Despite BPI being a business-led management discipline, many BPI initiatives continue to fall into the trap of being technology-led. These technology-focused initiatives are invariably driven by improvement methodologies touted by tools vendors, eager to sell a Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) as the cure to all ills.

Such methodologies share a similar approach: model the existing (as-is) workflow, design an improved (to-be) workflow and then automate the workflow to some degree using a BPMS. The result is that many process improvement initiatives restrict their attention to workflow design and automation as the only enablers for process improvement, whilst ignoring other potentially more effective change agents.

The Bigger Picture

As the business environment changes, companies need to find new ways of doing things in order to maintain competitive advantage. Simply automating the old ways of doing things is just never enough. As well as different processes, the brave new world may need new skills, a different shaped workforce, changes in location or the working environment, new types of information, new ways of consuming existing information, new ways of measuring and rewarding performance and yes – new technology.

Pure technology focused initiatives will continue to be partially effective at best. Any comprehensive process improvement initiative must consider the bigger picture, and look to exploit the full set of enablers for process improvement.

Enablers for Process Improvement

Process enablers are factors, under the control of the business, which can be adjusted to improve process performance. These are the strings that can be manipulated by the business, guided by the Business Process Management Consultant, to improve a process: making it faster, cheaper or improving the quality of the end product or service.

Successful process improvement initiatives give full and careful consideration to each of these enablers before recommending a roadmap of changes to improve process performance.

Workflow Design

Workflow is the sequence of activities, decisions and handoffs carried out by the process participants between the initial event and the final result. By modelling the workflow, we can highlight unnecessary process participants, delays or bottlenecks, processes that are too sequential, duplicated activities or activities that add little or no value.

Policies and Rules

These are the rules and policies established by the enterprise to guide or constrain business processes, as well as applicable laws and regulations. Considering polices and rules will highlight out-of-date policies or numerical limits, excessive review or approval steps.

Human Resources

Examine the knowledge, skills, structure and experience of the workforce. A process requires the right people in the right roles with the right skills; empowered and trained to perform their tasks and to make decisions.

Motivations and Measures

These are the explicit and implicit reward systems of the organisation that are concerned with how people, organisations and processes are measured and assessed, and the associated consequences (either reward or punishment). Businesses should ensure measures are aligned with business goals, are customer-focused and drive appropriate behaviour. Measure end-to-end processes rather than individual tasks or activities.

Information Availability and Quality

Activities consume and produce information. Processes and information are therefore intrinsically linked. Each participant must have the right information available to them at the right time to perform their assigned activities effectively. Information must be accessible, accurate, current and complete. This may involve identifying and eliminating information silos using Data Virtualisation, or using Data Quality Management techniques to profile, cleanse, enhance and enrich information that supports the process. Successful BPI requires successful Information Management.

Sustained and continuous process improvement will also require Process Ownership and Governance. A Process Owner must be identified, responsible for ensuring that the process performs as well as possible. They must have responsibility and authority for an end-to-end process across an organisation, and be accountable for the effective delivery of the process outputs.

Identify, establish and empower process owners. Establish governance processes and structures for process measurement, issue resolution and continuous process improvement. These same governance structures ensure that the processes evolve and adapt to changes in the business environment, enabling the business to maintain its competitive advantage.

Implementing Business Led BPI

By now, alarm bells should start ringing if your BPI initiatives are being driven and managed by your IT function. BPI is a business-led management discipline and may require changes to people, process, information and the working environment in addition to the effective use of technology in order to maximise process performance. An unambiguous statement of the business goals and objectives is required that defines what success will look like in terms of business outcomes. A strong, urgent and compelling case for action is required to ensure executive buy-in. And finally, strong business leadership will be required to implement the changes.

A business-led approach to process improvement must be adopted, where all process enablers are given full and thorough consideration. Once issues have been identified with an existing process, suggested improvements can be considered in turn. Each improvement must be assessed against each of the process enablers, to consider what changes are required to people, process, information, technology and the working environment to implement the suggested improvement, while stopping to consider any potential side-effects of the change.

Finally, once improvements have been identified, a roadmap can be established to not only implement the changes, but also to establish the ownership and governance structures required to ensure that the effectiveness of the process can be continuously measured and improved over time, and can adapt to changes in the business environment.