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Why is process so unpopular?

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A question suggested by Ian Gotts from this blog, Why is process so unpopular?

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  • Apologies for being somewhat obtuse, but based upon my experience I need to ask; is process actually unpopular? If so, why?

  • Think of "process" and people will naturally gravitate towards negative connotations;

    > just another cost saving exercise
    > job loss
    > mountainous effort to draw lots of maps
    > I know what my job is about, I don't need to tell you

    It's no different from thinking about IT really;

    > expensive and inflexible systems that never work properly
    > expensive resources that sit in their silo
    > I can't improve my process without some complex IT solution

    Hang on.....did someone say IT and Process in the same negative view ?....

    From the person at the coal face, thinking about process is an overhead because they know what they're doing, they don't necessarily want to give up that feeling of control over their own corporate destiny by imparting that knowledge, and the upper management have never seen fit to tell them just where in the machine that process they perform sits and what value is really adds.

    Similarly, from a CxO's point of view, thinking about process is a headache, who needs to think on such a micro scale when they have the CEO breathing down their neck about performance.

    Process is unpopular because it makes people think. But nobody is educating them as to why thinking about it is good, why the man on the coal face could teach the CxO how to beat performance expectations if he only understood from the CxO where his contributions lead on a day to day basis.

    They're stuck in an endless cycle of process ignorance. Unfortunately some people would rather sell them a technical solution instead of igniting that educational spark and teaching them how process makes the heart of the organisation beat.

    That's why it's called BPM.....

  • Change... [don't mess with my job]

  • Oh, and if we're looking at Ian's story on the BPM conference and their dwindling numbers, I wrote about this almost 2 years ago, looks like the problem with BPM and process in this regard won't die off:


    Why ?

    Well, it's not so much a case of unpopular, but boring. Seriously would you pay to attend conferences to hear the same stories repeated year in year out, no new lessons or radical approaches to organisational transformation, just another(yawn) Lean or Sigma project yarn.

    For years conference organisers have used the same speakers time and again, the same companies to showcase their 'success' stories. How many times can hearing about a Six Sigma success told in a different style be a crowd-pleaser before people start to get weary and slope away. There is no innovation from event organisers and it’s actually killing the BPM message and real showstopping stories from getting out because the one-size-fits-all stories are safe and less risky.

    Plus, who really can afford the budget and time for a conference now ? Why aren't people waking up to more pragmatic formats for conferences and discussions. Small grouped webinars, Podcasts, virtual conferences, are far more cost effective and allow greater consumption.

    I'm sometimes staggered by the foolish blind acceptance the industry has to just wander into the turnstiles and fill the pockets of event organisers without question.

    Analysts and Event Coordinators. Two of the biggest reasons for the lack of innovation in BPM.

    Set the alarm, time for a wake up call people.

    • Oh yeah, we could do a whole week of posts on Why Do People Find BPM So Boring? This crowd obviously don't fall into that category, though, so we may not be the best ones to ask.

    • "Analysts and Event Coordinators. Two of the biggest reasons for the lack of innovation in BPM." - um, the event coordinators are just logistics. Don't think for a minute they get to choose the speakers. That happens higher up.

      You're 100% right about "same speakers, same topics". One of the talks last year the guy got up at Gartner and said he's given the same talk every year at Gartner BPM since its inception, but he was going to change it up a bit this year (2011). oy. once every 10 years we get new messaging?

      Having said that, the vendor conferences are interesting, and they're thriving. And crowd-sourced conferences are equally thriving (and usually less expensive). For half the cost of one day of the Gartner BPM conference I can attend 5 days of SXSW in Austin. Its a fantastic conference. (not about BPM, but it is still fantastic ;) And BPM-oriented shows could learn a lot from SXSW.

      • @Scott, you obviously don't see them trawl the LinkedIn groups then begging for names, it doesn't happen as high up the chain as you think anymore.......

        • who's "they" - the analyst groups?
          Yeah, I don't read linkedin groups much - pretty much a taken over by recruiting. No point spending time there.

          I say this about the analyst conferences having attended them in the US. The people we met were not random independent consultants and people low on the org chart. They can do all the trolling they want, people without money or corp budget aren't shelling out $2000+ for two days...

  • One word: accountability.

    Like Jon, I wonder whether "unpopular" is the right word, but making process improvements certainly is often met with resistance. My guess this is because all the analysis and all the metrics suggests a deeper level of watchfulness than may have been the case before.

    This is not to say that people have not been working hard or working well in the past, but my suspicion is that they interpret the stated need for change as some kind of indictment of their performance. So just as we tense up when a state police cruiser zooms up behind us on the highway, so do people clench when the process experts show up. We, and they, end up feeling extra accountability, even though we know we haven't done anything wrong.

