Business processes are rarely the problem

Digitalization increases the proportion of mechanically consecutively executed steps that are performed by computers at an incredible speed. This fulfills the dream of many process designers – finally the flows can be introduced reliably. The fact that only simple operations can be determined is overseen with the amount of documents regarding inputs, outputs, KPIs and process steps. However, the VUCA reality requires the ability to react to short-term changes. And these skills are still provided by humans – albeit not as fast as computers. Despite advancing digitalization, the road blocks of recent years must still be taken into account.

It is a surprising phenomenon that the people, who work the most with business processes, are the biggest impediment to application. As Peter Drucker puts it: „Anyone who only has a hammer as a tool will see a nail in every problem“. The next few points illustrate such shortcomings.

  • Processes are not code
    Even if digitization is currently putting business flows back on the agenda, so those parts that are continuously executed by people remain the issues. The flows are not a program code that you „upload“ to employees and then everything runs smoothly. It is rather the case that everything runs DESPITE the determined operations.
    This requires the consideration of the employees when describing the activities. It only needs so much specification that the missing subtleties can be added by the employees as soon as they have understood the flow.
  • Described is only half the battle
    Since we are all driven by targets, the outcomes we produce have to be measurable. It is not a question of abolishing the description – only what is printable is valuable. It is more important that you do not stop, when the flow is documented. How useful are the best instructions, if nobody can fulfill them. Many a responsible person hides behind the flood of flowcharts, which he has created and forgets that the real work is only just beginning.
    Those affected must be introduced into process thinking, understand the business process and recognize their part in the realization – the sooner, the better.
  • Processes are a top management task
    The biggest hurdles in the realization are the decision-makers. Of course they are on fire at the beginning and announce the necessary guiding principles – from end to end. It usually does not take long for other topics to become more important – unfortunately, before the procedural measures are fully implemented. That way, managers undermine their own intentions and have to face the shambles of their wishes within a very short time – which does not prevent them from starting the next but one initiative on the shards. Over time, this leads to a multi-project portfolio, endless reprioritization, frustrated employees and a desire from above: Do the one thing, without let doing the other.
    As long as the decision-makers do not consider the flows in all their tasks and ensure that they do not get stuck in the end, business flows have no chance of create their impact.
  • People will not do, what they do not understand
    Although these actions permeate the day-to-day business and actually affect all employees and managers, the responsible people make great efforts to protect the flow descriptions in such a way that only selected people get a glimpse. Even after the sequences have been approved and released for realization, efforts are rarely made to inform employees comprehensively. There is no big picture to explain the rough interplay, or the critical issues, or the new skills that are needed, or the workflow that is actually to be executed by the employees.
    As long as the business processes are treated as secret knowledge, without explaining the notation, the documentation is not made available and the parties involved cannot join, the employees will resistively let the tsunami pass over them without changing anything – business as usual.

Bottom line: Digitization is once again crying out for new flows – for all regions, cultures and languages. Business Process Management (BPM) is an honorable discipline, so there are no more unknowns. All elements, procedures, methods and formats are available as best practices. And yet the initiatives are still unsatisfactory. This is partly due to

  • Wrong understanding: Processes are not code
  • Missing dissemination: Described is only half the battle
  • Lack of support: Processes are a top management task
  • Real resistance of those affected: People will not do, what they do not understand

As long as those affected are forgotten and leaders continue to afford this homemade chaos, the cycles of unsatisfactory BPM activities will repeat. Business processes are rarely the problem.