I don’t get it. I have been involved in numerous business process improvement projects over the past 20 years. I have been in numerous meetings about “business process management”. I’ve read white papers and looked at discussion groups. In way too many cases, very early in the conversation, a business process discussion gets down and dirty into integration processes, XML and other related technologies. At a certain point in time, a technology discussion becomes necessary and important, but not early in a BPM initiative. Here is my vote — don’t get techie in a business process discussion. The point is to review, understand and diagram your business process.
Here are some quick guidelines I have pieced together over the years for various business process improvement initiatives:
Engage in a discussion. With respect to Global 2000 executives in particular: discuss your business process internally before you engage an outside vendor, be it a consulting or technology company. If you want to use a technology, use a white board and markers. After a thorough understanding of the process, only then should modern technology be used, and even then the first piece of modern technology employed should only be used to capture the process flow. In other words, you start with something like PowerPoint or Visio. If the organization is large and/or distributed, you might also leverage social networking and collaborative tools, such as wikis, to engage a larger team and obtain input into what your business process actually looks like. Social networking is a great tool to garner input and gain consensus on what a business process looks like, since the challenges of including a large, extended and distributed team is greatly simplified.
Don’t get myopic. Many business processes are cross-functional and extend beyond the walls of your own enterprise. Don’t let those boundaries affect the improvement initiative. Many times, a business process is only as good as its inputs (garbage-in/garbage out). Make sure you understand your inputs/outputs, and in some cases, it is not wrong to extend beyond your own scope of control to better understand and diagram the process. This can be a delicate process, so it may not be for everyone, but if you can engage externally and collaboratively, your results can improve.
Use common phrases and definitions. One way to get team members to understand and define the process better is not to use internal acronyms. Try using industry terms and/or terms you would use to explain a concept at a party. If this is a customer-facing business process, explain it in terms of benefits to your customers. A supplier-facing initiative, benefits to suppliers. By struggling to obtain new phrases/definitions, you will gain insight and, more importantly, challenge the establishment (“now that I say it that way, why do we do it that way?”) — a great 1st step in developing the improvement plan.
To summarize, engage your team, both a core team and an extended team, in defining your process, get it on paper (or electronic form) and have everyone agree that this is at least close. I have seen organizations who engage technology vendors about a business process realize that they did not truly understand the business process. It can get very amusing to watch executives learn about their own business and get insight from putting the business process on the table (hey — how about that for the “t” — the table).
Want to get creative? One business improvement initiative I was involved in actually fined members of the team for using technology acronyms and even internal names. We fined them $1.00 each. I donated $2.00 myself and the pot got as high as $14.00 — that got us an appetizer at dinner that evening!