The Golden Rule of process #BPM

The following is another guest blog by Tom Molyneux. Tom is a business process consultant at some of the largest enterprises in the world. His experiences in the strategic use of technology give him thoughtful insights into the rapidly changing world we live in.

Say what you do, do what you say” — Anonymous

Say what you do

Clearly describe the operations of the enterprise by capturing and managing process. To have any value, that description of process must be accurate, understandable, up-to-date, and trusted. It must take a “Goldilocks” approach – not too hot (complex), not too cold (oversimplified to point of uselessness).

  • Too complex: BPMN, various EA or expert tools: while the processes described in these formats may be accurate, they are really the Esperanto of business languages — written in a language that few within the business can understand.  I’ve sat in on painful meetings where very sophisticated business users and analysts tried unsuccessfully to make sense of a process that consultants created in these formats.  Keep in mind — these were processes that the business users actually understood.  Rather than clarify, these formats obscured key information and simply aren’t useful as a tool for communication and comprehension.
  • Too simple: business users automatically gravitate to Word, PowerPoint, Visio, even Excel when they start to capture process.  Here’s the problem – everybody “sorta” understands what was intended.  They can be used to facilitate communications, but they are so “mushy” as to lead reasonable people to totally different conclusions as to how the process is performed.  These processes are then “clarified” by adding another layer – for example, a step- by-step procedure written in Word combined in the same document with a flow chart created in PowerPoint.  What inevitably happens is that the flow chart doesn’t match the text.  They may even add a multi-page narrative to add further clarification! Ironically, rather than provide clarity, this approach usually introduces more and more confusion.
  • Just right: the language should appear simple to all uses so it can be used for communication yet enforce standards and contain all the key process elements.  It should be readable while always answering, for each activity, what is being done, who is doing it, when does it start, why is it done, and how it is done.  If it answers these questions it can be used by both process owners and end users as well as the more technical.

If we stop here, all we have is documentation.  Boring.

Do what you say

This is where process becomes alive.  It’s well and good to say what you do, but without the doing, all that’s left are empty words, diagrams or flow charts.  There are three keys to this:

  • Make it understandable: already addresses above in the context of process capture and management, but this point also emphatically applies to making processes actionable – if stakeholders don’t understand it, they won’t do it.
  • Make it personal: There may be hundreds or even thousands of different roles within an organization.  What the employee needs to know is not the end to end processes, but what are the specific activities that they need to perform as a nurse or a pharmacist. And not just as a role of “nurse”, but Nurse Smith specifically.
  • Make it auditable: Now you have understandable processes are in the hands of the people who need them…only one thing is still missing.  There must be mechanisms in place to verify that the activities are being performed as specified and take remedial action should that not be the case.

Event Driven Example

What might this vision of accurate, living process look like in the twenty-first century?  Picture a hospital’s admissions and discharge process.  One of the key performance indicators for this process is the readmission rate.  In many cases in today’s world, the core processes may be deeply flawed, leading to unnecessary and costly re-admissions.

The first step in process improvement – the foundational step – is to accurately “say what you do”. Traditional business process re-engineering initiatives do this by identifying and removing gaps, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and fixing hand offs.  Indeed, this type of re-engineering has been shown to lead to dramatic reductions in readmission rates and is widely accepted as the first step in dealing with this process problem.

Make it executable

Imagine building onto these improved processes with real-time predictive monitoring of re-admissions and other events.  Here are some possibilities should re-admissions start to rise:

  • If the reasons are unknown, the system could kick off sophisticated business analytics as well as the root cause analysis process to find and then fix the problem.
  • The system could start to learn, though visual analytics, the common factors in its patient population that lead to high re-admissions – then tune processes to mitigate adverse outcomes.
  • When the system became adept at predicting causes, it could start to become “intelligent” and start to proactively head off performance failures.  For example, if the predictive system notices a high turnover in a role or function, it could suggest additional training before the lack of skills manifested a problem.

In the end, actionable process needs to be dead easy for the end user. The following is an example of an initial or refresher training around the discharge process:

What makes a great axiom valuable is its application to many areas of business, regardless of culture, industry, or geography. “Say what you do, do what you say” is the foundation for getting it right with people, process and technology alike.


Categories: Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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  1. BPM Quotes of the week « Adam Deane - December 18, 2011

    […] Process Improvement – Tom Molyneux The first step in process improvement – the foundational step – is to […]

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