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What does it mean to control a business process?

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Another excellent question Anatoly Belychook brings up in this blog, Law of BPM Robotics, what does it mean to control a process?

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  • Governance, governance, governance.

    That means a formal change cycle with version control and an audit cycle. This applies to the non-automated process model and attachments (documents, media, systems links, business risks) and the automated 'application'.

    Only then can the highly regulated industries such as banking and pharma really start to use BPM technologies.

    Interstingly Nimbusis used by the top pharma companies for highly regulated SOP and therefore we are audited to ensure that our software development processes are controlled. Luckily we use our own product.

    We call it drinking our own champagne!!!

  • The value of BPM is in its ability to provide control over a process, visibility into a process, and continual optimization of a process.

    Control is created in two primary ways. First, the workflow itself dictates how a process is initiated and completed. In a structured approach the process designer creates the workflow in the process modeling studio. In a dynamic workflow, the user largely dictates who is involved and what each participant must do to complete their assigned. Either way, someone is controling flow.

    The second way of getting control over a process is by adding business rules. Each activity in a workflow follows specific rules governing roles, policies, procedures, routing, escalations, approvals/rejections, alerts, notifications, etc. These rules ensure that the process is followed correctly. Rules also help prevent users from entering bad data while expediting specific requests.

    In addition to rules in the model, rules can also be added directly to forms. For example, some fields in a form may be mandatory.

    One more thing, rules add context to the process. With rules you can create KPIs which can be tracked to measure user/process effectiveness and efficiencies.

  • user-pic

    It depends on how do you interpret the acronym BPM, because it stands for Business Process Management and also for the Business Performance Management.
    For the second, the comments are really true, for the first one, usually not.
    But from my point of view, you need both of them incorporeted, to have an aligned and well performing business process landscape.

  • How to control a process? With governance and rules? I thought a process is a means of control!

    So let me ask this question:
    Who controls the governance burecucracy to put the right controls in place? Another process?

    So the answer must be: PEOPLE use BPM to control PEOPLE they don't trust!

    Over the last two centuries, governments in the Western World had to learn to behave like business people and not be so bureaucratic. AND NOW we have all these BPM governance proponents tell us that we need BPM that will be controlled by a governance that also ought to follow some incredibly rigid and bureaucratic methodology such a LEAN or Six Sigma.


  • RE: Controlling a process - with Six Sigma?
    Six Sigma works in maufacturing because processes are repeatable. In customer facing applications SS can never work because consumers have something machines don’t - emotions and you can’t control that variance. Process governance must be creative, much as all processes are if they want to keep up with changes in the market and latch onto customer sentiment.

    Quotes from the press:

    Six Sigma: So Yesterday?
    In an innovation economy, it’s no longer a cure-all
    JUNE 11, 2007 Bloomberg Businessweek

    Austed Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli was devoted to Six Sigma. … Profitability soared, but worker morale drooped, and so did consumer sentiment. Home Depot dropped from first to worst among major retailers on the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2005. Now Nardelli’s successor, Frank Blake is dialing back on the Six Sigma. … The story unfolding at Home Depot echoes closely what’s happening at 3M after James McNerney’s reign. At Young & Rubicam, where GE board member Ann Fudge flamed out as CEO after she tried to sell ad execs on Six Sigma.

    At Raytheon, Robert Carter as a Six Sigma expert, acknowledges the “define, measure, analyze, improve, control? mind-set doesn’t entirely gel with the fuzzy front-end of invention. When an idea starts germinating, Carter says, “you don’t want to overanalyze it.?

  • RE: Controlling people through processes that are controlled through governance bureaucracy.

    'Contrary to certain prejudices and misconceptions, employees can learn to behave in new ways. It is no good, however, if headquarters or leaders tell the frontline what to do. People learn only if they are motivated — hence the importance of meaningful work — and if what they learn is based on experience of what does and doesn't work, of feeling good when something is done well, of watching and emulating role models. People learn emotionally intelligent behavior when they become aware of their own inhibiting mind-sets. They typically gain insight into these mind-sets through feedback, reflection on their own successes and failures, and stories about other people. The effort of self-discovery must be well guided by role models and led by managers, from the front line all the way to the top, who embody the desired mind-sets about the job, the customers, the company, its products, and its wider role.'

    McKinsey 2006: The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service. Focus on the interactions that are important to customers—and on the way frontline employees handle those interactions. Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey Madge Feb. 2006 http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/The_moment_of_truth_in_customer_service_1728

  • A lot of businesses are ‘out of control’ not because part of their workforce is untrusted or because their workers need dominated. The businesses have simply grown out of the systems and processes that got them started.

    Excel spreadsheets and email are powerful tools that work great for small teams but don’t scale well.

    The problem is almost always visibility.

