8 process fundamentals (and how they can help you assess your business process maturity)

Robin Barnwell

Contributor Robin Barnwell looks at eight fundamentals of process management and the importance of keeping maturity assessment simple for your business users.

Any large business can appear a "mess" of business processes. Everywhere you look processes are running. Few work perfectly while the many need improvement. It can be difficult to rapidly assess where to invest limited improvement resources, what to address and when.

The purpose of a business process is to deliver for its clients. Business users who take ownership to improve their own processes can generate sustainable and positive outcomes for their clients.

We can ask three questions:

  • What are the foundations upon which a business process is built?
  • How can we help business users understand and improve these foundations?
  • Where should we begin and end?

There are many frameworks and process improvement approaches. Each describes an essential infrastructure to deliver value. However these approaches tend to be aimed at the professional practitioner, an example being the need for certification or qualification to show proficiency.

Business users can find the methodologies complex and can rapidly lose motivation. So the aim is to provide an effective approach through simplicity.

I’ve reviewed all the methodologies and approaches I could find to distil the foundations of a business process. My conclusion is there are eight fundamentals as shown below.

The answer to the "where should we begin and end?" question is found by business users evaluating their processes against the increasing levels of maturity.

The assessment is from two perspectives "how is it today?" and "where would we like to be?" You may well identify additional foundations for your business.

Keep it simple! 8 fundamentals of business processes (click to enlarge)

Download a copy of the Foundation and Maturity Level Matrix template

The above matrix is generic but works best in context and the optimum context for business users is the client journey as this is their language. The client journey contains the vital few processes that really matter and "removes the noise". The client journey describes what the client sees of the business from initial awareness through to becoming a customer and finally ending their business relationship.

Against each of these stages the business operates a number of core processes. Take the asset management journey in financial services, for example. Here is a simplified view of five stages to the client experience with a brief description of client expectations and the 13 business processes that deliver the experience:

Five stages of the client experience (click to enlarge)

Download the Client Experience template

Of course each of these processes will reach into the business and engage a wide number of people and teams. There will be a number of supporting & regulatory processes that the client does not see but are critical to its success. You now have the building blocks in place:

  • The eight foundations of a business process
  • The incremental levels of maturity
  • The vital processes for assessment

Let’s put it all together and assess where a business stands. You want to engage as many people as you can. There are lots of means available from web-surveys to face-to face-meetings to team workshops.

I’ve found all methods work in the right circumstance but equally fail in the wrong circumstance. For example, sometimes a survey can be ignored when people wanted a personal touch.

Whichever method you choose you’re looking to get people’s honest input and assessment.

Here is an example:

Assessing the client journey experience (click to enlarge)

Download a copy of the Client Journey Assessment template

It helps to include a simple description of the processes things like value-flow, stage-owners & teams, rework levels and current performance. There are many visualisation tools for this including value-stream, SIPOC or swimlane. This provides guidance on exactly what people are assessing. But, in general, people already have an established view.

The results come in two dimensions. There is the "AS-IS" and "TO-BE" assessment of each process and foundation. A good way for showing these are through tables and radar diagrams as in the examples below:

Radar Diagram (click to enlarge)

Improving process maturity levels (click to enlarge)

In an environment of constrained resource knowing where to invest valuable improvement capability is an important decision. This approach provides insight into the core areas that will have maximum benefit. It provides the ability to build a continuous improvement roadmap by addressing the right areas at the right time. But most importantly it moves away from single improvement initiatives to a coordinated series of initiatives with purpose.