Category Archives: Business Process Fundamentals

Taking Care of Business: Why Context and Need are at Heart of Business Process Design

For those of you who don’t know, my BPM consulting work focuses on the healthcare field. Nowhere is the answer to the question “Why?” more striking and evident. When people begin (and I do mean begin) to think in terms of “Why do we do this?” and “Why do it that way?”, the answers inherently gush with reasons that make you sit up and take note. And nowhere have I paid witness to answers and reasons that are so incomplete as to send shivers up and down my spine. If you’re not sure what I mean, give up an afternoon of your time, sit in your local emergency room and watch how people there do their thing. It’s free, entertaining and the best open source forum for organic, dynamic examples of workflow and process in action.  You won’t be sorry. Mortified at times but certainly not sorry.

From this healthcare standpoint, let me say a few things about context. First of all, if you’re relatively new to BPM, BPR, BPA and all of the other acronyms, you should become aware and fluent in context diagrams. Context models and diagrams allow you to illustrate (simply) understanding of the transactions between stakeholders or entities and the outcomes that are expected as a result. For instance, if a hospital submits a billing to an insurance company, the expected outcome is a payment. These diagrams also take into account indirect interactions. In doing so, they begin to conjure SIPOC diagrams but are different in that they take a very broad Business Process Overview that includes all of the possible stakeholders (direct and indirect) and display – at once – all of the interactions in simple, straight-line fashion.

Business Process Overview – The Bird’s Eye View of Context

By illustrating all of the transactions and expected outcomes possible over an entire array of workflow and activities in a highly simplified diagram, the reader gains immediate insight into the context and the needs of all of the stakeholders (my expected outcome is directly related to my need). This may sound elementary but I promise you that in this highly inter-dependent and inter-connected world, few people grasp and understand the value and relationships involved in the working world they inhabit. Again – from the healthcare field – how many people understand that the answers, information and data they harvest are being used by Immigration, CDC, Public Health, Policy and Legislative, and Insurance officials simultaneously for vastly different reasons?

Taking Care – Taking Heart

When people understand fully the value of their work product, when they can see themselves and their activities in full view of the context, then they grow more intimatley connected to the people and stakeholders they are in exchange with. It isn’t a matter of giving you what you asked for. It  is a matter of helping you satisfy a goal or a need. If I work in a restaurant for example, the meal I serve may be the context for a marriage proposal, a landmark business deal, a birthday or the only respite a couple will get from their hectic schedules. That meal may be what restores patience or hope. If I work in a clinic and I have to enter data today, I may be entering the data that enables an epidemiologist to spot a viral outbreak or I may be entering the data that assures my patient of full and prompt insurance coverage. I may be avoiding a medication error and saving their lives. If it sounds dramatic, context reminds us that  it is.  Take pride in the work you do, my friends.

Economy Prods Business To Recognize Necessity Is Mother Of Invention And BPM Is Her First Born

There are some fabulous examples of companies who get it. “It” is the urgent and important need to do things differently. It’s so simple, in fact, that it trips otherwise smart people up and is sending more businesses of all shapes and sizes to the brink. Simplicity is so elusive.  We crave complexity – particularly in our work – so we can show off our unique skills and maintain our competitive advantage as individuals. That lust for complexity, individual notoriety and competition among our own ranks is what is killing us off, my friends. Striving for simple and cooperative when conditions are such as they are is what saves us. Your competition is out there, not in here. Your customer wants your product, not you. Your price comes down and your quality goes up when you get simple. You get simple when you learn to manage your business process with the right intentions, motivations and vision.

Learn From Example

The very best example I have seen this year is that of Hyundai. Not only are they making a far better product than in the past, they have applied process innovation to their marketing and sales strategy at a time when every other major car manufacturer is bailing out. The adage that you can leverage economic crisis to your advantage with marketing and sales is true. They have stepped up sales to rental agencies, launched a new advertising campaign and re-engineered their financing allowing customers to return financed cars they can no longer afford without any penalties and without any credit score blemish. I was floored when I read about it in Business Week magazine (February 23, 2009).

