In my business consulting life, I often come across clients wanting to start business process management (BPM) projects with “quick fix” software, rather than considering the big picture. Today’s tools are very capable (and getting better all the time), but they cannot work magic, fix faulty processes, read minds, or automate the ad hoc.
The purpose of this article is to help start your new BPM initiative on the right foot, and save your organization countless time and money down the road. Following the steps in this article will maximize your business automation investments and save much time and frustration down the road.
Before evaluating business process automation tools, you must first:
- Establish clearly defined business goals and objectives.
- Define requirements.
- Collect and collate process information.
- Document and understand how existing processes work.
(For an overall program primer, read my introduction to the Six Stages of IAM Programs. The Six Stages apply to business process management programs as well.)
Ready to begin? Let’s start with pre-processing:
Business Process Management Pre-Processing Steps
- Start small. I use a term called “business snippets.” These “snippets” are little bits of business process stored in the heads/computers/papers/binders/files/sticky notes of your stakeholders. For example, the sales department may have one part of the process, order processing another, and so on. The combined snippets form an end-to-end process. (Like moving a prospect through the sales funnel until he/she completes an order and makes a purchase.)
- Bring in an outside consultant. Someone with experience extracting, understanding, modeling and automating your business processes. The outside experience can help you “see above the forest of trees” within your organization.
- Form a core team. This team will collect, diagram, manage — and ultimately automate — your processes. It’s less about the size of the team than their effectiveness.
- Focus on collecting the “business snippets” first. Similar to a brainstorming session. Your business process collection team collects all the process “bits”, tags each with a descriptive meta data and puts the information into a searchable “Business Process Repository.”
- Add diagrams and charts as needed. Think PowerPoint charts, block diagrams, and the like.
- *Cross-reference the business snippets with their parent processes; map relationships between related processes and dependencies. *When viewed as a jigsaw puzzle, the business snippets must be compiled and organized into a logical order. The ordered steps will ultimately be fed to and automated by your BPM tools.
- Always focus on what is core to your business. This is a hugely important point – resist focusing your collection efforts on what your auditors or others in your industry do. The process collection project is all about what is specific to your organization.
- Ensure that all processes are fully collected, defined, cataloged, indexed, searchable, and repeatable.
- **Consider your current enterprise IT software tools during the process evaluation. What features and functions do your tools provide? How can they be streamlined and centralized? Do the results of your processing process direct you to consider new tools or techniques?* *
And now…you are in a position to see and understand where your organization actually is and where it wants to go. From here, you can now consider which BPM tools, if any, will help you automate your business workflow.
Business process management can be a challenging, yet highly rewarding exercise. Pre-processing is only the beginning. If your organization is ready to tackle its processes, then make the commitment full and total. My grandfather used to say – a job worth doing, is a job worth doing right. Take ample time to understand your organizational goals, requirements, processes and structure. Once your businesses are fully documented and understood, it is time to automate with commercial tools — or create your own!