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5 Early Warning Signals for a BPI Project

Can you recognize the early warning signals that derail a business process improvement project? Many articles have been written about what makes process improvement projects fail and usually they list critical success factors. But the real question is how do you recognize the leading indicators in a process? And once you identify those signals what action should you take to cure the ill and get the process back on track or put a halt to the project altogether?

Let’s look at the stages of the BPM Methodology and identify early warning signals and then suggest some countermeasures that are helpful to get things righted again.

BPM Process Methodology

This graphic shows the four stages of the BPM Methodology and the detailed phases of stage 2, the Business Process Improvement Project.

The first early warning signal is in Stage 1, Process Selection, or choosing which process to work on. It’s not that there is one right process to work on first but the choice of a poor project creates many challenges that often lead to a bad name for the whole concept of business process management. The wrong process choice is usually from three circumstances:

  1. Starting with an enterprise project with several cross-functional stakeholder groups participating.
  2. Choosing a project where a single Executive Sponsor cannot be designated and it needs two to three Process Owners.
  3. Starting with a project that requires a different culture than the organization currently has. This would be the case if the culture was authoritarian and it tried to use employee process improvement teams.

The answer to these warning signals is don’t start with a large enterprise process projects without the necessary leaders, and a culture to support it. Instead start smaller, with a key sub process, with leadership and a culture in that function or business unit that support employees working together and understanding how to look at a process and use data, diagrams, and the voice of the customer to improve it.

In the Chartering and Staffing phase of the BPI project there are many critical success factors (It is the beginning of the project! Get it right and you are off to a good start, but get it wrong and you’ll create numerous problem areas). Let me discuss two factors:

The Project Charter

Below are four early warning signals that can come up during the charter process.

  1. Having no charter. Maybe this happens because the BPM professional staff or IT knows this process needs working on and just begins trying to improve it. There is no written charter, and minimal involvement of the business executives in defining the improvement goals.
  2. No baseline measures. Without baseline measures, there is no quantitative data to see how critical this problem is, as well as data to see what the current values are and what kind of goal values should be set for the improvement.
  3. Uncommitted leadership. There is no Process Owner who is designated and steps up to guide this effort, setting the goals, vision, measures, scope, and selecting and providing the necessary team resources. Or the Process Owner has limited time for the team and moves onto other initiatives.
  4. Overburdened team members. Several team members says they have too many other projects and will not be able to devote time to this additional BPI project.

What can you do in these situations?

  1. If there is no charter, stop and develop one. Go back and do it. Write it down, put it in the Shared Repository and keep using it and iterating it as the project moves along. If the company has a real anathema to charters, don’t call it a charter, but gather the elements, and name the file something else, or put it in Blueworks Live in the appropriate fields as part of the project overall.
  2. Once you have the improvement goals for the project they will need measures. So name the appropriate measurement categories and then gather the real baseline data. It doesn’t have to be for the past three years; make it simple. But it may take some manual work this first time because process measures are not automated in most companies today.
  3. If you have uncommitted leadership, stop. Get different leadership, but make sure they have the responsibility for the process. Or, pick a different process where there is the appropriate Process Owner with commitment to the BPI project. Uncommitted leadership is a big stumbling block –not worth investing in.
  4. Overburdened team members are usually a sign of a larger problem—the company has too many priorities and keeps adding more assignments without taking some items off the plate. Team members can be ‘conscripted’ to join the team, but if they really do not have time to work on the BPI they will soon start voting with their feet and just not coming to working sessions. So reconsider if this is the right process at this time. Maybe another process where the employees are not so stretched would be better. If just one or two team members are overburdened, it may be possible to find good alternates, but if there are several, don’t start this BPI project.

These are important leading indicators that the process is in trouble. Take the early warning signals as valid information, have a discussion with the appropriate leaders, especially the Process Owner and take action. Otherwise your BPI project could drag on, probably getting weaker, and not moving toward success.


About the Author

Shelley SweetShelley Sweet, the Founder and President of I4 Process, and author of The BPI Blueprint, is a highly respected BPM Practitioner. She provides consultation, workshops and training programs for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. Her programs are based on a unique 3-PEAT method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain operational excellence. Want to learn more about BPM metrics? Email Shelley at: shelleysweet@i4process.com

Macro Maps Help You Align Processes and Strategy

When organizations first start doing process improvement they use a myriad of ways to decide which processes to improve first, such as:

  1. IT bought some software and needs to install it, so let’s look at the current process first.
  2. A leader raised his hand and said, “I’d like to start with this one.”
  3. A department wants to improve the process because it would help in a key initiative.
  4. An ‘easy’ process is chosen to start on.

