No Grip, No Glory – an introduction to the process perspective

Your organisation is running pretty well, but … it can always be improved. You somehow cannot seem to find the time needed to take big steps forward. Daily operational issues always demand your attention. Topics such as efficiency, outsourcing, risk and compliance keep demanding your attention. In addition, the market forces you to be even more flexible. In essence, these matters have something in common: They all have an impact somewhere within or around your processes. This opens up an interesting question…

Why not turn it around?
Turning it around means using your processes as a central structure to battle these issues. By mastering your processes, you will regain control of your business and lay a solid foundation for current and future challenges. In this and upcoming blog posts I will take you on a journey through the field of Business Process Management (BPM). I will look at it from a very pragmatic perspective. What is BPM? What can it do for your company? How can you get started with it? I will attempt to answer these questions starting with this post about the process perspective. It may well be that while reading this you’ll think ‘I knew that already’ or ‘That’s obvious’. Great! But be aware that you are probably ahead of the average manager, professional or employee. Ask yourself if your colleagues understand this basic philosophy as well. This process ‘awareness’ is not something that comes naturally for most people. Share it with them and you’ll find that once people start thinking in processes, it will be there to stay.

“In this and upcoming blog posts I will take you on a journey through the field of Business Process Management (BPM). I will look at it from a very pragmatic perspective. What is BPM? What can it do for your company? How can you get started with it?”

No matter what three letter abbreviation we use to describe managing them, the fact is that processes have always been, still are and always will be the core of an organisation. Therefore, an explicit view on processes and managing them properly is always a good investment.

Good news: You already have processes!
Let’s start with some very good news: You already have processes. There is no need to buy, lease or borrow them. They’re already there! It’s only a matter of looking at your organisation from a different perspective. The traditional way of looking at an organisation is very functional. We all know the traditional hierarchy tree, with departments, functions and tasks to be performed. This perspective gives you insight in the organisation; focusing on the division of tasks and responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with this way of thinking. There is a reason why this perspective has been around for ages… But another approach is the organisation as a combination of interacting processes. It is basically the perspective we lost track off when we started to implement division of labour.

Imagine that you are standing on the glass roof of the workshop of a car dealership. Below you see a jumble of activities. A reception desk where people come in and leave again. A large workshop with cars on bridges and mechanics on/in/underneath them. A small office with people manning the phone and computer. When you look down, you see tasks that are performed.

Now let’s take another look with a process perspective. You now see a customer walking in and putting a process in motion. The conversation at the counter results in a description of the client’s wishes on an order form that is passed on to the mechanic. The mechanic goes to work, does his job and afterwards hands in a job sheet at administration. They process the sheet, juggle the numbers and produce a bill for the client. The bill is given to the client at the reception desk. The client checks if his requirements have been met, pays and takes the car with him. What you see is a continuous set of actions that run horizontally through the organisation and which connect the client request and the product/service delivered. You have just witnessed a process!

Car Service Process created in Barium Live!

The insight of processes
This perspective of processes adds value to your organisation. First of all the process perspective gives you an overview of how processes run through your company. One of the great benefits of the process perspective lies in visualisation. It is scientifically proven that humans think more in images and less in words. By mapping the processes and literally putting them on the wall in poster size, employees can gain a greater understanding of how their organisation works. It becomes clear which departments play a role and it links them together. Getting a process map on the wall in a workshop with a couple of departments is often a huge eye-opener. “Oh, I did not know you did that!” or better yet: “Now I understand why you are always two hours late Monday morning with that document (I’ve been annoyed by that for the last five years…)”. Processes create awareness of how they should work together and how they depend on each other. It kick-starts the discussion of efficiency and effectiveness. Suddenly we see and understand what is happening in our organisation.

The example of the garage seems trivial, but you can project it on your own company. What triggers (events) put your people in motion and what is ultimately the result? Linking these triggers to the corresponding results very quickly gives you a set of processes. By focusing on the customer’s trigger and the customer’s result we are able to connect all our activities to the customer. What does he want? How do we communicate with him? What are the ultimate moments of truth in delivering our product and/or service? Unfortunately organisations often have a very hard time answering these very basic questions.

One of the other great things about the process perspective is that we get a very clear insight into the interrelationships of individual departments. It makes the ‘hand over moments’ visible and manageable. This becomes especially important when we have a third party executing part of our (core) process. We at Process Express have a saying that “outsourcing of a (part of a) process is the same as insourcing dependency”. You are suddenly subject to the performance of a third party. This dependence should be properly managed because your clients will feel the performance of this process. Getting started with Business Process Management will help you gain control of your processes, whether outsourced or in-house.

Everyone can make the move towards thinking in processes, whether you are just starting out as a low-level employee or the CEO of a multinational corporation. That is because a big part of thinking in processes and process management is common sense. And once you look at your organisation that way, it will never go away. It does not mean however that you should get started with transforming your organisational structure now. This is a very common misconception. Although actually changing your organisational structure to align with your processes can be a good solution for some companies, most will be able to manage their processes alongside their traditional structure quite successfully. What structure fits your organisation best is a whole topic on itself and cannot be determined in a single post on a blog. But how you can manage both your functional view and your process view at the same time will be discussed in a future post.

“Everyone can make the move towards thinking in processes, whether you are just starting out as a low-level employee or the CEO of a multinational corporation. That is because a big part of thinking in processes and process management is common sense.”

A process of awareness
So these were the first couple of essential steps in the world of process management. Steps that revolve around actually seeing the processes in your organisation. Steps that have more to do with awareness than with change or improvement. Steps I had to go through myself not that long ago.

I hope that you now see that you have processes. That these processes are responsible for bringing your product or service to your customers. That most items on the corporate agenda can be linked straight to processes. That consequently virtually every challenge an organisations faces, has something to do with processes. That you can help others to see processes and their importance as well.

So the question is not IF you should start managing your processes, but HOW you can manage them in the best possible way.

Regards,
Barend Beenackers
Senior Business Consultant
Process Express

The blog post is based on an article originally written by Jeroen de Groot, founder and CEO of Process Express, Dutch BPM personality of the year 2010.

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