Process Management: An Explanation for the Masses

John G. Tesmer

One of the big hurdles in my work is explaining the value of business process management to people who are actually executing processes—ones that I’m trying to put under control. It’s not easy. Many times the value appears dubious—the return on investment (ROI) can’t be achieved in the short term. People quickly lose interest, unless they’ve drunk the "Kool-Aid," so to speak.

One example I’ve used to demonstrate the value of process management is the on-boarding process at a company. This one’s easy because everyone has, at one time or another, started a job and been a consumer of this process. When the uninitiated hear this, light bulbs generally come on and people start to "get it."

Process Management in Practice

Here’s how it goes: when you started at your current company—for the first time—did you get a business card on your first day? Did your phone work? What about your email and access to critical business applications? Most of the time, people answer "no" to some these questions. Now, a business card is not the most important item you get when you start at an organization. It is, however, a very important artifact that represents how "with it" the company’s internal process management is.

What kind of information is on a business card? On the surface it seems simple, but the data are the result of a huge amount of cross-functional processing. At least two departments are involved in their creation, and in many cases, more than two departments play a part.

What's difficult to understand? Bad process makes our lives difficult. Good process doesn't.

Name and title come from the HR department. But what about the phone number? Where does that come from? What if I am approved to work from home and need a mobile phone number? Who oversees that? What about the email address? Does that come from the same place as the phone number? What about the office location? Who decides that? What about the mailing address? Is there a mail stop? The questions don’t stop there, and each item on the card represents additional complexity in this apparently simple artifact.

Quickly it becomes evident that the business card is the tip of a very complex and deep iceberg. These pieces of information come from different places in an organization. Typically, the phone number is assigned by an IT or facilities group, but often a different group assigns email addresses. The card template and logo come from a graphics or marketing department. The HR department generally is responsible for coordinating all of these entities and getting the information needed to prepare the cards. In many organizations, it falls on the employees to order their own cards because the coordination required is just too costly.

Organizations that successfully manage their business processes can have a business card on your desk the day you start. It happens through clearly defined processes that get work done. Looking at a process like this from the customer’s viewpoint is one of the ways to easily identify issues with processes and quickly get to the heart of the matter: Complex processes with multiple handoffs between various people and departments can result in missed expectations for customers.

Let’s hear from you. When your organization performs processes, where do the complexities arise? How do you manage them?