But after a number of processes are selected with this ‘whoever is interested’ approach, leaders and process Improvement practitioners see that it would make sense to select processes that are underperforming, would provide increases in market share and revenue, or would directly support key strategic initiatives. In order to do that, you need to have an understanding of core process in the company now. A Macro Map can help.

A Macro Map is a graphical rendering of an organization as a portfolio of processes. (Many thanks to my colleague Jerry Talley for initially developing this concept of a Macro Map. [www.jlTalley.com] He and I have been using it and improving it ever since.) Here’s an example:

Student Services Macro Map

In this example, the core processes (ones that produce the key outputs of the organization) are highlighted in one section, support processes in another section, and customers in the third section.

How do you Build a Macro Map?

I suggest starting with a small group of executives/managers who know the work of the department or division. (If you are doing this for the whole enterprise, you will need to build it by groups and then form the total picture, making sure to show the cross functional processes.) Build the first draft of the macro map with them, and then take it to staff and have them verify it and add to it. Below are some specifics to help you with the method.

With the managers:

  • Begin with listing the customers – the people who receive or use the output.
  • Then list the core products or services delivered by the department.
  • Now identify the processes that produce the core products.
  • Then identify the processes that support the delivery of the core products. Examples of these could be planning, scheduling staff, research, securing resources.

Then take the map in graphic form to a representative staff group.

  • Explain how you built the first draft of the map with the managers, and what its components are.
  • Start with the core processes and ask them if anything is missing or needs revision.
  • Then go to the support processes.
  • Ask them if they can see the components of their job in different place on the Macro Map. What components of their job are missing?
  • Keep adding and revising the map as suggestions are made.

How the Macro Map is Used

  • The Macro Map provides a list of the portfolio of processes for the department or organization. This enables anyone to compare the voice shouting the loudest for a process selection to be compared to the whole portfolio. START HERE
  • These processes are categorized, so it’s easy to see which are the core ones supporting customer deliverables, and what other types of processes there are. (This helps to make it clear which ones are the most important to the customers.)
  • Add quantitative data to the Macro Map. The Macro Map below is the same one as shown at the top, but now it has data showing number of hours worked on each process and the customer satisfaction ranking. It is obvious which ones demand the most employee time. And for this organization, where the goal was to streamline processes, reduce workload, and not hire additional employees, it was obvious which ones to work on first.

Student Services Macro Map with Data

Some organizations create a Business Architecture graphic to show how business strategy, functions, processes, technology and data relate. The Macro Map is simpler than that and focuses on processes and customers. When you add baseline data to a Macro Map, you visualize the criteria that the organization has chosen to use to prioritize their projects. In the example for Student Services it was employee hours and customer ratings. Those might now have been my choice, but the organization had these metrics and they worked fine. When doing the first Macro Maps I like to keep the measurement simple – not requiring weeks to gather. Other measurement criteria could include costs, throughput, comparisons against competitors, variability, market share, risk, or alignment with the strategy. Quantitative measurement values point to the top three to five processes, but leaders need to consider some other parameters – namely time to complete, complexity, cost, etc. that could influence the choice of one project or another.

The macro map is a wonderful info graphic to display and categorize all the processes. It also gets executives and employees engaged in thinking about the big picture by process, and helps each one relate it to their own work. And it doesn’t take that long to build. Try it!


About the Author

Shelley SweetShelley Sweet, the Founder and President of I4 Process, and author of The BPI Blueprint, is a highly respected BPM Practitioner. She provides consultation, workshops and training programs for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. Her programs are based on a unique 3-PEAT method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain operational excellence. Want to learn more about BPM metrics? Email Shelley at: shelleysweet@i4process.com

Shelley Sweet

Do Your Business Process Metrics Measure Up?

  1. Are we doing things right?
  2. Are we doing the right things?

Peter Fingar, co-author of Business Process Management: The Third Wave, then asks these measurement corollaries in his 2013 article “How Do Your BPM Metrics Measure Up?”

