5 things to keep in mind when defining business processes

February 3, 2011

I am right now finishing up an engagement that consisted of mapping out business processes for a new call center organization. The client is a utility that is in the process of brining the billing and customer care functions back in-house after having used an outsourcer for a long time. Looking back at what we did and what worked or didn’t work a few things stand out that I will keep in mind for future similar engagements. All of these items are common sense but it is amazing how easy it is to forget them.

Define what a business process is
The term business process is used in a wide range of situations and it quite often means different things to different people. For some, it means detailed step by step descriptions for an end user of a system. For others it is a high-level description of how their organization operates. There is no right or wrong here but make sure you have a clear definition of what your group means by a business process

Keep the end use in mind
This ties directly in to the previous point of defining what a business process is. Defining business processes is usually not an end in itself. Having a big stack of business process documentation does not provide any value unless it is being used for something. When you start out, make sure you have clearly defined what the business processes will be used for. Is it training, testing, organizational design, IT system design or maybe policy review. Figure out who will use your business processes and invite them early in the discussion of defining what a business process is and how it will be documented.

Keep things simple
There are a lot of really great methodologies and standards for business processes. The problem with a lot of them is that they get very detailed and can be hard to understand and use for someone without the proper training. If your organization has a standard methodology and everyone is trained on this methodology, you should of course use it. However, if you do not, I recommend to keep tings VERY simple so that people can understand your process with minimal instructions.

In our project we used Visio for our swimlane diagrams and only used three types of symbols. We even took out decision boxes since they can easily be eliminated with a process step box and labeling the connectors.










Do not get stuck in semantics
The devil is always in the details and often you have to dig down deep. However, do not get stuck discussing details that in the end do not add much value. When the discussions go around in circles or you feel you are spending too much time working out little details, take a step back and re-evaluate if sorting out these details will add value for your particular situation. Will it bring value to the people that will use your business processes? If not, move on. Who cares if there is a small gap or inconsistency between business processes if this will not cause an issue.

Plan your workshops
You will with all certainty run a number of workshops where you will map out your business processes. As with all workshops, you need a good facilitator and you need to have a clear plan for how the workshops will be organized, e.g. who is doing what and playing what role. Before you start, spend a little bit of time planning how you want your workshops to function and get consensus among the team.

As mentioned above, non of these items are new but somehow we often forget about them and head down in the wrong direction. Hopefully, this list can help you save some time.

What is your experience with business processes? What have you’ve done or what would you do different?


I’m still alive

February 3, 2011

For the few people that read my blog, no I haven’t fallen off the band wagon. I had a daughter 6 months ago so my time has been taken up by figuring out what it means to be a dad and my blog has been ignored. I now think I’ve got enough of parenthood figured out that I can devote some time to my blog again.


Have you created your balanced scorecard to measure project success yet?

July 27, 2010

For a number of valid reasons, project success is usually measured by a combination of on-time, on-budget, and to-specification metrics but is this really enough? I agree, all three of these areas should be apart of how project success is measured but it is only one part of the equation. All of these metrics measure how well the project performed but does include any measurements in regards to realized benefits for the customer (I’ll use the word customer to include both internal and external users of the solution). You may have build the greatest solution ever built within your given budget but if no one is using the solution, there are no benefits to your customer.

Add operational measurements to measure success
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters to your customer is how well the solution works in operations. Therefore, you need to include metrics that measure this. Start with looking at the original business case used to justify the project and identify the benefits listed. These could be operational efficiencies or increased sales etc. You then need to figure out how you will measure these benefits, i.e. what exact metrics do you need to collect and any calculations you need to perform. For example, if one of the benefits is operational efficiencies, identify exactly what tasks that will be made more efficient and how you will measure the improvements. Note that you may have to start collecting data before you implement the new solution in order to be able to measure any improvements unless this has already been done as part of building the business case.

You now have a balanced scorecard
By including both project and operational metrics you have created a balanced scorecard that will not only measure how well the project team performed but also how well the benefits are actually realized. This will not only allow you to measure success afterwards but will also help ensuring that the project keep operational issues in mind throughout the project, including ensuring a high degree of adoption.

Have you used balanced scorecards to measure project success? What kind of metrics did you include?

Why do most projects fail to set guiding principles?

July 19, 2010

During my career I have been part of a large number of projects, from small simple ones to large $100M+ complex projects changing the core of a customers business. Regardless of size, one thing that a lot of them seem to fail doing well is to define and communicate a set of guiding principles for the project.

Guiding principles for me are guidelines that help project members make the right decisions when faced with a choice. This could be to include or exclude a particular piece of functionality or leave a process as-is or redesign it to provide better value to the end users. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the projects do a good job of managing scope, etc. but they don’t do a good job of helping project members make the right decision when it comes to how to solve a particular problem. If your project is small and very centrally managed, you may not need guidelines assuming the key decision makers are always there to make the right decisions but as soon as you create separate sub-groups responsible for a particular area it falls apart since each group will use their own idea of what and how things should be done.