  • Not popular it is. It looks simple but work returns few remarkable results.

    To make it work, processes must be set in the context of the enterprise at the same level with the people and technology that execute them. That is, in the enterprise architecture context.

    The process team does document the processes but seldom has the remit to improve or change the technology or organisation that performs them. Besides, there is no support from EA.

  • I agree with Theo in many of the things he said.
    In addition, people just don't know what process is. In the organizations where I've seen process successful implemented, not just as a concept but really in place, it was after a concerted effort to educate absolutely everyone in the organization about process. When people understand "what" it is, they can see the value of process to themselves and the organization. Until then, it is "just another initiative".

  • I don't think that process itself is unpopular because if it were most jobs would be unpopular as they constitute a process in one way or another. What might be rather unpopular is telling people how to execute their processes rather than guiding them towards the ultimate goal of those processes. I feel there is still a fundamental gap of defining the purpose of WHY is something and defining the steps HOW to get there. The latter is the promise of simplicity, the former is a continuous effort and while more promising in the long term it might discourage those who are in for instant results.

  • I believe people are just scared of process. Process means change, process means more accountability and the possibility many other things that make people nervous about their jobs.

  • @John Yes, process is unpopular in many organizations.
    @Theo Performance means accountability, why change a process without those considerations?
    @Scott Absolutely, don't move my cheese!
    @Theo Agree, most discussions about business process are BORING! If you move the discussion to business process innovation and ROI, I believe that people will pay more attention.
    @Steve I wholeheartedly agree; accountability is uncomfortable for many and they see it as negative. Yet, none of us get through college or graduate programs without being accountable.
    @Adrian Why not hold both the process owner and the enabling technology component owners equally accountable for business process improvement?
    @Kathy I agree; education and training are necessary first to get everyone on the same page and on board. It's amazing to me how few organizations understand the power of this channel to get employees at all levels engaged.
    @Chris I couldn't agree more!

    If you want to spook your employees, tell them that their work will be changed and they have no input into how that transpires. The change might result from a corporate restructuring, new strategic direction, technology shift due to a different transaction system, or business process. If you can't find a way to include your employees' input (so as to engage them further), and articulate sufficiently why the change is beneficial and "what's in it for me," don't bother. Your effort will simply be another failed corporate initiative.

  • Good comments so far.

    I'll just add that whether it be process management, project management, development methodologies, or any other formalism, the problem begins when the method steals focus from the goal. We've all been in those meetings (in my case hundreds of times): the discussion is all about the required documentation, or the upcoming gateway review, when what really needs to be addressed is whether or not we're getting closer to achieving positive results for the business.

    As Faun suggests: to the extent you keep those methodologies clearly tied to business results, people will hang with you as you put them through your process paces. Start thinking more about the journey than the destination, though, and you'll lose your passengers on the way.

  • Change is great when you're doing it to someone else, not so good when someone is doing it to you.

    Process is the same way...
    Process is great when you're instituting process on them. Not so great when someone else is instituting process on you.

    There's a parable there somewhere...!

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    @Scott Francis Process designers seem to forget that participants external to the process tend to be people. And people can be ingenious about stuffing up the process if it annoys them.
    I am full of admiration for the speed which individuals and organisations swung into action following the earthquake in Christchurch a year ago today. However, there was an almost universal failure to recognise that the people in their processes were common actors in a whole lot of concurrent processes. So someone recovering from the shock of family losses and house disappearing under liquifaction would find themselves involved with a myriad of admin processes from eqc, recovery project managers, insurance companies, emergency heating replacement ...
    Hate process? no, but it would be nice if the people that we say are "being served by the process" could see what the process is, where they fit in to it, and what is happening next.

    • David - couldn't agree more - it isn't just the "internal" participants - it is the people affected by processes, the people that are "external" participants as well. Trust me, the folks who survived natural disasters in the US are also all too well acquainted with both process failure and with burdensome processes after the fact. Transparency sure would help.

  • Really good points above where we all, as process-lovers, must be aware of.

    When organizations ask me to coach them on ‘we want to implement bpm, it must be done with that system and it must be done in 2 weeks with 3 people who don't know much about the process’, I also experience negative views of process.

    One cause in Holland is that most process initiatives started with the wrong objectives for employees:

    - Cost Cutting
    - Governance things like ISO
    - Implementing a new systems
    - Become Lean in 2 months

    So suddenly employees have to map their processes in endless workshops, smile when the auditor is in the building, start using an application that doesn’t support their job, and become kaizen.

    So, I absolutely agree with Kathy that communicating to everyone what process management is about (and that it’s not easy), is a step you may not skip.

    Initiators of process management have to be aware that process management is for the organization as a whole, while employees just do their job.

