News of Washington Mutual folding and Congress stalling on bailout plans is not the sort of thing you expect to discuss on a blog dedicated to smart business practices. Wait a minute…aren’t business practices, business rules and business process at the heart of the mess our financial institutions are in? They certainly are! It’s for this very reason that I keep telling those who’ll listen: “BPM is NOT an IT project!”
What is it?
What we do – those of us who design and analyze business processes, rules, decisions, metrics and logic – is attempt to capture and improve the manner in which tasks are deployed in relation to one another and many other interdependent variables from suppliers to information to material resources and people. We also evaluate all of those variables in light of strategy and business goals. Further, we do all of this in concert with people from operations, HR, marketing, service, R&D, production, manufacturing, administration and IT. By virtue of this being about process and system dynamics, we are all in this together. The challenge, my friends, is that the territory we map has values and is subject to ethics and many other business and legal principles. Our banks lost sight of that and the customers followed suit.
Putting the “Business” Back in Business Process Management: Building a Good Business Case
One of the most intriguing and frustrating aspects of this work is the difficulty with which people view and understand BPM in light of the gestalt of business conditions. To that end, I want to offer another list of business case factors to remember. Many of these will help you establish and maintain a collaborative and ethical business process environment and orientation:
- A Business Case is a proposal for some manner of business improvement, innovation, product development or other initiative that serves to help decision-makers make their decision regarding the viability of the proposal. It includes:
- a problem statement and a purpose statement
- an analysis of current performance against your vision, benchmarks and industry standards
- specific goals and objectives including a value proposition
- alternatives and options
- discussion of constraints and risks
- review of political, economic, socio-cultural and technological factors
- disclosure of assumptions
- review of what you’re going to measure and how you’ll measure
- and a cost-benefit analysis
One of the over-arching ideas in building the business case for your project ought to be: “If we are going to commit to spending money and other resources, then what you are doing must be in support of and a benefit to the business.” What you do must have value and be important in terms of serving the highest-value opportunities. We shouldn’t be making changes in process design just because we can and we shouldn’t allow process to reflect risky propositions and immoral behaviors. Neither will produce an outcome to be proud of. You can see why an executive sponsor is both critical to your success and potentially your worst nightmare. You can also see why risk management is so crucial.
Be Careful What You Ask For
I’ve discussed unintended consequences before and this week those words are more prescient than ever. Be thoughtful about change. Solicit input from a wide cast of characters and think long-term. Wide and long for span and asking the difficult questions concerning purpose and vision for depth. Always aim for depth and span.
It may seem far-fetched to you now but I believe we all play a part in designing business processes that avoid the kind of risk facing us today. If you apply yourself with great depth and span and challenge your business practices and processes to live up to your vision and mission, you’ll be alright