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Editor's Note: In this Q & A, Peter Schooff speaks with consultant Thomas Olbrich about process design and process quality. Olbrich is founder of the Taraneon Group, a process consulting and testing company based in Germany. He's also been a professor, a management consultant and the head of the global workflow-consulting division of a leading BPM provider, as well as the co-founder of several global BPM communities.

PS: Could you talk about the importance of quality management during process design?

TO: It's extremely important for a number of reasons. Remember that with process design, we're trying to either create an improvement to an existing process or we're attempting to design a new solution for a new challenge. So when we look back at how a process has come into the sea of operations, it always begins with a design.

Now, this sounds very simple, but it brings with it the danger that any errors and weaknesses you have in the original process design will be carried over into the following stages, like the IT implementation, the organizational implementation, or—worst of all—into process operations themselves.

The difficulty is that process design works under a different set of assumptions than the process operations parts. It's much more static; the project is isolated; you have different influences. That makes it very difficult to design something that will also perform not only under the project criteria, but also under the operational criteria.

We've also seen in a number of studies that only 18% of reengineering projects actually fulfill their intended objectives. When you look at root causes of these numbers, you will, of course, find reasons such as bad project management, wrong decisions by management and several others.

But the main causes of process failure can actually be traced back to the design phase. That involves errors that force IT to develop some sort of workarounds that may work technically, but don't serve the process objectives. Or it involves something like lack of acceptance by the process users, or simply the fact that process design failed to take into account the dynamics of day-to-day operations.

Quality management really involves the task of providing realistic criteria [early in the project lifecycle]. If we do that, any design errors we can get rid of prior to implementation will help reduce cost and improve the uptake by the organization.


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