BPM: It isn’t always the sunshine case

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tightropeIt doesn’t take a full-blown disaster to offset your balance if you’re walking on a tightrope. In ideal conditions you could do it blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back. Unfortunately, unexpected events have a tendency to crop up at just the wrong moments. And while the ‘cross that bridge when I get to it’ attitude may present an otherwise admirable way of life it may also explain why so few companies are prepared when it comes to process contingency plans. Process agility suggests that when conditions and demands on your processes change, you simply switch over to a new process more or less at the push of a button.

Two questions immediately spring to mind: ‘Which new process?’ and ‘When have conditions changed enough to justify change?’

Conventional wisdom seems to be that only a single process design is ever needed to accomplish a given process objective. Let’s take one of the usual suspects – a credit application process – as a example. In most banks this process is highly automated, with the automation scope ranging from process routing and system integration to complete hands-free processing. This makes perfect sense considering the volume handled through this process in most banks. But just imagine this volume dropping to a single credit application. Would any form of automation and BPMS deployment make sense under these conditions? Most would argue that a manual solution would be more appropriate and cheaper.

Clearly, between these two extreme sets of conditions lie a range of options for different process designs and process configurations. Why then do we usually only explore one avenue without even considering the implications of a change of conditions? The answers we’ve been getting range from ‘We’ve always done it this way’ to ‘un-managability of different process scenarios’.

I’d like to offer two different explanations:

– We are generally unaware of the limitations of our business processes. The reason may be that the main emphasis lies on process functionality and ‘does it work’. Negative thinking along the lines of ‘when will this not work’ is usually not encouraged – and when it does happen, it’s regarded as an attack for purely personal reasons (resistance to change etc.).

– In order to get things done (provide some usable results) we to tend to build the sunshine case, in which all systems work all of the time, all employees are always available and possess the required skills, where all customers conform to a standard and where every process can be more or less isolated from internal and external influences.

SonnenscheinThese assumptions are not only reflected in how process projects are defined and run but also in how processes are operated and managed. Process design is still being done on a one-off basis and the result – it is hoped – provides a functioning and above all consistent and constant value. At the same time many industries have been facing changing conditions for a long time, developments often being unpredicted, indeed unpredictable, but the fact that change happens is generally accepted.

From a process perspective this leads us to two conclusions:

– Identify when and why your business processes will lose performance and when they will cease to perform at all.

– Prepare Plan B: What needs to be done to react? Do you need to change some parts within your existing process or do you need a more radical approach?

It is almost schizophrenic that we have become used to addressing and dealing with these issues once it’s too late (the problems have become apparent) but still refuse to prepare ourselves beforehand.

What I do find encouraging is that potential approaches to solving this issue are on the rise. Events with massive implications like the financial crises or the nuclear disaster in Japan seem to have created an awareness of the importance of running process simulations and doing stresstests. The approach we have taken at the taraneon Process TestLab to subject processes to simulation runs – not to prove that they will work but to determine when processes will not work and what the implications of a change to the process environment – has helped our clients to be better prepared to face what they know will happen in any case: CHANGE.

Just as some have come to regard business process management as a form of value management it is just as important to understand the risk management issues of processes. Becoming aware of process risks is the first step to developing an effective process management strategy.

(Sun by Wellnesshotel, www.piqs.de,
Tightrope by http://www.flickr.com/photos/geoftheref/2253511823/
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Republished with author's permission from original post.

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