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Airport Security and BPM: Both Winging It?

01/16/2007

Do we really know how people are engaging with our Processes and Business Rules?

A recent trip through several US airports really made me think about processes and business rules. The specific event that triggered my reflection on processes and rules was the repeated announcements that all bags must be attended at all times, and that any unattended bag should be reported immediately to help ensure the safety of all concerned.

Shortly after hearing the announcement for at least the tenth time I observed a woman walk away from her luggage and disappear around a corner several hundred feet away. This seemed to be exactly the issue being so "strongly" pressed on us by the repeated security announcement and I felt it was my duty (as "announced") to report this to an airport authority.

There were no TSA or local police in sight so I opted to approach an airline employee thinking they would certainly know the correct action to take. Boy was I surprised at the response I received.

The airline employee flippantly informed me that it happened all the time and not to worry. Well, I won't say that I was worried to start with, but this response did make me worry because if unattended bags do represent a security threat-but no one really cares-then there IS a threat to our security.

Feeling the need to gain further insight into this issue after thinking about it on my flight, at the next airport I asked a local police officer if he could tell me what I should have done. The gentleman was very pleasant but basically confirmed that this happened all the time and did not suggest that any further action on my part was necessary or appropriate in any way.

This still left me uncomfortable so at the same airport I asked the same question of a TSA officer. The response I received from her was that the situation was "serious", the airport employee should - and was trained to - act on the matter with seriousness and that I should have sought out a TSA officer to make sure the situation was dealt with properly.

Significantly different views from people in the same "process".

How does this relate to process and business rules? Think about it. How many times do we create process models and business rules that people in our organization simply ignore? Perhaps the models or rules simply don't make sense. Or maybe they fail to reflect the reality of what people need to do in the real world of their work? Perhaps the situations people actually experience are even unforeseeable or management fails to attribute any real importance to them. It could even be that communication has broken down or there is a lack of training that leaves people without the knowledge to support these models or rules.

How many of these process models and business rules do you have in your organization?

When models and rules fall into these traps they reduce the effectiveness of processes and people, and that means performance suffers as well. This is the dark side of Business Process Management and related software. Process models and business rules placed into software, especially software that requires the people in the process to interact with it one a regular basis, can impose unrealistic expectations or contextually incorrect requirements on the people in the organization that are actually doing the work.

It's one more reason why process modeling and business rule creation that reflects reality, that makes sense to people, and that enables people to do their work successfully (oh, and it should be easier and simpler for them!) must remain the primary focus of any BPM initiative. The software cannot know when process models and business rules don't fit reality, only people can do that. And without well designed process models and rules, BPM software has little to offer other than adding on to the stress and mess of imposing the impossible on people. Software does not have emotional nuance, sensitivity, or natural adaptability to the specifics of the human context of a situation. Software does not engage in the autonomic "dance" that all people fall into when they interact face to face.

The resulting effects touch process effectiveness, performance, quality and employee morale. They touch the customer, often creating the dreaded Moments of Misery so common to our customer experience these days (though we know the threat to the health - even existence - this represents to the business). It's not a pretty picture and we had best do whatever we must to ensure we don't create these issues if we wish to fully compete in the new world of competitive immediacy.

We all want to receive a consistent customer experience from our business partners as we engage with the business from the "outside" and we all want to deliver on customer expectations when we are working on the "inside". We not only should, but must, expect any processes or business rules that are created for our organization (in software or not) to be "enablers" that help us do our work better, and to make that work simpler and easier.

To do anything less is to accept that fact that we just really don't care about our customers on the outside and those working in our organization, the "customers" on the inside.

Terry Schurter is CIO of The BPM Group and the author of Customer Expectation Management

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