Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BPM: It's About Managing Change (First in a Series) - Why are Business Processes frozen?

Despite many things written and said about businessprocess management (BPM), it is really one thing for certain: an automation improvement that supports change management.


Business processes are the lifeblood of an enterprise, moving and shifting to respond to the ever-changing business environment. They are sets of activities in an organization that are performed in response to a trigger— an external stimulus, an internal state change, a point in time that has been reached — to provide a desired result in response to that trigger.

The nature of business processes lends itself to diagramming them in some manner. You can present the starting and end points as circles, all the activities as boxes, decision points as diamond shapes, with arrowed lines connecting all of the above (swim lanes optional). What all this drawing means is that, given sufficient effort, it is possible to fully define a process as it exists at a point in time.

Why the emphasis on a point in time? Consider how most businesses’ processes and activities were automated for the first time: the process was defined, and programmers designed and coded programs for a system that executes the activities. On the day the system is implemented, and for some period of time afterward, it does what it was designed to do, and the business performs its processes using that system. No one is aware that the business process is now frozen in time.

Fairly soon, however, the business decides to change its process somewhat to deal with new problems or opportunities. The system does not support this changed process, so a project is needed to open the system, make the changes (correctly), test the changes, and implement the new programs for the system. This takes time. The business process essentially must be thawed out, redirected, and then refrozen.

By the time this effort is completed, however, the business has more changes lined up. Here we see the arrival of the two curses of information systems: (1) the backlog, and (2) the workaround.

Next time: Things change, but are they really different?

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About Me

Ontario, Canada
I have been an IT Business Analyst for 25 years, so I must have learned something. Also been on a lot of projects, which I have distilled into the book "Cascade": follow the link to the right to see more.