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What is the single most important factor in business process improvement?

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What is the single most important factor in business process improvement?

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  • Applying it on to useful processes

  • People, people, people! Creating a culture where improvement is the norm and that the new practices and systems you create are adopted are critical, and this comes as a result of having the people that matter buy-in to the way you wish to work. In terms of ensuring you are working on the right things means the next most important group of people would be your managers and executives, many a BPM program fails because it cannot cross old functional barriers, and this is where the involvement and acceptance of management is the decisive factor.

    So two groups of people who are important to improving business process improvement, nut neither group is as important as customers! Customers are the whole reason for your being and should be the prime beneficiaries of your efforts to improve your business. Historically too many improvement initiatives, process or otherwise have focussed on efficiency and doing things right. This is not enough in today's challenging economic environment. Instead you need to focus on effectiveness and doing the right things.

    Of course in an ideal world you want to be doing the right things right! Thus ensuring your processes are well aligned to serving your customers in the way they want and need and executed in the way that allows your business to serve them at the most reasonable cost possible, while enabling and empowering your staff to give of their best.

  • Just a little willingness of the business to change and improve.

    If a business unit has process improvement thrust upon them by management and nobody has any desire to work better, then no amount of business process improvement related change management will succeed. Fundamentally a team needs to buy into the need for change before real business process improvement can even start to be undertaken.

  • Buy-in. To improvement. Leave alone that coming through business process.

    • Come on guys we're talking about PROCESS improvement not team or people improvement ;-)

      • Who will make that improvement to process? What if they/it doesn't care?

        • Was just kidding....but still be aware that organizations work process oriented and people just go to work each day and indeed might not care about process at all.

          So be very clear to your people what process you are improving, what is the result of that process and why it needs improving and how the people can contribute....oh that's what you were saying ;-)

          • Emiel I think you are a comedian (though I know you are just joking)! And Jaisundar, I think you've hit the nail on the head too.

            People who just turn up to work are not so much of an issue, though will take some effort to convert to a new process. People who are so set in their current ways that they actively try to prevent process improvement from happening are the big issue.

            Process improvement can only really happen if you can understand a baseline from which you can improve. If the response from business users is "we won't give you the information you need" or "we won't work with you", then there are really only three options:

            1) bang your head against the brick wall until it hurts, then give up
            2) work with 'management' to accept that this is a poor choice of project and select a more likely candidate for success
            3) work with 'management' to change attitudes (possibly through replacement of the team)

            Sometimes process improvement can't happen without team improvement, which can be a lot more painful than drawing a process picture and implementing some software.

          • It has been my experience in two areas...letting management determine and communicate which processes to re-engineered allowing me as the consultant to stay focused and the second, when you take a collaborative approach, the worker will expresses care about the change(s) and express their concerns,ideas,etc. which can be incorporated into process design.

      • Emiel you are not serious with that statement...PROCESSES are inclusive of people that make up teams...how can you really improve a process and negate the people that are apart of process execution and decision.

        • That was what the smiley should say ;-)

          Agree with you. People are part of the process! Not something separate.

          Serious....the last time I was serious about BPM, they asked me to show some BPM software at a Gartner summit....

  • Pre-automation: Automation via BPM.
    Post-automation: Data provided by the BPM platform over the course of successive executions of the process.

  • Understanding what it is and isn't. It isn't LEAN, Six Sigma, or just Continuous Improvement. Real process improvement means end-to-end, not pieces and parts.

  • Most important thing in my book is leadership.
    (and other posts)

    Leadership is what makes it all work.

  • Agree with Scott “leadership” to make it happen but read this a quote about real experience “You kind of get used to the luxury of being able to chop and change – and I think you can end up abusing the flexibility a bit. We’d think ‘Great, we can do this, and do that’, and probably some of those things in hindsight weren’t necessary at all. But the flexibility is inherently useful: we just have to instil some discipline in ourselves!” So “discipline” once people get freedom?

  • Scott, David, If we are waiting/depending on leadership, assuming you mean from the top, then we may have a long wait. I remember sitting with Tom Davenport in his office a few years ago talking about getting more leaders to become really involved. He agreed but said he had done some research into just how many "great ideas" or "must do initiatives" they have coming at them and realised that BPM at best might make number 6 or 7 on their list of things to, when in reality if they could deal with the top 2 or 3 things they were doing well.

    So, if we are to be dependent on leadership (from the top), then either we have to stop talking technology speak and automation and switch to a pure business speak (in the hope of elevating BPM up the agenda list) or give up and find another product or market niche. Sounds pessimistic, but you would be amazed at how many vendor to user presentations start with "the business problem is" and pretty soon go on to say that ours is the best solution because "XYZ" technology analyst says so! How many CEO/CFO/COO's do you know that follow "XYZ" technology analysts?

    Beter to aim at lower levels in the organisation where pain points are clearer, resources are fewer and desire is greater, generate enough success and motivate enough people and soon enough the "C' suite will want to know how that success has occurred.

    Leadership is involved in process and change programs, just not really BPM, so as another thought perhaps we should learn to play nicer with the Lean and Six Sigma folks and maybe they will get us the executive sponsorship that people talk of.

    • Mark -
      Love your response "if we are waiting/depending on leadership, assuming you mean from the top, then we may have a long wait." -

      The title of the post i referenced is:
      "Leading from Below"...
      (not from the top).