  1. Are we measuring things right?
  2. Are we measuring the right things?

But what are these right measurements? John Dixon, Gartner analyst, articulates seven best practices:

  1. Focus on Outcomes – Measure the results, not the completion of steps or milestones to get there.
  2. Limit the Number of Measures – Not fifteen, but just a few.
  3. Set Clear, Specific Goals – The leaders must have clear goals and they need to articulate them.
  4. Link Metrics to Strategy – The metrics need to show how work impacts the company’s strategy.
  5. Measure Current Performance – Know how you are doing today, so you can see if anything changes in the future.
  6. Look Ahead, Not Just Back – Metrics are not just to see what happened historically. Metrics should cause action today.
  7. Make Metrics Visible and Accessible – Having workers, managers, supervisors, and executives see metrics helps employees make decisions and take action. If only executives see them on a monthly dashboard, it is too infrequent, too late, and too inaccessible.

And the next question is – How do you really do all this? Below are examples of TIPS from my 20 years of practice to select measurements that are meaningful and have an impact on results:

  1. Focus on Outcomes – Select measures that track the outcomes of the process from a product standpoint and customer standpoint. These should be results that provide value to the customer.
  2. Limit the Number of Measures – I say limit it to two or three. Start with that number and use them.
  3. Set Clear, Specific Goals – Starting a BPM Project successfully means creating a Project Charter with the Process Owner, Executive Sponsor, Project Lead and Team Facilitator. And in that charter are specific Improvement Targets; for each Improvement Target there needs to be one metric.
  4. Link Metrics to Strategy – It’s not only the metrics that should link to the strategy. The Improvement Targets need to be aligned with the strategy. So you need to discuss that with the Process Owner and Executive Sponsor.
  5. Measure Current Performance – This starts with gathering baseline data for the metrics designated for each Improvement Target.
  6. Look Ahead, Not Just Back – All metrics must drive decisions and action. If you measure something and don’t do anything with the measure, it’s no good. So think carefully about what action you will take with any metric, and discard it if no action is identified.
  7. Make Metrics Visible and Accessible – Metrics should be visible on the shop floor, or on the wall, or if on the desktop with mechanisms to have alerts about changes or concerns. A file on the desktop is not visible enough unless it is naturally accessed frequently.

About the Author

Shelley SweetShelley Sweet, the Founder and President of I4 Process, and author of The BPI Blueprint, is a highly respected BPM Practitioner. She provides consultation, workshops and training programs for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. Her programs are based on a unique 3-PEAT method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain operational excellence. Want to learn more about BPM metrics? Email Shelley at: shelleysweet@i4process.com

Five Coaching Tips to Help Business Process Management Leaders Succeed

If your company is a successful organization, it has many excellent leaders. But those leaders have had training and experience to succeed in a traditional organization with a C-suite at the top and siloed business units and functions under each executive. The question is, do your executives have the skills and experience to lead a cross-functional process focused organization?

When organizations want to build a process culture, they need to identify leaders for each process improvement effort—namely an Executive Sponsor, Process Owner, Project Lead and Business Process Management (BPM) Team Facilitator. This blog focuses on how to motivate, engage, and coach the Executive Sponsor and Process Owner during a Business Process Improvement (BPI) project.

The Executive Sponsor and Process Owner bring different strengths to the BPI Project. The Executive Sponsor has wider authority and recognizes enterprise opportunities and challenges for the particular BPI Project. He is oriented outward to the full organization. He represents the project in the C-Suite, and advocates for it across the organization and to customers or suppliers. The Executive Sponsor may have many processes and Process Owners under him and may not be able to give a high level of attention to one particular project. Note also that the Executive Sponsor role in a BPI Project will usually go away after the initial improvement effort is completed, although hopefully the executive remains as an enterprise BPM advocate.

The Process Owner, by contrast, not only leads the phases of the BPI Project from the start but also drives the implementation of the redesigned process. He is also the person accountable for sustaining the process after the improvements from the BPI Project have been implemented.

The Process Owner is oriented inward toward the process. He articulates the Improvement Targets, Vision, Scope, and metrics during the Charter phase. But it is not enough that the Process Owner sees his role as a leader during this single BPI Project. He is accountable for achieving the desired outcome of the overall BPI initiative. And, he is the ongoing leader responsible for monitoring the improved process going forward. Without Process Owners, no one is minding the store, and processes can slip back to where they were before.

Remember that the Executive Sponsor and Process Owner may be new to these BPM roles. A BPM expert – it could be the outside consultant or internal BPM Team Facilitator – provides formal and informal coaching to them.

5 Tips to Build the Success of the Executive Sponsor and Process Owner

1. What’s in it for Me? (WIFM) – Start with making sure the Executive Sponsor and Process Owner are clear on how they will benefit from a particular BPI project. Is the project critical to a strategic initiative? Is it one of their pet initiatives, which is of great interest to them personally? Or, is it something where they will be honored company-wide for the success? It’s best to have the leader articulate both a personal win and a business win.

