At first sight, the task appears easy: capture the business processes, visualize them in an easy-to-understand form, and use them as a basis for quality or efficiency improvement projects. This goal may seem trivial to a rationally thinking consultant. Especially in larger organizations, we frequently see action teams attempting to capture and model the “as-is” processes or to create “comprehensive” and “enterprise-wide” process models.The following simple procedure appears simple and logical:
- Define a process model structure with several detail levels (from rough to fine).
- Interview the business experts within the target organization and collect the results: work steps, responsibilities, and work products.
- Review all partial results.
- Compile all parts to an overall model and conduct a comprehensive review.
- Consolidate the results in a single, integrated model and establish them as obligatory business processes. Finished!
1. Define a process model structure with several detail levels (from rough to fine)In contrast to software design, where the modeling language UML is the state-of-the-art notation, there is no industry standard for process modeling. No catalog of criteria exists that would help determine what to put on the first, second, third, etc. process level. Under each of these levels, one can imagine virtually anything. Even worse, the borders between a process of the 2nd and a sub-process of the 3rd are diffuse. In a significant process, a partial work sequence appears as a sub-process, while in a minor process, stepping one level down might appear unnecessary for the very same sequence. Consequently, the choice of the process level granularity seems arbitrary.
2. Interview the business experts within the target organization and collect the results.The experts may be good at their actual job. However, they are usually not as good as insufficiently describing their work. The results rarely fully correspond with reality.
3. Review all partial results.How much insider knowledge about the target organization does the process designer need to eliminate redundancies and discover gaps? And will a review with the experts unveil all the process model’s weaknesses? Often, the reviewer lacks the experience to cope with the review tasks.
4. Compile all parts to an overall model and conduct a comprehensive review.The overall view is afflicted with the same weaknesses as the sub-processes. Additionally, the reviewers’ abstraction ability varies widely.
5. Consolidate the results in a single, integrated model and establish them as obligatory business processes.It is to be clarified whether the senior management is really ready to commit to the process as “valid and obligatory.” In many cases, it is not. Consider the warning signs. These challenges are often extended by more frightening scenarios, for example:
- The process analysis is conducted while downsizing or announcement is ongoing. In this case, the support on the part of the experts will be fragile.
- If the main goal is to obtain some formal certificate (ISO 9000 or CMMI appraisal) e.g., for marketing purposes, the consultant should think twice before tackling this task.
- In an immature organization, processes are very hard to analyze. Informal communication paths are pervasive and implicitly established. Risky “shortcuts” in organizational structure are hard to manage. An attempt to capture all those alternatives makes the process model useless at best and misleading at worst.
I am a project manager (Project Manager Professional, PMP), a Project Coach, a management consultant, and a book author. I have worked in the software industry since 1992 and as a manager consultant since 1998. Please visit my United Mentors home page for more details. Contact me on LinkedIn for direct feedback on my articles.