Practical Process: A packet of seeds and a shovel is not gardening

For most organizations, BPM hasn't worked. This can be corrected.

By “BPM” I mean the management philosophy better called process-based management; the acceptance that value can only be created across the organization via cross-functional business processes, and that those processes should, therefore, be actively managed via additional structures separate to the organization chart.

The theory is sound, and the business case is compelling, and yet few organizations create and sustain genuine process-based management—even those who work hard to do so.

What's the problem? What are we missing?

What's missing is an embedded systemic approach that demonstrably delivers useful outcomes, i.e. it fixes problems and delivers improved performance.

If process-based management doesn't deliver real benefits to the organization and its customers (and other stakeholders), why should anyone care?

Business folks need to see real improvements, not just a bunch of diagrams and a series of increasingly annoying workshops.

The process approach must make life simpler, not more complex. They're called customers, colleagues, and stakeholders, not masochists.

Systems only work well when all the parts are working, and all are working well together. Take any part out of a clock movement and the good times will be over!

Process-based management initiatives may have process architectures, performance measures, process owners, process improvement methodologies, centers of excellence, and all of those are of limited use if they are not all working together as a single management system.

A working process-based management system has an additional 'horizontal' management overlay to continually test the performance of clearly identified processes, with a view to facilitating genuine continuous improvement, initiated and managed in the business, and supported by a central service.

A packet of seeds and a shovel is not gardening; we can have many, perhaps all, of the parts and they won't be of much use unless we can make them into a system.

Here are some good gardening principles; ideas and imperatives for creating an embedded system of successful and sustained process-based management.

  • The primacy of process. This is key. We need to lock in the idea that value is created, accumulated, and delivered across the organization and not up and down the organization chart.
  • Get the circles turning. I discussed the circles in an earlier column. The Tregear Circles are a meta-model for management, an elegant way to create and sustain genuine continuous process management and continuous process improvement.
  • The ocean cannot be boiled. Don't try to do too much at once. Pick just a few processes and get the circles turning for them. Prove the system works, tailor it to fit, demonstrate success.
  • Create the governance triumvirate. Process governance needs three interrelated elements: authority, ownership, and support. A process council or equivalent is needed to be the ultimate source of authority for all process issues across the organization. Process owners (or whatever name is used for the role) are required to focus on process specific performance. Support, via the Office of BPM or a center of excellence, is required for all involved.
  • Process owners are NOT responsible. Setting up a process owner to be responsible for the performance of the process will create a conflict with functional managers. It also requires the process owner to be responsible for something over which they likely have, at best, only partial control. This may not end well. Better to say that the process owner is accountable for responding when the process performance is out of range, trending in that direction, targets need to be reviewed, or a new idea needs to be tested. Effective process ownership is about influence, not authority.
  • Get quickly to good enough; keep going. “Good enough” is a high standard. Get there as quickly as possible, and then keep going. For example, developing a process architecture takes forever, but a good working model for the upper levels can be developed and made useful in just a few weeks.
  • Deliver, deliver, deliver. Organizations have a finite attention span; they need to see results that improve organization performance. My rule-of-thumb is to assume we have three months to show, if not deliver, real business benefits.
  • Top down (& bottom up, & middle out). You can start process management work from the bottom-up or the middle-out, but it must be finished from the top down. Ultimately, process-based management is about the execution of organizational strategy and that demands the close involvement of the C-suite.
  • Continuous improvement + management. Many organizations do some form of process improvement, perhaps on an ad hoc basis, or in a more systematic, continuous way. Few do continuous process management, i.e. continuously assess process performance to be sure that process improvement resources are applied for optimum results.
  • All managed; some prioritized. It is appropriate and prudent to identify some process as more important than others. These processes, often called the critical or high-impact processes, warrant special attention. However, all processes need to be managed (from the top down). To manage only some processes, means that the problems will likely occur in those processes not being actively managed. Get the circles turning for all processes across the upper levels of the process architecture.

Good gardening requires much more than having all the right components. Those components must form a managed system that facilitates establishment of the garden and its ongoing health and development. To grow process-based management also requires such a systemic approach.

Roger Tregear

Roger Tregear

As a Consulting Director with Leonardo Consulting, Roger Tregear delivers BPM courses and consulting assignments around the world. Based in Canberra (Australia) Roger spends his working life talking, consulting, thinking and writing about analysis, improvement and management of business processes. His work with clients is on short and long term assignments, in organizational improvement and problem solving based on BPM capability development, and business process, analysis, improvement, and management. He is available to help small and large organizations understand the potential, and realize the practical benefits, of process-centric thinking and management. Contact Roger at r.tregear@leonardo.com.au.
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