How to fix a business process gone bad

TORONTO—The warning signs of a business process gone awry are evident if an organization actually knows what to look out for, said one business process management (BPM) expert during a panel discussion in this city.

Process change is often instigated when things appear to go off track, whether it’s a rising number of customer complaints or issues taking too long to resolve, said Peter Beggs, national business process management specialist with Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd.

But such trends are only visible to an organization if they have already identified certain key metrics and there is a person responsible for those metrics, said Beggs.

“If you have a clear owner … then they’re more apt to find the metric that will give them an early warning before things get critical,” said Beggs to an audience of IT professionals at a ComputerWorld Canada Tech Insights event entitled From Conflict to Consensus: How IT Leaders Get Things Done.

Another panelist, Vish Gokhale, principal with Montreal-based Service Information Access Inc., said questioning the status quo will reveal potential areas for improvement in any process. “If you continuously question this (and ask) why do we do things a certain way? … You’ll get those responses,” said Gokhale.

Besides championing a BPM initiative, a process sponsor is vital for bridging disparate departments that are often not even aware of anything beyond their own role in a given process, said Toronto-based operations professional Jack Szybalski, who also sat on the panel.

For that reason, said Szybalski, the role of a process sponsor must straddle multiple departments. “When your only sponsor is in marketing and only marketing, it’s very difficult to make a change happen in sales,” said Szybalski.

Moreover, added Beggs, such an overarching role can help identify connections and interdependencies between siloed departments along a given process, and allow them to begin to ask, “Why are we wrestling with the problem?”

Yet, often, even with a sponsor, some organizations find it difficult to find the time and resources to fix a broken process. Beggs said they should ask themselves how critical it is to the survival of the business that a particular process be improved.

“If it’s really important to do this, then we will find the time. We will stop a project. We will slow something down,” said Beggs.

Investing time upfront in any BPM initiative is critical to setting the right direction, said Szybalski, who explained it is also useful to map out the old process alongside the new one. This way, all parties affected by the change can visualize where things will work better and what change must occur to make that happen. 

Gokhale suggested aiming for quick wins that will grab people’s attention and prove that a process change can actually work. Specifically, the best approach is to choose a process that everyone understands and is familiar with: “It’s not something long and drawn out. It’s not something that just touches that department. (It’s) something they can relate to,” said Gokhale.

Not all processes in an organization will be suitable enough to demonstrate an ROI, but focusing on the right process will get people to make an initial effort towards much needed change, said Gokhale.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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