Process mapping versus modelling: Interview with Mark McGregor

Mark McGregor

Documenting your business processes is the first step in any business process transformation. Most organizations start by drawing graphical representations of their processes – effectively flowcharts - using lightweight software like Microsoft Visio, or SmartDraw. But are mapping software tools enough or should companies take a more serious look at modeling tools? Interview with Mark McGregor, Director of Business Architecture at OpenText.

This interview is a transcript from a video interview conducted earlier this year. Watch the video interview here: Modeling tools: big, complex, expensive things or providers of real business value?

Editor’s note: this transcript has been edited for readability.

Modeling tools – GPS for business?

PEX Network: Mark, you recently did some research into modeling tools? Why did you feel that this research was important to do?

Mark McGregor:It’s important because it’s an area that’s so misunderstood. There are two parts to it. I did a survey back in 2009 where we looked at a lot of the detail of what functions and features people were using. Between 2009 and 2012 so much has changed. So we wanted to have a look at exactly what’s changed? What tools are people really using now? What are the trends?

PEX Network: You’ve mentioned that this area is so misunderstood. Is there a misunderstanding of what modeling tools actually are?

Mark McGregor: I’m not sure that there’s a misunderstanding about what they are. There’s certainly a lack of understanding as to what they can do in terms of helping you move forward in terms of business and process transformation.

I think that very often people say, "modeling tools; those are those big, complex, expensive things; we can do things much easier".

You know, they’re right, aren’t they? Once upon a time you’d arrive and pick up your rental car and they’d give you a single sheet map of the local area and away you’d go. Well, now, you’re either going to take the GPS system from them because you want to know the shortest way, the fastest way or you’ve got height restrictions. Or you’re going to fire up your iPhone and actually do our own GPS navigation because actually those static, simple representations don’t serve the same purpose anymore.

PEX Network: And there is a difference too between mapping and modeling that some times people get wrong?

Mark McGregor: We all used to have a Road Atlas and we’d be flicking through the pages and someone says suddenly, there’s a turn there. But we’d be struggling to juggle all these things. If you think about it in modeling terms, process modeling is like a GPS system for business. A model is going to give us a much richer picture than a map.

I did one recently where someone was saying, look, "our maps are reasonable, it’s just like the London Underground". Well, yes, except the London Underground or any other New York subway go up and down. So there’s a depth and what you’ve got to make sure is how they link with the roads. For instance, there’s a place in London where I’m told it says it can take you 15 minutes to get from A to B on the tube; but if you got off the tube, went up the escalator and crossed the street you’d be there. We’re so conditioned to seeing the world in a particular way that there are things that we can do and need to do.

PEX Network: So what trends then in this research did you find?

Mark McGregor: We found that there’s a trend where the professional modeling tools are being squeezed in the middle. On one hand we’ve got things like the BPMS-type vendors with their own design studios pushing in from one side and then we’ve got some of the role-based tools.

Let me give you some examples. The professional modeling tools will be from companies like Casewise, Open Text, Mega, Signavio. They’re sitting there in the middle. Off to one side we’ve got some of the role-based tools like Minitab’s Quality Companion, for example, which is very much focused around the Six Sigma-type people and not trying to offer the full range of functionality. Then you’ve got things like Pega’s BPM Studio, Appian, IBM and all of those things coming in, which leads to the professional modeling tool market being trapped in the middle.

The feeling is that the modeling tools don’t do all the automation and, they don’t provide all the support for things like Six Sigma. As a results the modeling tool vendors are finding themselves squeezed.

PEX Network: Wh do you think it is that people aren’t using, or more people perhaps aren’t using more sophisticated tools?

Mark McGregor: What we found was that people were suggesting two main factors: first, that their own internal management culture was so focused on "quick fix, quick fix, quick fix" that some people suggested that their own management weren’t willing to invest in doing it right. The thought process is "We know we should do it right but let’s just do it quickly." But as well we all know, sooner or later these things will come home to roost.

The other thing that they were saying - and this was very much aimed at the vendors – is that there’s not enough knowledge and education around what modeling is and what its benefits are. A number of people are saying, that they’d love to be doing modeling and using more sophisticated tools, but we need people to be more clear in what it’s bringing and how it’s solving problems for us. There’s an education and benefit knowledge that’s currently lacking.

PEX Network: My final question is: how can people identify which tool is right for them?

Mark McGregor: Of course, they could use advisers like MWD - but that would be an easy thing to say! The main thing is that they have to focus on what’s right for them. They’ve got to consider their own needs.

We did a webinar, where we looked at some of those barriers to change. One of the biggest barriers in the process area was that actually we’re using those lightweight tools but we’re using 25 of them in 30 different departments where we’re all competing with eachother to say "we’re the process excellence crew." We’re the process excellence crew in Risk and Compliance, in ERP, in BPA, in Lean, in Six Sigma, in Quality. But they’re all doing their own representations.

How much cheaper would it be if all of those were using one common library and they were all working on one process? We only have one order to cash process, for instance, and yet we have 25 representations because no one wants to do it in the sophisticated tool, we all want to do it in the quick and easy tools. And so we have all of these competing groups as opposed to saying, you know what, if we have one place for process knowledge that each of those groups worked on we’d be in a better place.

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