriad data describing a process and map it in a way that allows everyone to see the same thing from a bird’s eye view for the first time. Do you remember seeing one of those posters illustrating the human anatomy for the first time? Can you recall seeing a map of your city and neighborhood for the first time? Do you remember that “hit” of understanding you got? It all became so simple so suddenly! So elegant and flowing. Somebody knew enough about your city to create a visual tool anyone could look at and eventually become oriented to from an entirely new perspective. That map became the foundation for the change in your understanding. The map enables the insight.

Would it have helped if they had written a book describing with words what your city looks like? Would it have had the same impact to attend meetings in order to hear about the streets in your city? Short answer: No. Human beings, for the most part, need visuals to find a more common understanding in a shorter span of time. Visuals are simpler.

Art or Science?

You decide for yourself. You have many people to manage. You have a great deal of information to illustrate using diagrams. I think it’s a bit of both. Keep an open mind, gather and harvest all the information you can, and consider the quality of experience you want your viewer to have. Remember your purpose…insight.

How have you adapted to all of the complexity you have to manage? What special skills have you borrowed from another discipline to make your job easier? Let us know!

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