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Five approaches (and maybe six) to process design

Blog: Process transformation - interventions for meaningful change

As a BPM-specialist, one can encounter different situations for improving processes. These situations will require you to choose wisely from your BPM-toolbox, depending on various aspects such as client strategy, capabilities, trust and risk-appetite. One aspect is the approach you choose to improve a process. In my process improvement projects, I have encountered five different approaches (as shown in the diagram):

Let’s dive in:

1. Common sense – incremental
This improvement approach is used quite frequently: gather process participants, analyse the current process and pain points (from outside in, and inside out) and come up with improvement ideas. Pick the ones that deliver most value, in regards to the investment of implementation, and implement. Iterate.
Key characteristics: it starts with was is, and with the people involved, and relatively small steps are taken.

2. Improvement practice based – incremental
In this approach, a specific improvement practice is selected. Typical examples include Lean, Six Sigma and ToC. Depending on scope and adoption of the improvement practice, various techniques are used on a certain process (such as Value Added Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, Leveling, Kanban, Bottleneck identification, etc). Key characteristics: it starts with what is, with the people involved (trained or guide by a improvement practice specialist), and relatively small steps are taken.

3. Best Practices / Reference model based – blueprint
This approach is often used, if, besides improvement goals, there are also harmonization goals (multiple locations running comparable processes). The organisation picks a certain reference process and replaces the current process with the reference process (often supported by specific IT solutions, such as ERP solutions). Examples of reference process models include eTom, SCOR, VSM, Scrum, ITIL, the dutch municipality GEMMA processes and SAP’s reference processes for various industries and process domains.
Key characteristics: it starts with the to be, more top-down, often less influence of the process participants involved, a relatively large step is taken (although organizations can pilot a process in one location first).

4. Innovation driven (new business concept or IT) – blueprint

In this approach a new innovative concept has been adopted. This could be a new business concept (self-organizing teams, case management role, self-service supermarkets, mass customization), a specific technology (cloud, internet of things, BPM/Case Management solutions, digital documents/ECM, eCommerce, mobile, social) or a mix. Typically, as a team you would asses a certain set of processes, and come up with new designs, by asking what the innovation(s) could do for the processes and the involved stakeholders. 

Key characteristics: it starts with innovation,specialists assess and come up with the new to be process(es) blueprint, with top support, and implement.  Business cases may play a large role, if the innovation requires extensive investments.

5. Architectural driven Re-engineering – top down
In this approach, a thorough analysis takes place, from a new fresh perspective. All key questions around a business area is re-addressed, often in combination with a renewed strategic positioning. What is our strategy, who are our customers, what value do we want to provide, what capabilities does this require, what functions are needed, what competences, leading down to the to-be processes.
Key characteristics: is starts with the question why what, and through strategy, principles, and implementation decisions leads top-down to a process design, that is implemented.

So, here are 5 tools for your toolbox. Are there better or weaker approaches? No, it depends on the client situation and requirements. Can you manage all of these? That’s a tough question. In my 20 years of process work, I think one can cover these approaches fairly well, but it takes time, effort and opportunity.

I actually think there is a sixth approach. It’s called Design Thinking applied to process design. I am still investigating this approach. More to follow!

In addition, it’s good to know that as part of the approach, as a BPM-specialist you will always need to figure out the type of role you need to take. This could vary from:
– Specialist/Key designer – you bring in the knowledge on improvement and design practices + the know-how on the specific process and possible improvements
– Facilitator, you help key process participants and stakeholder to discover the to-be process
Of course, typically elements of both roles can be needed. I most like the situations were clients want to learn the stuff themselves (as it’s their process, their asset!), and I shift over the time from specialist to facilitator / trainer.

Last, it’s also important to understand the change dynamics in the client organization. Is there a pragmatic go-try it and improve culture (promoting incremental – developmental approaches), or a more blueprint driven, think and align before trying (which asks more for a blueprint – approach)

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