The most important part of BPM

After reading a couple of posts recently on 'the next big thing in BPM', and predictions about the future of the capability, I had to chuckle a little. Mainly because if history has taught us one thing - especially with BPM - it's that history is not a good indicator of things to come and most prognostications are wrong. Did anyone predict 'Social BPM'? No - at least not until it was amongst us and then the predictions were related to how it would proliferate.

So I was tickled to read details of The Hottest BPM Trends you MUST Embrace and seeing things such as 'Connecting BA to BPM to create a realistic road map for process transformation', and 'Move the needle on BPM Skills for key process roles'. Not that these are wrong - in fact these all form part of what I call 'The Common Sense Approach to BPM', but they are just that: common sense. Basically the predictions are saying 'Get the right people involved at the right time with the right training, give them the right tools and responsibility and make sure it's aligned with what the business wants'. Of course when the rubber hits the road that's when all the best laid plans go awry.

But as I was contemplating all this it occurred to me that a large amount of the prognostications and predictions, the prophecies and the trends are all missing one vital focus area: Actually doing process discovery.

It's all very well telling people that they need a great BPMS or similar system to help them manage their processes, or that they need to have a well-oiled governance process to manage the change control around them, or that they need to identify the key, customer-focused processes and use social media to help run them more efficiently. It's even fine to tell people that processes are not isolated and that they are all parts of a larger continuum. But what very few people seem to actually be telling people is 'Here is how you do good process discovery'.

Think about it. All the systems, governance, tools, expectations and roadmaps will be for nought if the process that is captured and recorded is incorrect. But do we all use good process capture methodologies? What are the good process capture methodologies? Would we know a good one if it jumped up and bit us in the face?

I've told this story before but it bears repeating:

I worked with an organisation looking to outsource part of their internal process. Prior to that they decided to bring me in to capture the process so they would know exactly which part would be taken over by the third-party company and which would stay in-house. I spent two days with the group and we went through the whole process mapping exercise. Starting with the department in question I asked them who else they spoke to as part of this process. The mentioned that they speak to Finance. I got Finance into the session. Then I went 'old-school' and started with post-it notes and brown paper on the wall. This was useful  for a number of reasons. Firstly it allowed everyone to identify what they thought was in scope for this process. Secondly it allowed everyone to identify what they did either as an individual or as a department. It basically gave me an acceptable scope to work with (I talk about the process I use in my post on 'The Art of Process Facilitation'). After about a half day we had mapped out the process as the different groups in the room felt it occurred. Then we stood back and looked at what we had created. The first big 'ah ha' came when we tried to match the Finance part of this process to the non-Finance part. There appeared to be a big discrepancy between when the department sent information to Finance and when the Finance department needed that information (The White Space, anyone?). Both groups looked across at each other as if to say 'Why didn't you tell us that before?' But it was obvious from the discussion that this wasn't a topic that had ever come up in conversation.

The result of this discussion was that not only were we able to appropriately capture the business process as it occurred inside the department but we were also able to modify it to make the flow between the departments more streamlined and efficient. This was a win-win situation for both groups. Only at that point did we turn to the process capture software we had and start to drop the tasks into there.

Appropriate process capture is key to having good processes. It doesn't matter whether you use Post-It notes and brown paper, Visio diagrams, excel spreadsheets, or if just note things down on big pieces of A3 paper, you have to have a good methodology to capture processes and you have to be thorough.

I sense (though I have no empirical data just anecdotal data from my work) that a lot of larger companies rely too much on the tool they have purchased to help them with defining the process, when in actual fact the tool will just capture the process that is entered. This may not be the correct, complete, or appropriate process.

If this is the case then I can make one prediction for 2011 and beyond: "We'll never get the full value of BPM unless we improve our process discovery methods"


Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

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