What If?

What Hyundai has done – and what many other companies out there are doing – is successfully asked “what if?” The rules are changing in very big ways and you need to change and innovate just as quickly (if not faster). Hanging on to old notions of how things are done (the very essence of BPM’s mission is to slay that kind of thinking) is what will drag you down. Your business cannot outlast transformed environmental conditions. These economic conditions, this climate is having the same chilling effect on Circuit City (RIP) as the last ice age had on the sabre-toothed tiger. A once feared creature that refuses to adapt will soon die. Look around and ask “what if” until you find an adaptation you can build consensus around. Then overcome your fears and resistance and act. Take the bold step Hyundai took with their financing terms. Do something “unheard of”.

Is Present Reality (Current State) a Prerequisite for Design of the Future State?

Once in awhile, a riddle so obscure and enigmatic comes along that it baffles and stumps most of our brightest thinkers and deepest philosophers, qualifying as a Zen koan. Like the sound of one hand clapping or the sight of your face before you were conceived, the answer cannot really be found in any conventional sense. Well, in my humble opinion good people, the tension between current state and future state and the need to document and analyze the “as-is” prior to taking on the “to-be” doesn’t qualify as a Zen Koan or a crossword puzzle for that matter. There is no question. You have to understand the present dynamics and process in order to sensibly develop something new.

I know that I will offend some of the business process management wizards and high priests by saying as much but my position is one of firmly believing in the value of documenting and analyzing the current state to ensure a high quality future. Frankly, jumping into the design of the future state without regard for a rather precise current state is irresponsible. Not unlike asking someone how they’d like to perform in graduate school without first ascertaining whether they can read or not. Or promising someone full health without first diagnosing their diabetes. The present state in business tells a vast and deep story that shapes the possible and potential future.

Dangerous “Experts”

I attended a conference recently (devoted to the adoption of EMR in physician practices) whereupon I was able to listen to a discussion at our lunch table between a woefully ignorant doctor who wondered aloud what it would take to implement such a thing as an electronic medical record and an “expert” across the table who piped up and assured him that he needn’t worry about how things are done in in his practice today. He would only be required to imagine what life would be like with his new system. What a  load!

Notwithstanding that particular “consultant” and his advice to the good doctor, it got me wondering, “How many of my colleagues would suggest the same?” I wish I could survey all of my BPM brothers and sisters out there. Do you honestly think you can account for all of the business rules, decision-making, forms, customer preferences, suppliers, and key metrics involved in a process without concerning yourselves with the current state. Do you really think you can skip that step and begin modeling the future state without compromising quality or any other vital business attribute? I think not.

Change without consideration for the present is invention

Don’t get me wrong. I love to invent stuff and get wickedly creative when given a chance to roam free. However, invention cannot capture all of the good reasons why my system dynamics are what they are and cannot account for the benefits and value inherent in my current state without first elucidating them. Failing to harvest and capture the good, the rules, the data, the preferences, and the logic and simply launching into invention risks losing a lot including compliance with standards of all kinds. The risks involved can cause an invented business process to become fatally flawed in short order, grinding business to a halt.

Take your time and carefully document what you do today and how you do it. Inventing the wrong thing, failing and trying weeks or months later to return to an undocumented state is fools work.

Business Process Management (BPM) Core to Business Models Capable of Succeeding in this Economy

Reading the newspaper or watching TV news lately is an exercise in developing a blistering case of depression or anxiety or both. At the close of business this week we learned about record numbers of unemployment claims as well as lay-offs at Kodak, Ford, Starbucks, Caterpillar and Home Depot. Nearly twice as many people are unemployed today as were 12 months ago. The Dow dropped more than 8% this week and new home sales dropped almost 15% in December to their lowest point ever. How can anyone envision improved business prospects in this climate?

There’s Hope!

