The seven deadly process transformation pitfalls

New process modelling, intelligence and automation tools have made improving the way your business runs a lot easier but there are still plenty of pitfalls that can catch you unawares.

It wasn’t that long ago that business process transformation was only for the initiated – people with mysterious titles and certificates in business process re-engineering (BPR): Lean and the rather curious, Six Sigma Black Belts.

But as technological innovation has helped advance the cause with new process modelling, intelligence and automation tools, the gospel of Business Process Management (BPM) is quickly spreading from clusters of business analysts to boardrooms, IT departments and the front line of business.

Indeed, Gartner said in a much-headed study that the standard of BPM will increasingly help separate firms that perform well operationally from the laggards among the Global 2000. The firm’s analysts predict that between now and 2014 business will intensify their focus on process-related skills, competencies and competitive differentiators.

In the context of BPM, process transformation begins when organisations have successfully documented, standardised, harmonised, managed - as well as analysed and improved - their business processes. Process improvements are aligned with optimisation goals, such as cost savings, time savings and quality.

Before you embark on the journey, think carefully about the five Ws of process transformation:

  • Why you are modelling? You must ensure your model benefits line up with corporate objectives.
  • Who are the customers for the models? An IT designer will have different expectations than a business analyst.
  • What are you modelling? Is it a sales process, and where does it start and end, what products does it handle?
  • When will the models be relevant? Distinguish between as-is and to-be processes and consider the lifetime of models.
  • Where will the models be used?

As always, managing change is not without challenges. The seven most common pitfalls of the process transformation stage include:

1. No standards

There are many process modelling tool available in the market today - some use Visio, others ARIS and some describe their processes in PowerPoint. Process models are stored on the local hard disk; some are on file servers. Others cannot be found anymore. Everyone uses different objects/shapes to describe the same thing. This is indeed the worst case.

2. Keep strategy under lock

Management knows that a corporate strategy is important. It takes several meetings to agree on it but then it stays in the boardroom. If you ask employees what the corporate strategy looks like, you barely get an answer. It’s even harder for employees to understand how they contribute to the strategy.

3. Modelling only the “happy path”

It’s tempting to model only the processes where everything runs smoothly. But if you do this you can’t find improvement potentials.

4. Keeping models secret

Processes are for everyone. Don’t keep them secret in your repository. Share them with your organisation or even beyond. But don’t forget the Five Ws.

5. Forgetting input and output

A process consumes input and transfers it to an output—and hopefully adds value along the way. If you design a process or a process step, make sure you also document the input and the output.

6. Not differentiating between model designer and consumer

The person creating a process model should always keep in mind who the consumer will be. A business person has different requirements than an IT person. The best approach is to have one model with different views on it.

7. Everybody can model everything—no governance

Process transformation needs process management. You need to set up a governance structure around rights and roles. Not everybody should have the right to model or change every process. Don’t underestimate the effort of developing and implementing governance. It is strongly recommended to use technology as governance support. 

If organisations implement the five Ws and avoid the pitfalls, they quickly realise benefits such as increased transparency and alignment with business strategy, not to mention reduced costs resulting from optimised processes and faster design cycles.

Another advantage of greater standardisation and consistency through well-designed, common processes is improved business flexibility by having transparency into how the business operates.

Simon Wrench is the solutions manager, Australia and New Zealand, at Software AG