A few weeks ago my partner and I were chatting with an engaged couple and they asked us for marriage advice. My partner's response surprised me – he advised them to have an owner for everything. Curious to see where he went with this, I sat back silently. It turns out he wasn't talking about money or things; he was talking about the functions of running a life together. Who is responsible for laundry (him), who is responsible for remembering birthdays (me) and who owns the cats (also me).
I am a Business Process Management (BPM) practitioner, I work with clients to articulate, design, monitor and control and ultimately to improve process. In short, my clients are trying to leverage BPM to become process-based organizations using process owners to actively manage process. In the best of cases we work with newly designated or existing process owners to help them understand their responsibilities throughout the process lifecycle.
This article will review the role of the process owner throughout the process lifecycle, make the case for leveraging support to the process owner from various levels and areas of an organization, and provide practical examples of how the organization can support a process owner.
The Role of the Process Owner
Process management is best understood as a lifecycle. The lifecycle starts when process is defined or articulated. It carries through in a series of activities and steps to implement changes. Process is monitored and as variances and issues arise, the process is controlled through active management. Control often results in specific activities to improve process. Improvement triggers the need for more definition or re-articulation, based upon the improvement changes. As illustrated in Figure 1, process improvement, regardless of methodology, is the orchestration and sequencing of events that will lead an organization to more efficient and effective processes.￼
Support Owners, not Processes
If process occurs within the context of a lifecycle, and process management methodologies are the sequencing of a defined set of activities, the need for process owners becomes much clearer. The process owner is the conductor of an orchestra, ensuring that the lifecycle, with activities and purposes are filtered through a set of competing priorities, specific business objectives and organizational realities. The process owner continually monitors the process, ensuring it does not drift into variance.
In a process centric organization, the role of a process owner is at once both simple and complex. Responsible for the overall health of a process, the owner maintains accountability for a value chain that delivers a good or service – that part is relatively simple. In order to ensure the process performs at peak, they must ensure the capabilities required by the process – be they technical infrastructure, product knowledge or process skills are created and preserved within the organization.￼ ￼
Leveraging your Entire Organization for Support
Organizations often mistake IT or other routine operational support like Finance support as direct support for a process owner. While operational support is critical in orchestrating an efficient and effective process, merely providing operational support misses the goals of the process lifecycle and the needs of BPM in two key ways.
First, not all process challenges are resolved through operational support. Consider a process that lacks key staff skills to be performed accurately. In this case, no amount of IT support will create an efficient process until help with training and capacity building is added.
Second, support needs to be funneled through a person who can allocate it to combine support in ways that maximize the benefit to the entire organization. The model below describes how an organization can come together in a holistic way, uniting the entire organization with all of its capabilities in technology, strategy and culture to create successful process owners.￼
An adequately supported process owner will ensure that all the key requirements of a process, those involving people, technology, policy, measurement, socialization and compliance are fully and correctly orchestrated to produce exactly what the organization needs, when it needs it. This allows the entire organization to co-ordinate around process.
Benchmark Full Organizational Support
This section will detail practical examples of what support, accountability and responsibility is required within each support type described above. This list cannot and will not be exhaustive, but should be understood as a basic starting point to ensure the success of a process owner.
- The Right Title: Assign process ownership at the right level, the process owner should have a voice in the strategic directions of the organizations to more easily articulate the link between process and strategy.
- Budget for Improvement: Ensure process owners can authorize the cost of projects to improve the process
- Accountability that Rests on Outcomes: If a process owner gets the support required to ensure their success and the success of the process owner, they must be willing to accept the performance of the process over medium to long term is reflective of their performance as the process owner.
- Defined Product, Defined Service, Defined Outcome: The process owner must fully understand and describe a product or service the process is producing. The exact nature and specifications of the outcome should be available and agreed upon as this information will form the basis of all improvement, monitoring and controlling activities.
- Available Metrics: The process owner should understand the metrics used to measure the process and should be able to see those metrics in a manner they prefer.
- Support from Business Partners: Process Owners must be able to orchestrate functional assistance to define/design, implement, monitor and control and where required improve process.
- Change Management Support – Effective process owners are change agents in the most profound of senses. Constantly advocating for changes in workflow, measurement and continuous improvement, change fatigue becomes an issue. To succeed, organizations must provide both change management education to their process owners and change support to their staff.
- Process Improvement Methodology Support – Organizations may choose lean, six sigma or other methodologies but they must have tools, templates and a skill set that enables the selection of improvement projects, their management and measurement to support the full life cycle of process improvement.
- Project Management – Fundamentally, process improvement is about projects. The success of process changes is still based on the fundamentals of project management and this should be supported through an established and followed project methodology (PMI, Prince2)
The benefits of BPM are well defined and organizations are wise to use Process Owners to ensure that there is active management of process. Process owners are able to manage the art of combining and allocating support, but they require that support to come from the full breadth of the organization. Strategic support to set the long term goals and priorities, define the value proposition and grant them authority to make changes is as critical as IT and Finance support for automation. All of this change must be underpinned by cultural support which ensures that the goals of the process centric organization are supported by a cultural shift.
1This and all other graphics in the Article prepared by Cheryl Walker for illustrative purposes.