Why this is the case I’m not sure. Maybe it is because too many organizations are too focused on managing rather than leading their people. To me, there is a big difference between being a good manager and a good leader. A good leader sets the direction and a good manager takes you there.

Sometimes a set of guidelines is defined but often they are too high-level and abstract, e.g. customer service above cost. Does this mean I don’t need to worry about either the implementation or the operational cost at all? What is customer service, increased number of interaction channels, less wait time or something else? Even though the guidelines are just there to guide members, they need to be specific enough for people to understand how to apply them to each problem they are faced with.

Another common problem is that even though the guidelines are defined, they are not communicated to the complete team at the beginning of the project. Either, they are part of a project charter document that only a few select people have access to or they are defined after the project has started. The problem with defining them after the project has started is that most of the decisions are made early in the process.

To avoid having people making the wrong decisions, I think defining a good set of guiding principles from the beginning, i.e. when you start building your business case, helps getting everyone on the same page. As project implementation starts, a more refined set may be necessary depending on how large the project is. Make sure you communicate your guidelines to EVERYONE on the project and make sure they know them by heart or have easy access to them at all times.

What is your experience? Do you have any good/ bad examples in regards to guiding principles that you would like to share?

The core purpose of Social Media

July 4, 2010

Earlier this week my company hosted a Social Media event. The main attraction was Mitch Joel and while he dazzled us all with his insights me and my co-worker Ron de Giusti showed a few simple demos on how different social media tools can be used by an organization. Anyhow, working through the demos and listening to Mitch got me thinking of what the core purpose of social media is and came to the conclusion that it is about conversations.

All social media tools facilitates conversations. When people talk about social media they most often are talking about conversations between a company and its customers but there are a lot of other important conversations. You can have conversations with your partners, suppliers or with external organizations such as government agencies or NGOs. You can also have conversations within your organization. This can be between management and employees or between peers. We have always had conversations but social media tools now allow us to have conversations with anyone with very little effort. We can also store these conversations and search them much more easily and cheaply than we could before.

Each type of conversation may require a different type of tool but in the end, it is all about facilitating conversations

When people hear the term social media they usually think of Facebook and Twitter but there are a lot of other tools, e.g. wikis and blogs and as mentioned above social media is a lot more than marketing your products to customers. If you are new to social media, forget the hype and start by looking at your corporate strategy and find an area where you feel you would benefit from better conversations. Then, figure out what you want to get out of these conversations, e.g who you are trying to reach, what do you want from these people and how will you measure that you got it. Once this is done you are ready to start looking at different tools and ways to achieve this. Remember that implementing the tools is the easy part, getting people to use them is the hard part.

An Evaluation of When to Use Different Enterprise Architecture Approaches

May 6, 2010

This article was originally written for my employer KnowledgeTech. You can view the original article here.

Enterprise Architecture was formalized into a specific discipline with advent of John Zachman’s “Zachman framework” in the 1980s. Zachman developed his framework because of what he saw then as a need for better alignment between IT services and business needs within an enterprise. In the last 25 years, as technology has become a key strategic advantage in virtually every industry, we believe the need for business and IT alignment is not an option. Enterprise Architecture is thus an essential part of any organization looking to leverage technology in a strategic way.

In this article, we will look at three different approaches to designing and implementing Enterprise Architecture (EA). Two of them, Zachman and TOGAF classify themselves as frameworks while the third, Gartner, describes their approach as a process model with a related framework. Each one has a slightly different focus and the goal of this article is to provide the reader a better understanding of when to use each one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is the number of Twitter followers starting to become less meaningful

April 30, 2010

I recently started using Twitter and first of all I need to say that I was very positively surprised of all the good information people are sharing. I expected to mostly see a lot of nonsense but that is definitely not the case. I quickly learned the rule that if someone is following you, you should follow them back. I assume this is because people’s Twitter rating and perceived status is largely based on the number of followers you have. However, I’m wondering if this will change as Twitter and Twitter clients are now becoming better and better at searching.

Most of us are interested in more than one thing and hence, our tweets can span widely different topics. For example, my work interests are mostly related to IT Strategy and use of social media whereas outside of work, rock climbing is a big hobby of mine. Another Twitter user may share my interests in IT strategy but be completely uninterested in my tweets about climbing. So rather than following me, it makes more sense for the other person to setup a search that captures my IT strategy tweets. Personally, I’m using TweetDeck as my main Twitter client and have a number of search columns capturing things like enterprise 2.0, social crm, etc. I’ve also have one column searching for knowledgetech, which is the company I work for, so that I can see what others say about the company.

There are a few examples where I think following is better than searching. For example, I’m following a few different news agencies since there is no way I would know what topics they cover. I’m also following some people that I think are thought leaders in a number of different topics.

If people are starting to rely on searches more and following people less, then the number of followers will be come less and less relevant as a measure on your Twitter status.

What are your thoughts around this? Are you still following new people at the same rate as you use to do or are you starting to rely more on searching?