      "Successful projects that lead to successful strategy and programs, will have executive sponsorship. Regardless of whether they start without that executive sponsorship. Why is that? Because the successful teams will lobby effectively for executive support, with real data and real successes to back them up. Executives will choose to put more money on the winning horse. The best executives will co-opt the best ideas from the effort, find synergies with corporate objectives and strategy, and then change the emphasis of the go-forward program accordingly. Most really interesting innovations and opportunities will bubble up from the organization – the trick for the executive team is to spot those emergent opportunities and capitalize on them. If you don’t have your executive sponsorship lined up, think about which executive(s) are likely to sponsor your go-forward efforts. Think about what matters to them, what their objectives are, what the company objectives are over which they have influence. And make sure you have good arguments to support your BPM initiative along those lines. If you do it right, it will almost feel like the realization of that executive’s ideas, rather than some “not-invented-here” idea that has to be thrust upon upper management."

      Leadership is what you do, not what the title next to your name says...

  • You must meet or exceed company objectives.

  • It's happening again in this discussion; mixing up BPM = Technology and BPM = Managing By Process.

    So Kathy is absolutely right on being clear what it is. And if we don't agree here, who will...

    • Hi Emiel,

      I agree , just looked again and the question is not about BPM but about business process improvement. I do agree that if we are not all clear that BPM is a management philosophy for doing business differently and that can then be supported by modern technology, then how can anyone else buy-in to the idea.

      However, it does seem a common factor through the threads that BPM appears to be constantly equated with technology, which of course as we all know it is not, the technology piece is BPMS.

    • I don't really agree. I don't see confusion in this discussion around BPM. We're talking about improvement which is part of BPM. And agreement on comment threads on ebizQ or other forums is not a proxy for agreement within an organization pursuing a management by process discipline ;)

      • I see confusion because I've seen answers on the important factor for:

        - Indeed improving processes
        - Implementing some process technology
        - Turning your organization into 'managing by process'

        The first 2 might indeed be part of the last one.

  • Sorry to jump in late, this is my first time on this forum!!

    Well from a high level perspective, the culture of the business is important. Would that culture support change and process improvement?? That’s the big question

    But if the company has a set culture then the business case would be very important. How the case is structured and presented would establish the all necessary buy-in.

  • Enjoy the discussion. The goal of process improvement is to make process more "intelligent"-smarter, agile, flexible, or resilient., etc, as processes underpins business capabilities, and capabilities underpins business strategy/execution, besides leadership & people, process intelligence can be taken to collective further information about processes, and manage process life cycle: http://futureofcio.blogspot.com/2012/10/intelligent-process-vs-process.html

    Always begin with the end in mind, the goal of process improvement is to optimize business performance, and enhance collaboration & innovation.

  • Buy in!! It starts at the C suite, recognizing there is a need for improvement in how business is done and acknowledging the value BPI brings to an organization. BPI is one of those task that has the onion effect – not the crying; although in some situations the operational landscape maybe so out of sync with goals and objectives, one just may shed a few tears; as the organization embarks on this journey of change there is so much discovery that it will require a review of not only processes, but the business rules that “govern” them, data associated, IT architecture and the needs of the knowledge worker.

  • A culture for embracing change will always have more of a positive impact than an organisation that is static.

  • The question was about the 'single-most-important' factor for process IMPROVEMENT! Most of the comments miss the point ...

    1) Before you can improve anything you need to know what you have that you can improve. People being willing is not enough.
    2) To know what to improve you need to know what is working well and what not! It means you need to perform the process.
    3) Process analysis may provide a more or less accurate picture of what you are doing. That alone does not provide the information or better understanding what to improve.
    4) To know in which direction to improve you need well-defined business objectives.
    5) To actually execute any improvement you need to know if you have the people and the resources and ensuing conditions.
    6) As most processes should target customer satisfaction you need to understand what the customers perceive as quality or not.

    When I put all these points into a single requirement I would call that TRANSPARENCY - both top-down and bottom-up.

    While it is a noble idea that processes can be improved without doing anything with technology, it is pretty senseless to do so in these times. Software is the most powerful enabler and it is the only efficient and effective means to provide such transparency. Technology is also the most effective way to empower people. As it happens, current orthodox BPMS do nothing of the kind. BPMS today restrict rather then empower and have huge implementation costs. Also the new idea of iBPMS adds only a little process mining.

    So clearly, the single. most important factor for process improvement is TRANSPARENCY enabled by TECHNOLOGY!

    PS: that doesn't mean that throwing a lot of technology at it will solve all problems. It must provide the needed transparency.

  • The single most important factor?

    I'd vote for "Operational awareness".
    Most of the process improvement initiatives I've come across deal with an artificially isolated process. Over time, the project team forgets that the process they are changing actually interacts with other processes. So while they may have made some improvement to one process, often enough the overall process architecture suffers.

    The second aspect is that a lot of improvement projects focus on dealing with an abstract depiction of a process and ignore the real-life requirements of daily operations.

    Of course, all this somehow feeds into what Max noted about transparency.

  • Not looking only at improvement but at how BPM methodologies are mostly implemented, I would have to add a human factor related to transparency. I would propose that the most important element is to reduce the FEAR of change that comes with improvement activities.

    Fear of change is normal because people have habitualized their work knowledge and feel safe with it. When we are not involved in the change taking place we automatically resist and it is not a cultural but a human property. You can't change humans!
    Ensuring transparency reduces that fear and thus increases the willingness to change. The three most important elements in people motivated are after all peer recognition, autonomy, and job security. Most BPM activities DIRECTLY attack all three because people are told they do this wrong and to do it differently, and because costs need to go down many might lose their jobs.

    Is anyone surprised that their is a lot of resistance against process management and improvement? Executive leadership is in most cases necessary to enforce change against the natural resistance that comes from this fear. It simply means that rather then engaging people, they are told to shut up if they want to keep the jobs that remain.

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