In the last 10 years, there has been a widely known shift to using technology in business transformations. With all the positives that have come from this shift, there is still the importance of following the right process when initiating business changes.

I am a proponent of BPM (Business Process Management) and certainly technology in general as an accelerator for business transformation. Today, you hear a good bit about technology, advanced modeling, and monitoring tools to provide a pulse on your business processes. This is an excellent addition to traditional improvement philosophies. However, it takes time to get there and you certainly cannot start there.

Too often, organizations start with automation and advanced technical solutions to fix a broken process. In these scenarios, a non-optimized process becomes emulated through technology. The result of this is not always total failure. Through trial and error and system modifications, the process can be optimized after technical implementations but this is the long and expensive road. Sometimes, an implemented system on top of unstructured processes will remain in place for years with only minor fixes. All along end users are frustrated and process owners claim they are not receiving the stated benefits promised by the vendor. We have seen this with significant application upgrades, workflow, content management, and portal tools, and Business Process Management Suites (BPMS).

The right way to start is to fix the process before using technology. Here are the fundamentals I have followed to properly establish a best in-class process prior to using technology:

1) Have the right team

2) Prepare the organization

3) Capture baseline metrics

4) Spend time in current state

5) Use process improvement tools

1) The human element is commonly overlooked. The roles that are needed include a Lead Analyst, process team, functional SMEs (or process owners), and project steering team. A Lead Analyst with process analysis or BPM experience should guide the initiative. This lead can be a studied industrial engineers or business architect but also may be a home grown self starter trained from within your organization. The lead will need support from a process team who should be trained in Lean, Six Sigma, and modeling capabilities. Key business SMEs or process owners need to be mobilized and on-boarded to the endeavor. Identify those process owners that are agreeable to change and dissatisfied with status quo. As normal, a project steering team and project board should be established to help manage scope and remove roadblocks.

2) SMEs or process owners will need some level of training and preparation. In fact the whole organization should be properly prepared. This can be accomplished in 2 ways. First, key SMEs should be trained in general Lean approaches and theories. This will help when the process team begins evaluations in their areas. Secondly, on-boarding to the program happens through carefully choreographed communications. The organization needs to understand the process endeavor, scope, objectives, and how their respective functional areas will be impacted. They will need to know the vehicle for how they can provide feedback or their concerns with the endeavor. Finally, an expectation on future communications should be set and managed through the use of newsletters and mail drops. Another good way to box the scope of communication and expectations is through a Business Process Center of Excellence. BPCoE's are a topic to themselves for another blog.

3) Baseline metrics should be captured during the beginning of the analysis to be used as a baseline for comparison to the future state definition. Existing reports can be harnessed and may include errors/product, labor hours/product, product queues or backlog, or product throughput. Even if good macro-level metrics are available, it may be still beneficial to manually collect some detailed operational data to show measurable improvements at the activity or task level. This basic step is often omitted resulting in a lack of good data to display benefit capture once new systems and processes are implemented.

4) The process expert, with agreement from the steering team, should define and box-in the scope for analysis. The current state is analyzed using very manual non-technical activities and tools such as process interviews, flow charts, process story-boarding, value stream maps, and process detail forms. The processes are evaluated to understand key work steps, inputs and outputs to the process, actors, expectations, service level agreements, responsibilities, and process triggers.

5) This is where the fun begins. Lean is the philosophy of choice to demystify the translation from assessment to future state. It is often written in periodicals and other blogs that doing assessments leads to improvements. In that statement there is a gap in what actually happens. Lean fills the gap and is the means to establish solid recommendations. With Lean, recommendations will be centered on eliminating redundancies, transportation, extra motion, poor quality, etc. To properly execute Lean, organizations need to recognize that their process team needs to be a set of thinkers that are equipped with Lean tools to uncover waste and drive improvement.

Covering these fundamentals will ensure you start a process improvement endeavor in the right manner. If you start here, you will define an explicit current state with solid recommendations for improvements. Those will be transformed into a feasible future state that will be the foundation of business requirements for your system and business transformations. This is the proper way for your organization to undertake business transformation and results in the highest success rate and best chance for organizational adoption. Notice, technology was nowhere to be found in this start-up procedure.

Come see CapTech and Errol at Gartner Business Process Management Summit in Baltimore April 27th, 2011.