If you mix up means and goals, you will get fabulous soccer...
...but still might lose every game.
So, what does process management have to do with soccer?
Besides traveling, sometimes I use the metaphor of playing soccer to explain terms like process, process result, process manager, process owner, process improvement etc.
The most obvious is the process itself: playing a soccer game. But processes shouldn't be executed for fun (at least, in companies), so the result of this process is a ‘played soccer game’. No doubt this will be fun and healthy, but this doesn't automatically mean you will win.
With this I’d like to explain that there is a difference between the process result (game played) and the goal attached to that (winning, I assume). In business you might see that many organizations deliver the same result, but what they promise about it, might be very different. That’s depending on your strategy (do I want to be fast, cheap, flexible, the best in quality, etc.) and of course what your customers expect about the process result.
And then we are at process again, because, in the end, a process is ‘the thing’ that delivers what you promise.
So, to do what you promise, a process has to be executed. And that’s just daily business, because every company has processes. That doesn't mean all companies have a clear process focus or that those processes perform well, but processes? They must be there.
Talking about process performance; to let a process perform, several aspects of a process design should work together.
The most obvious in soccer are the players on the field. They are the process executors. They might have different roles in the process (forward, defender, free kick taker or goalkeeper). Besides the players a process needs other enablers like a system to play (workflow), equipment, information etc.
The coach of the team can be seen as the role of process manager. He or She is watching the game and has indicators to see the performance. Main indicator will be the score, but in soccer they are collecting many types of information these days. (S)He continuously checks if the game (in process terms I’d like to call this a case) is on track to the desired end.
When this doesn't seem the case, the process manager can change things, trying to improve the process during the game. Think about substitute players, moving players, defend more, take a risk by making some fouls, etc.
To me that’s the core of Business Process Management; being aware that processes happen on the play field and not in the locker room (like creating process models or discussing processes ‘in theory’). Being able to act before the case is finished. A game can only be won on the field.
An important role in this must be played by the players on the field (employees). If they know what is expected out of the process and know how they can act to improve process performance, you don’t need endless improvement projects; the process is improved during the game. I like this kind of empowerment.
Sure Emiel, but one important thing to remember is that not all process executors are the same. Some have a natural sense for improvement, while others don’t care and just do their job. And there are even players who need very strict instructions from their coach.
So being able to adjust things during the game is very dependent on the people in the process. So, maybe they need some coaching in that.
Also, some processes are so predefined/standardized that adjustments during the game are not possible anymore; once a case is started it will be executed as agreed upon. In that case you can only tell if the process performed well, after the game is finished.
And when, after playing several games the team is not high on the ranking, the process design itself might not be as good as hoped, and a structural change might be needed. You could say this is the responsibility of the club owner (the process owner). He can decide to buy new players, fire the trainer etc. But these are structural changes and for sure will cost lots of time and money. And aren't they a little too late?
But, despite all the continuous improvement talks, in many companies process improvements are still done this way. Is that bad? At least it’s bad luck for the customers who were still served by the old process definition. But. It’s really depending on your industry and your customers how agile your processes should be.
Adjust on the field or complain in the locker room? I’d like the first option, but as said: are employees capable of taking this role? Are they empowered to act? Do they know how to act?
I am a true believer that BPM is daily business and to do this as best as possible you need several roles. To me the most important roles are the executors and the process manager. They make it happen for your customers. By the way, these roles can be played by anyone. A player can be the coach too. Or the process owner can also be a player.
So, on of my first steps for every company thinking of 'doing something with processes' would be educating everyone on the basics of BPM, so they have a clear understanding how they can contribute to make your processes do what they promise.