Your organization is brimming with processes that occur every day. Some of these processes work well and others are plagued by inefficiency. Some are quick and are accomplished without thought, others are long term and involve many people, and may be critical to your business outcomes. If you are investigating a BPM (Business Process Management) solution, with a view of improving these outcomes and achieving these goals, it is advisable to identify which processes you need to improve.
But how do you effectively identify such processes? Here are some practical guidelines:
What are Your Company’s Goals?
The first step in a business process improvement initiative is to ascertain your organization’s primary goals. You will have to set up a meeting with management to get this information first hand – you may be surprised at what you hear. Once you’ve summarized your company’s business goals (they should be simple and fit onto one page), the question becomes: Are existing processes effective in achieving these goals?
Get Your Ear on the Pavement
The next step is to listen. Visit each department, interview the heads of each team, and ask what is working and what is not. You should also spend time with team members, watching the work itself. Listen more than you talk, and take notes. Take pictures, and even short videos where possible. Try to identify obvious (and non-obvious) activity which is inefficient or could be greatly improved.
If possible, don’t stop there. Talk to customers as well. Each word here is worth gold. Are customer satisfied with quality and service? Customer satisfaction is truly a gold mine when it comes to finding processes to improve.
After you’d done this, you should have a list of at least 10 processes that are candidates for improvement.
Put Your Finger on the Problem
For each of the processes on your list, try to identify the core problem(s) that are causing these processes to fall short of achieving the company’s goals. There is usually a main problem, and perhaps two or three secondary problems. It could be a bottleneck around the work of a person or team. It could be a ‘disconnect’ between teams or a technological, system-related issue. Look for the flow of information. Is there one single version of the truth? Do relevant people have visibility over data and workflows? Keep the list of problems short, and focus on those that prevent the processes from achieving its goal.
Set Your Sights on the Potential
It’s not just enough to identify problems. You should also be looking for opportunities. Look at your list and try to identify those processes which have the potential to trigger a ‘Big Change’ for your organization. Here are some possible examples of areas, which, if improved, can mean a step change for your business:
- Customer self-service
- Better collaboration between teams
- Increased management visibility
- Ability to modify processes quickly in order to better compete
- Mobility – facilitating location-independence by putting processes on mobile devices, especially for field workers
- Integration – integrating data, processes and people with disconnected yet critical systems, such as CRM/ERP.
Each of these areas may hold the key to transforming your business. It’s your job to zero in on a small handful of processes that, if improved radically, could hold this potential.
Caution! Watch Out for Value-less Processes
MIT professor Michael Hammer once published an article in Harvard Business Review called “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate”. There, he claimed that the main challenge for businesses is to obliterate work that doesn’t add value instead of using technology for automating it.
Michael Hammer, “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate”, Harvard Business Review. Beware of processes which do not add value to your business, and which do not lead it to achieving its goals. Do not try to automate such process, but strike them off your list.
Use Your Head
Now that you know the goals, the process candidates, the problems and the potential, you have become the most important person in your organization! You have all the tools you need to find the processes whose improvement can transform it. But data is not enough. Now is the time to sit down and use your head. Mix and match. Try to match up processes with potential with the goals of your company. Which are those that have the greatest potential to achieve those goals, if they were improved? Your list should now have been cut in half. You should have 3- 4 candidate processes for Stage One of a BPM initiative.
Be Practical, Start Small
Your company does not have unlimited resources. Go over each of the 3-4 process you have selected and map out how a BPM solution could improve them. What would the resulting process solution look like? Would this solution achieve the company’s goals? If yes, how would you get there? What are the time and costs involved? It’s not enough to identify processes that can be improved, there needs to be a reasonable way to achieve that improvement. Look for a small steps, Big Change approach.
This is the time to begin consulting with BPM analysts, vendors and experts. They can best advise you on the practical viability of each possible project. At this point, you may have to set aside a process or two, which is not currently practical to work with. The initial BPM project that you choose should be one with attainable objectives, and quick wins. This will enable you to convince management to move to Stage Two – the wider reaching processes which require more time and budget.
Think Beyond Just Workflow
An effective BPM solution which brings about organization change, is usually more than just an automated workflow. It will include additional elements such as analytics, forms, portals, collaboration, dynamic change and integration. Therefore, when imagining possible solutions, do not limit yourself to just workflows alone. Try to think bigger, and start to read about iBPMS (intelligent BPM suites) which have greater potential for positive change, and will have more significant impact on both the present and future state of your organization.
Walk through the Solution
Now that you have selected the 1 – 3 processes which you will start with, and mapped out the hypothetical path of a solution, go back to the teams, and walk through this solution with them. Carefully gauge their reaction. Is it positive? What are their comments? Listening is one of the most important aspects of business process improvement, and it continues throughout the entire initiative. If your simulated solution fails to impress, go back to the drawing board. If it is well received, then you may be well on your way to accomplishing your objective. At this stage, you can even begin to start prototyping the solution – this can lead to important feedback and conclusions on its value and viability.
Draw Up a Plan, Focus on ROI
Now you know what needs to be done, it’s time to get management to sign off. Create a business process management plan which outlines the goals, processes, and solutions which you propose. Make sure to include estimated ROI for each step, and a timeline. Bring this plan to your management and get their approval.
Once that is done, you begin your next step in the journey – selecting a BPM solution which will bring your plan to fruition. That is the subject of this post. Good luck!
PNMsoft’s BPM experts can help you with your business process improvement initiative.
Eli Stutz is Head of Knowledge and Collaboration for PNMsoft, the authors and publishers of Cora SeQuence – a Gartner Magic-Quadrant (MQ) rated Intelligent Business Process Management Suite (iBPMS). Eli Stutz conducts live monthly webinars on BPM and workflow topics, and authors case studies and white papers.