You can find examples of success if you look in the right places, folks. While the International Air Transport Association was reporting record losses for airlines this past year, they (in a January 30 USA Today story) acknowledged that “the only major carrier to report a profit in 2008 was Dallas-based discount giant Southwest Airlines.” Another story this week confirmed that while retailers continue to count the change in their pockets (and Circuit City says good-bye), this side-bar managed a small mention: “Citing its best holiday season ever, Amazon.com reported 4th quarter profits of $225M. The retailer said revenue rose 18% to $6.7 billion exceeding analysts estimates.”

This is Still an Economy After All

Those of us who remain in business must remember that we are in business. This is not family and it is not a social event. Nothing is certain in business and it is rich with risk and speculation. We are involved in developing and continuously massaging business models and business plans. If ever there was a bell weather event demanding BPM, this recession is it.  I have heard people tell me (this week!) that they do not want to “lose the art” involved in how they conduct themselves and execute their core processes. They “prefer the judgment and reflection involved in making choices as to how to proceed” and want to “preserve that unique and individualized process”…while they go out of business!

BPM is not and should not be about hard-coding anything. Rather, it enables you to design work and process that can more easily be tweaked and simulated to suit conditions assuming you stay on top of both the conditions and the process. This is active, dynamic and organic stuff.

Several people have commented that Southwest, Amazon, Wal-Mart and Costco are thriving right now because they have a different business model than their competitors. I want to suggest that that is the point. It is past time for all of us to question our business model and challenge (aggressively) our enshrined assumptions concerning the way we do business.  Each of these companies challenged their entire industry and introduced unparalleled and disruptive innovation.

When, in healthcare for instance, professionals wonder why their patients seek health education online at WebMD rather than making an appointment, someone is evidently not paying attention.  1,000,000 medical tourists will take their hard-earned money to Thailand, India and Mexico for that hip replacement. Wal-Mart sells prescriptions for $4 and Minute Clinics are popping up in malls and grocery stores by the hundreds. Times have changed so it’s best to invest in change.

Innovate or Die?

Most of us can find plenty of evidence for what it is our customers and prospects don’t want to buy. How many of us are working as hard as we can to discover what it is they do want to buy? How many of us are innovating our business processes so that we can drive a new business model in a new business and economic environment? Using BPM to bring a visual/graphic dimension to what you do and how you do it will allow you to unlock the “Special Sauce” potential in your business. Until you can look into the core of your business machinations, you lack the perspective to see how it is that you can discover quality and efficiency gains while incorporating the voice of your customer in the process.

Some people argue with the “Innovate or Die” adage. Ok. Try this: Adapt to rapidly changing conditions by changing your business model (customer value proposition, resource mix, processes, financial formula). Choose your market carefully and sell what your customers want to buy at a price they can afford.

Remember: there are still many trillions of dollars in the economy! What can you do to tap into that? How can BPM support your mission?

Business Process Improvement Involves Tremendous Risk Management

PMBOK (the project management book of knowledge) gives us a wonderful (and comprehensive) outline for managing risk in any project. Now more than ever, you and I have a lot of risk to manage and mitigate – especially if we are managing a portfolio of business processes and/or are expected to treat our process improvement initiatives as though they are full-fledged projects (which I believe they are).

Here’s the basic outline and a few tools (credit goes to PMBOK). As you read, notice how much emphasis there is on access to information, data and analysis. Risk management is a series of actions and exercises. It is very much a verb! Those of us who are tasked with improving workflow and business processes need to be mindful of the risks involved in our work and bright ideas as much as we need to be aware of the broader environment we are working in. Be vigilant for risks inherent in your inputs, process, outputs (deliverables) as well as your assumptions.  Nobody wants to make a mess of something they were asked to improve.

Risk Management Outline

1. Risk Management Planning – approach to and plan for risk management as well as the approach an organization takes to execution of plans

2. Risk Identification – determining risks and identifying the characteristics of those risks

3. Qualitative Risk Analysis – prioritizing risks responses based on probability of occurrence and impact

4. Quantitative Risk Analysis – analyzing effect of risks should they come to fruition

5. Risk Response Planning – developing options and actions to minimize risks and their effects

6. Risk Monitoring & Control – tracking risks, monitoring residual risks, identifying new risks, executing risk response plans and evaluating effects of those plans

Note: PMBOK states some risks are positive and refers to them as Opportunities. Some risks are negative and are commonly  referred to as Threats. I think it is a stretch to call a risk an “opportunity.”  I prefer that you conduct a SWOT analysis.