    So empowering the employees to implement BPM is what is needed to not make them numb the first minute. Make them aware what it is all about, make them aware that processes don’t exist for the auditor but for the customers (who in the end pay their wages). Create awareness that only a team can make a process perform.

    It all sounds soft, but as we could read above, all those hard things are not the right way to create ‘happy process people’

    And of course there are still employees that don’t care about process, there are still companies that don’t care about their employees being involved in BPM (then probably they don't care about real bpm)

    But it is better to be aware of that than keep on towing a dead horse (I think that is a Dutch saying ;-).

    But we as consultants also have to make a living. So I have to go now. In ten minutes I have to do a workshop to map processes to see where we can lay off some people.
    Then I have to Rush for a kick-off meeting because my employer wants to join one of those BPM-seminars mentioned above. Should I send him a link to this site?

    Keep on processing!

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    Very interesting and obviously a good topic and it is with mixed feelings that I read all your comments. It is disheartening to learn that process implementation is so difficult but on the other hand it is good to know we are not alone. Four years into building up our BPM system we are still struggling to sell the benefits to Senior managment and the workforce for all the reasons you guys and girls point out in your comments above. We are getting there slowly, very slowly but we are still at process maturity level 2, creeping into level 3. Kathy's message gives me hope.

    So now we have defined why process is unpopular and boring, perhaps we can come up with some solutions on how to make it popular and intersting? Senior management drive would be top of my list - but how to get it? I would love to have our CEO and directors attend a process conference instead of us BPM experts who are already sold on the idea, but how do we get tehm there?

    Any ideas?

  • Great debate, but to move straight to the point @christine made about making BPM more excitable, in my own humble experience (analysing, mapping and modelling processes for the past 20 years) I wouldn't put processes too high on the agenda: they are boring! Engage board-level customers and the shop floor with more comprehensive solutions to improve the way they operate without 'mapping' and 'levelling' them to death. Processes are an important ingredient in bringing about change, but I sometimes feel it's a bit like flogging circuit-boards instead of washing machines. There are people who can make BPM exciting, @kathy being one of them, but for most consultants and even the most seasoned process practitioners it is an uphill struggle that doesn't make you lots of friends. I personally find it more gratifying to develop target operating models that enable change, combining strategies, processes, systems and performance models into a single approach. I used to call this BPM myself, but I guess I have moved on.

  • What I also experience often, what might cause this negativity about process, is that employees see a process as a set of rules they have to follow.

    In that case I think, management (or who else is introducing process management) didn’t do a good job.

    A process isn’t a set of rules. A process is ‘the road to result’. It looks like a lot of people forgot what process management is about. It’s about using this process to create the results and meeting the goals set for this result.

    And using the process means that, during the process, there must be some indicators if you will deliver the result within its goals.

    Of course then you must be able to intervene during this road. Otherwise you can better call it process execution instead of process management.

    A metaphor you also probably use is a sat-nav; it will tell you whether you will reach your destination within your goals set. During the trip you might decide to do things different like speeding up, taking a short cut. When you have to intervene on every trip, but never reach your destination in time it might be necessary to improve your process (a faster car, better driver, smarter road, not a car but a motor cycle, etc)

    It’s about managing the road towards your results. Not applying a set of rules. So it’s all about delivering results.

    Make employees aware of that. Make a team responsible for that result (and its goals). Ask them what are their constraints to deliver that results, what they need to do it better. Then they start process thinking automatically.

    But when process initiatives lead to process maps that are hard coded into workflow systems with no escapes when that should be better for the customer, I can imagine processes are seen as rules.

    Of course there might be some rules coming out of law, but they are not the process. They might even be constraints for the process.

    There is a process mapping tool vendor here in Holland that has a slogan 'rules are fun'. I would never work there, but maybe it will help to make process a more positive term ;-)

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    Process becomes a bad word when people start quoting process as a reason for not doing something rather than as a means to achieve the result.

    Especially in organisations with unstructured methods of work, people will do what is convenient and throw a process rule book at everything else.

    Then there is a tendency to blindly follow process rather than think about the outcome. Often processes build in steps which are of use to no one but the auditor to justify his fees. There will be tons of data gathered in such steps which does not advance the task nor is it useful for any step subsequent to the task.

    All one hears in justification of such steps are - someone might need to check in the future. A question to ask here would be - how many times in the past have you needed this at a later stage?

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    I talked against process on many occasions but I did it due to particular inappropriate use or references to process. At the same time, there are a lot of strong reasons and cases where the process is the only one suitable solution and it is very popular in there.

    A process leads to a discipline, and the discipline can save lives. I think, this is enough for popularity.

  • Not our experience once users see their ideas coming back quickly to help them in their job they love it BUT we do not talk "IT" indeed neither do the users!
    Good digitised processes should empower people reduce "finger work" and automate repetitive tasks.

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