If these leaders have selected this BPI project themselves, you can guess that there is something in it for them. If the project has been selected by a boss or a BPM professional staff, it necessary to talk to them about why the BPI is important to the company and see if they agree. Then ask them, “What do you see that you will get personally from this project?”

2. Provide Support During the Charter Meeting – During the Charter meeting see if the Process Owner can easily articulate the improvement targets and vision. It may be easier to use common terms, like, “What are your goals for this BPI project?” and then turn them into improvement targets (e.g, Reduce time to market for this product). The Process Owner may not be able to give specific measurement categories for the improvement targets, so be ready to suggest some. Also see how he responds when you ask him to relate the improvement targets and vision to the company’s overall strategy. Ask the Executive Sponsor to contribute to this conversation as well.

The BPM Team Facilitator provides this guidance during the charter meeting. This role could be filled by a Business Architect, Process Improvement Expert, Lean Six Sigma Practioner, Business Analyst or Project Manager. The lead subject matter expert may also know specific content that could help.

3. Help Them Tell Compelling Stories – The Process Owner and Executive Sponsor need to be talking continuously about the BPI project, but you need to help them know what to say. It is their elevator pitch for the BPI project. They need to know what the BPI project is, its goal, some challenges, and memorable stories that reveal interesting facts or show early successes. So help them have some bullet points and sound bites to do this. Besides comments from the customer and highlights on the visual analysis map, another good sound bite is about quantitative data. Once the baseline values are known, the executive can easily say, “Today the hiring process takes 6 – 18 months and our target is to reduce that in half.” He could go on and say, “The BPI team sees many opportunities to streamline the process and we will use technology to make workflow easier and information transparent to all involved.” Another example, would be data on some Quick Wins. For example, he could say, “ We currently have 15 different hiring processes across our organization. Each one uses different templates and forms. We are going to standardize the information from the best examples, and will have two of these available online for a Quick Win in just two more weeks.”

From your role as a BPM Team Facilitator or Project Lead, it is helpful to have these compelling sound bites ready for the Process Owner and discuss them; then have a shared repository where you can put them for their use next time they need them.

4. Guidance During the BPI Project – During the BPI project the Project Lead and BPM Team Facilitator have scheduled meetings with the Process Owner and Executive Sponsor. This meeting should take place about 3 times during the BPI project, after each phase, e.g. after Process Discovery, Process Analysis, Process Design, and Implementation Plan. The Project Lead and Team Facilitator are sharing what has happened in the project during each phase. For example, during the Process Discovery phase they would be sharing the current state process diagram(s), the baseline values for the metrics, and what challenges and improvement ideas have already surfaced. The Process Owner needs to know what questions to ask, and also know what actions he should volunteer to take. I provide them a cheat sheet ahead of time with relevant questions and actions at each phase. The BPM Team Facilitator can bring some of those questions up as well. Of course, you always want to know what interests them, or what their perspective is at each phase.

5. Engage the Process Owner and Executive Sponsor Provocatively – At each of these BPI review meetings with the leaders, think about how to engage the leaders meaningfully. In other words, look at the process from their level and identify what will interest them and focus on those topics. I have two that always work: (1) the voice of the customer and (2) visual analysis. After the team has collected input from the customer, everyone wants to know about it. So have it summarized in a simple but meaningful way – such as what they want, need and desire from the process, how the process is evaluated today, and what an excellent evaluation would look like in the future. In addition to the overall summary, have a few anecdotes that come from the customer’s mouth.

Visual analysis is another method. Here show the current process diagram in swimlanes (This is a ‘yawner’ by itself.) and put icons on it to show where there are wastes, where the customer needs new functionality or says something is missing, or how long certain sub processes take. Turn the process diagram into a picture with key problem or opportunity areas highlighted. This makes the diagram come alive and is a great conversation starter with the executives.

As a good coach, your client is both the organization and the leaders. So keep looking for strategic benefits and personal rewards to engage the leaders about the BPI project.


About the Author

Shelley SweetShelley Sweet, the Founder and President of I4 Process, and author of The BPI Blueprint, is a highly respected BPM Practitioner. She provides consultation, workshops and training programs for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. Her programs are based on a unique 3-PEAT method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain operational excellence. Want to learn more about BPM metrics? Email Shelley at: shelleysweet@i4process.com