I  am including a couple of simple tools (since its Thanksgiving!)

Impact

Very Low

Moderately Low

Neutral

Moderately High

Very High

Cost

Time

Scope

Quality

Measuring Probability

Probability

Threats

Opportunities

Very High

Moderately High

Neutral

Moderately Low

Very Low

Risk Assessment Tool

Dimension

Risk

Technical

· Requirements

· Technology

· Complexity & interfaces

· Performance & reliability

· Quality

External

· Subcontractors & suppliers

· Regulatory

· Market

· Customer

· Weather

Organizational

· Project dependencies

· Resources

· Funding

· Prioritization

Project Mgmt

· Estimating

· Planning

· Controlling

· Communication

HR Dimensions of BPM (business process management) Are Mission-Critical

Business Process Management (BPM) promises to bring the disciplines of IT and HR together. That’s the promise, anyway.  BPM draws the map and establishes goals while HR provides the framework to hold people accountable for those goals. Sadly, I rarely see the integration of HR in BPM projects led by IT folks and yet I believe it’s absolutely essential. Bridging the divide between HR and IT is not so difficult if you follow some simple guidelines.

  • Understand HR’s Role. This is fundamental to your success. You must understand that significant changes in business process cause changes in job description and performance expectations. HR can help you decide which changes are significant enough to have a material impact on job descriptions and can identify those performance measures that make a difference to performance appraisal. Similarly, significant changes in processes may mean change in employee recruiting (you may, in fact, be seeking a different skill-set than previously thought) and it will likely mean considerable change in supervision.
  • Integrate From The Beginning. Include HR in the BPM discussion from the start. Invite HR to the table and seek their input and advice. If you don’t have an HR professional on your staff, invite a consultant from the community. Trust me, the lawsuits that can result from botching this aspect of your BPM initiative will outstrip the cost of hiring an HR consultant by a factor of 100.
  • Include HR in Human-Centric BPR (re-engineering). BPM and BPR are not simply mapping exercises. Eliminating waste, finding efficiencies and improving quality in the way things are done is about modifying human behavior. All of our models and talk of “suppliers, triggers, resources, outputs and metrics” must bear in mind that real people are involved at every juncture.
  • Conduct HR/BPM Gap Analysis. Involve HR in assessment of the changes you’re making to the current state. Review your future state designs together and determine:
  1. What rules need to be properly documented and how will people be held accountable for following those rules?
  2. How will employees navigate the decision-making processes and who do they seek permissions from?
  3. What training will employees require to implement the new state of your business processes?
  4. Who will provide that training and how will you know when your people are competent in the new way of doing things?
  5. Are there any risks associated with your new business processes? Exposure to dangerous conditions? Risk of accident or injury? Violations of workplace safety laws? Your HR professional can answer these questions for you.
  • Establish New Performance Metrics Together.  Assume the new key performance indicators (KPIs) will have a direct impact on the way employees are appraised and rewarded. There may be some exceptions and your HR professional can help you decide.
  • Enlist HR to Communicate your BPM Initiative. Establishing buy-in and overcoming resistance to change (your biggest barriers to success) are dealt with by executing a comprehensive communication plan. You must create and maintain momentum by including all of your stakeholders in the conversation. Your greatest asset in communications is your HR professional. IT people in particular should not attempt to communicate without the help of HR.
  • Implementation & Training. You want to implement changes in process and HR professionals want to properly train people. Implementation is the intersection where HR and IT usually collide. If you’ve followed these guidelines reasonably well till now, implementation will be a success because it will have been a collaborative effort.
  • Assess Compliance. Compliance is a creature with many heads. While IT may have ERP, XML and integration standards they are trying to comply with and the CFO has Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues with the new process, HR will have a full slate of compliance issues to assess. There are safety and occupational hazrds to assess, discrimination and disability conditions to review and the full array of hiring/training/supervising processes to evaluate in light of a modified workflow. It’s not impossible, for instance, to engineer or design a business process that suddenly creates a disadvantage for people with a disability who had been properly hired to do things the “old way”.

