Process Debt: What’s on the Table for 2014 in #BPM

Scott Francis
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After reading Jim Sinur’s 2013 recap of BPM, and then Alberto Manuel’s, and then comparing with our own experiences at BP3, I have to wonder if 2014 is the year for clearing Process Debt.

Reviewing Sinur’s post, he calls out three attention getters:

1.  Confusion around the meaning of process: “There is a mind set,  that is pervasive, that restricts process to the old definition of a rigid manufacturing line […] While there are static snippets of structured processes in most successful processes, there are a growing portion of large scoped processes that have significant amount of collaboration, agile, and emerging definition or behavior.”

Worse, there are those who, just as BPM is spreading its wings and embracing the broader requirements of good business process management, are attempting to define it in a more limited fashion in order to carve out airspace for competitive ideas or approaches.  They don’t make the argument that these approaches are complementary and additive to BPM, because that runs the risk of being aggregated by BPM.  The working definition of BPM and other business-and-technology terms will adapt to the times and context they’re used in.  This is a natural evolution of human understanding and language.  It is only when these definitions become static that we can predict a future failed concept.

2.  Continued emerging successes with complementary technology:  “Process-focused vendors have been assertive in leveraging these shiny objects such as mobile, collaborative/social/case management, cloud, predictive analytics, complex events.”

In fact, this is where BPM shines – because BPM vendors and service providers can adopt these technologies through the value-adding lens of business process, rather than just as strategic technology adoption.  For example, did EAI (enterprise application integration) ever add more value than when it was implemented through the lens of business process management efforts?

3.  Transformation through process is picking up momentum: “processes are being equipped with competitive differentiation or catch up function at one level and hiding the rigidity of supporting applications, software and skill sets”

This point in particular is in alignment with Alberto Manuel’s post on the same subject.

By virtue of technological disruption, organizations have become social systems, defined as the orchestration of people, information and systems, whose dynamics and evolution are defined and driven by human behavior, become complex systems that are increasingly difficult to understand and identify where to act and the next improvement projects should occur.

In other words, technical debt and Process Debt are increasing friction, at the same time that the world around us is changing and adapting faster than ever.  Something has to give: pay down the process-debt, change our methods of adaptation, or get run over by the reality of a changing market.

Alberto’s proposal is that we need to employ systems thinking- to understand the whole as more than the sum of its parts.  More broadly, I believe we need multi-disciplinary thinkers:  those who can leverage design-thinking, systems-thinking, outside-in and voice of the customer.  All of these emphasize the whole over the parts, and attempt to avoid sub-optimizing.

Looking at BP3’s customer-base, I see Fortune 500 companies re-tooling major value-adding processes that have stagnated due to stale technology and a inability to adapt to changing business requirements and market demands.  But I also see businesses investing in new ideas to create value for their customers through improved process experience.  As Lance Gibbs, our CEO, likes to say, your customers experience your company through the sum of its business processes.  How does that make you feel about the customer service you’re providing?