Why your process project will fail

Here's the problem with most companies when they try to implement business process management.

Nobody owns the processes.

If nobody owns the processes then nobody owns the management of them, nobody has accountability for them, therefore nobody cares if they don't work correctly.

Now don't get me wrong: the project manager owns the project, the business sponsor sponsors the project, and the project team members do the work, but when the project has been implemented and the folks have moved onto the next big thing the company is left with a set of (hopefully) well defined processes which work well but which nobody has the job of looking after.

I'm not saying that nobody is concerned about the processes, however. For example there will be somebody in the customer service department who will be looking at his objectives for the year and seeing that he has to manage customer complaints within a set period of time, and therefore he will do whatever he can to get this done. This may involve circumventing 'difficult' parts of the process (such as reviews or approvals or paperwork) or even creating sub-processes that help him work more how he wants to work rather than how the process was designed. And because nobody at a more senior level has been given responsibility for that process, that's how it will continue to be handled until suddenly all the parts of the process have been altered from their original design and now the whole (gestalt) process doesn't work.

So what went wrong? Governance!

Historically in companies (especially large companies) different parts of the organisation evolved along their own lines into what they felt was the best way of doing things. Finance did things their way, Manufacturing did things their way, Sales and marketing did things their way. Everything was fine because each part of the process evolved to work alongside the other parts. But at the end of the day Manufacturing were responsible for Manufacturing processes, Marketing were responsible for Marketing processes and Finance were.. well, you get the idea.

With the advent of business process re-engineering, or BPM or just plain process modelling, the demarcation lines between the different functions became less and less obvious. As we start to look at product life cycles, the functional view of processes no longer worked. Suddenly a single 'business' process starts to cover multiple 'functional' areas. Manufacturing and Marketing needed to to start working together and be part of the same process.

Which is where the problems started. Or rather, this is where a lack of governance caused problems to start appearing. Who owns a business process that covers Product Development, Manufacturing, Marketing and Sales? Who is held ultimately accountable - in their performance objectives for the year - for ensuring that the different functional silos work together on the process?

If you are in this situation now and cannot answer that question then your process improvement project will fail. The unfortunate thing is that even if you can answer that question, your process improvement project may still fail because the wrong person may be in that role or the supporting governance process to enable her to do that may not exist.

Process governance is all about managing expectations and arbitrating between different factions. It needs someone with senior level responsibility (ideally at a global level in a multinational organisation) who has the authority to say to several different functional areas 'No, this is how you will do it'. It needs a set of governing processes which can manage requests for change in a business process, and it needs representatives from all the affected areas to be included. If you miss even one of these things you will find it very difficult to get appropriate governance implemented.

That's not to say that it has to be a big, complex process, or that it needs to add a large overhead to the running of the organisation. At it's very basic you get all the players involved to review a proposed change, define what impact it will have and either approve or reject it. Majority rules. The more complex implementations of this are run by committee's with representatives from each area who negotiate the changes with each other. It can be as simple or as complex as you wish

But at the end of the day you need to be able to ask and answer the following questions

  1. Who is the process owner for this overall process within the business

  2. How do I get this process changed?

If you can answer these two questions you are probably well on your way to having good process governance.


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