    I was once involved in a project in a call centre that had 70 staff and worked more than 35,000 leads per month but all the tracking was done on spreadsheets emailed to managers to consolidate every week. The business felt out of control despite excellent financial results. To understand changes in performance took weeks to get the right data to the right people and data quality was a constant problem.

    BPM allowed us to get an understanding of the end-to-end process. Performance was understood and therefore brought under control despite the fact that the level of automation in the process was not increased.

    At the simplest level, understanding a process is the best way to get control over it.

  • Honestly I'd leave the Orwellian and class-warfare references to the side, as well as the idea that governance and control of the user/operator is the goal. What Ian described sounds like the change control process for processes (governance over process change). That's all well and good but governance != running a business. We need to put the cart behind the horse. Max is right in this respect- people have to control the process (true at several different levels).

    My thinking aligns more closely with David Brakoniecki's - controlling a process should not be about trust with the people working in the process. It is about first, understanding the process. If you do that, then you can understand the key metrics that reveal its performance - and you can start to educate everyone about how parts of the process impact those metrics or business drivers (and in particular, customers).

    And as Dave points out - the issue isn't that people in the business aren't controlled - its that the tools at their disposal are woefully inadequate to what the business needs of them - spreadsheets galore and sharepoint sites and people who's job it is to pass work around amongst the specialists because it is all in paper folders.

    When businesses grow or change - the rigid and fragile parts of their business processes break. The flexible parts bend and bend... and it may not be obvious that they're broken because the breaking is so gradual. At some point both the broken and the nearly broken need to be addressed. If you are practicing BPM - you may not wait til your process breaks - you may be able to intervene before that happens (more staff to a critical area, eliminate some rote manual work that wasn't worth automating when you were smaller, better filtering of work, etc. )

  • The central idea is about empowerment., not as much about control

    Empower the owner of the activity. Help him stay in 'control' of his schedules, tasks and activities.

    Empower the owner of a series of activities or processes by giving him visibility into what is going on. If something is not, give him the required 'control' to take corrective measures to bring things back on track.

    So I understand the reason behind 'control' becoming a touchy topic. But it doesn't have to be all that touchy, does it. It gets touchy only if we interpret it with emotion and bring many other possible interpretations of the word. If we are able to resist that, keeping the focus on the objectives of the activity, process and the organization, and think at meeting those in the most effective way, then all this thing about trust, domination, etc. will seem childish.

  • I like Scott's mention of several different levels of control. Maybe we should start here and define these levels to make the discussion more productive?

    Level 1: control over a process instance execution. In fact this is what most process participants are only interested in.

    Level 2: control over a process scheme, metrics etc. This is what process analysts are interested in and what process discovery and modeling efforts are targeted to.

    Level 3: control over a process change process. Ian calls it governance, Max calls it process bureaucracy, for me it's agile BPM project implementation.

    I believe it's counter-productive to overstate any of these levels:

    - Making process understanding a focus means targeting level 2. Sounds like reengineering for me: it's great to know what the process should be but getting people involved (level 1) and making it happen (level 3) is another story.

    - Both too little or too much process governance is no good. With little governance the BPM success wouldn't be sustainable but too much govenance would mean bureaucracy in it's worst meaning. The levels above should form a pyramid: in no case the governance (level 3) shall overweight execution (level 1).

    - My impression of ACM is that it overstates the level 1 control. Although a big part of Max's and other ACM proponents criticisms is valid, I'm not buying this extreme either.

    So the best process control is the control balanced over three levels. There is no ideal proportion indeed - it depends on the industry (e.g. banks and pharma Ian mentioned), organization scale and maturity.

    The point of my original post that Peter kindly linked was bridging the gap between levels 1 and 2. We actually use this robot metaphor in our BPM projects and I witness that it works better than abstract "process education". People (process participants) start trusting that we are here to help them control the process (level 1), not to establish a Taylor-like control over themselves (level 2). It results in less friction during process change cycles and less bureaucracy (level 3).

  • Some impressive thought lines and Max has just been pretty rational in his views.

    Control is a very broad and sensitive term.
    Does it mean to prevent errors?
    Does it mean to set a fixed approach without flexibility? Does it mean to prevent frauds?
    Does it mean to ensure that authority lines are not crossed?
    Does it mean to improve turn around times?
    Does it mean to empower or restrict?
    Does it mean to reduce Enterprise Risks or sub-elements of it?
    Does it mean to manage headcount?

    Unless these and similar questions are answered by an organization, the question will never be answered and depending on your nature of business and culture of both society and the organization, a process may be "controlled" or left "free".

    Magic potions do exist but i stopped reading fairy tales ages ago!

  • Most generally, control of a business process means execution of a set of mechanisms necessary to achieve defined outcomes. Examples of outcomes include such things as fulfilling customer requirements, complying with standards and achieving service levels. The mechanisms may include such devices as order initiation routines, approval routines and resource allocation routines. Control being exercised through the establishment of the mechanisms and the set of rules for initiating, assigning or prioritizing their execution.

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