Knowing when to use external consultants to improve your process management

External process experts can help organizations improve the construction of a process management strategy, writes Nintex principal consultant Thomas Kohlenbach

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Unless you are in the construction business, the chances are you will not know how to build a house from scratch. That is not to say you do not know which end of a hammer to hold, but even fully certified builders call in specialists for things like laying concrete, adding wiring and painting.

Very few people have the skills and experience to build an entire house – or even a cabin in the woods – with their own two hands. The trick is knowing what tasks you can do yourself and where you would get the most value from professional input. It is more likely you will be involved in the overall renovation plans than picking out individual materials that your home will be built from, and the same concept can be true for constructing your process management strategy.

Management consulting, more specifically process management consulting, is a big business. Numerous experts in process methodologies, tools and techniques can offer businesses anything from a one-off appraisal of process health, to a complete overhaul of procedures and practices with full documentation and a platform to house it.

Therefore, the question you need to ask is, what expertise do you need and at what point?

Lay the foundations

The foundations of a building are arguably the most important part of the construction process. A solid, well-established base will see the start of any construction processes begin with confidence. When it comes to process management, this should be the strategy guiding your efforts.

Many businesses have a core set of management strategies in place to guide overall operations, however. Not everyone has extended the strategies to include the processes that make up those operations, so specialist help in this area could secure your success.

External consultants are valuable in taking stock of your process culture and maturity. Because they offer an objective and comprehensive perspective, they can give a fair appraisal of the depth and breadth of your process coverage, and how effectively these processes are being executed.

By employing professionals at this stage, you create a robust picture of where you are now and where you want to go, similar to an engineer’s report and an architect’s plan. This gives a good sense of what to build, and what it might look like.

Prioritize structural integrity

Whether you bring in experts to plan your process approach or not, the processes need support to be effectively implemented. There are numerous approaches to building a house, from log cabins and steel frame apartments, to timber houses and modular cement dwellings. Each method has its merits, but all of them need a sound framework in order to be secure.

Bringing in process experts is a great way to help identify what that structure could be. They have experience in defining process management frameworks and are probably the most knowledgeable in process methodologies. They do not know everything though, so at this stage it is very much a partnership.

As you refine what it is you want to achieve with your process management, process experts can help identify the best structures to realize your goals and collaborate with your senior management and project team to clarify the right tools and approaches to support your strategic goals.

Make it a home

There comes a point in building a house when you really need to make it your own. Consultants can give ideas for color schemes and decor, but the decisions need to be made by those who have to live with the results. This is just as true when it comes to populating your process platform.

While external experts can help you identify the best approach and the tools to implement it, those who know the processes best should work to capture and manage the process: your teams on the ground and across the organization. They are the subject matter experts, the most familiar with the procedures and the realities of executing them.

Your teams are also the ones who will need to maintain the framework by practicing continuous improvement and building on the foundation as more processes are identified, captured and refined. While outside consultants can start that process, the cost of utilizing them for maintenance and the scale of the work required make it impractical to implement. Instead, these elements should be the focus of in-house teams and everyday staff.

It takes years of experience and specialist tools to construct a house, which is why the building sector is so strong; not everyone is cut out to build for themselves. The same is true for creating a culture of process excellence, it is not a “one size fits all” for every situation. For an organization to manage their business processes effectively there needs to be a well-thought-out partnership between those that know how to establish the framework and those who will live with the results for years to come.

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