The most often-cited reason BPM projects stumble and fall is that organizational dynamics and human behaviors weren’t properly assessed and accounted for. There is a lot of psychology at work here. HR people are a different breed and IT people – most often asked to lead BPM – need to accept and include HR. I think the creation of HR/IT teams for the purpose of BPM ought to be your first BPM initiative. It’ll create the conditions for everything else you’re hoping to accomplish.

Proof of Concept (PoC) Important to Success of Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR) and Workflow Improvement Initiatives

How’s Business?

According to Bloomberg.com, “confidence among Americans fell by the most on record and single-family housing starts hit a 26- year low, posing an increasing threat to consumer spending that accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy. The Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment fell to 57.5 this month from 70.3 in September. The measure averaged 85.6 last year. Construction of single-family homes dropped 12 percent last month, the Commerce Department said in Washington.” It’s high-time we turn this ship around. Words like “confidence”, “sentiment”, “trust” and “fear” are at the heart of this problem. Business people (you!) play an absolutely essential and vital role in restoring trust and confidence. What does all this have to do with a Proof of Concept?

Proof Restores Trust & Confidence

It’s the innovators and those who seek to disrupt the dynamic that lead the rest of us out of the dark. Consumer confidence is a function of trust and trust is a function of your product-quality, price, brand and your market. In your zeal to disrupt and innovate OR in your more conservative endeavor to make your current operating environment more stable and predictable (also a good idea when the market is tight), make sure you employ a Proof of Concept (PoC). Now is not the time for costly mistakes that erode trust.

What About Smaller Companies, Non-Profits and Government Agencies?

I can hear some of you now: “Who does this need for PoC apply to? Do small businesses, non-profits and government agencies need to take these measures as well? Isn’t this just for technology companies and manufacturers?” – The answer is that the need for PoC or some semblance of it applies to all of us in every instance of business process re-engineering (BPR.)

There are a number of approaches to testing and proving your concept: simulation, pilot testing, prototyping, and/or developing a business case. Whatever your chosen approach, proving and substantiating your concepts in business process re-engineering and workflow re-design can save you a lot of money and time. It may also save your job. It will certainly prevent fiasco with customers.

Proof of Conceptkinda self-explanatory

What problem are you addressing and how is your re-engineered process or re-designed, improved workflow going to solve that problem? A PoC will include results or actual measures of efficacy. You need to provide your leadership team (or yourself) with sufficient data to support your claim that this concept will have the desired impact. A Proof of Concept addresses:

  • a clear definition of the problem you are solving
  • specific attributes of the solution you are recommending
  • measures of efficacy, outcome and performance and how you will measure them
  • resource requirements
  • technology requirements
  • the full range of project mgmt and implementation variables (critical path, timeline, milestones, tasks, interdependencies, etc.)
  • budget
  • logic model (or use-case scenario) that supports your assertion that “it works” and satisfies your business requirements

In essence, a proof of concept is a prototype of sorts. It allows you to roll out your proposed solution on a very limited basis and test, validate and verify your approach and results. It establishes the feasibility and viability of what you’re proposing. In manufacturing circles and among engineers, a PoC actually precedes a prototype and establishes that a prototype is a worthy next step in the R&D and product development process.

In services sectors, a PoC may include allowing your prospective customer to try a service and prove the concept to themselves. This is actually a ripe time to take this approach in your marketing and sales.

The Benefits of a PoC?

It ought to be clear by now that by developing an approach to Proof of Concept and an environment within your company that recognizes the importance of rapid testing of innovations, you can begin to shape your products and services in new, more efficient and more customer-specific ways. You do all of this and you avoid the dreaded Unintended Consequences of making changes without considering all of the implications. This goes back to pre- and post-process metrics. What happens up and down stream from a process will become apparent to you when you begin testing in a disciplined fashion.