Business Process Management: An Improved Guidance Creation Process
Knowledge and Rules
One way of describing a business process is to say that inputs are processed into outputs of value according to guides using enablers when stakeholders trigger activity -- that is, inappropriate, insufficient, or non-existent guidance and ill-prepared or ineffective enabling mechanisms will lead to poor business performance due to process breakdown. Clearly, knowledge is critical, and it is reflected in the process' guides and enablers' content and their design.
The measures associated with rules can be viewed in the same manner as knowledge as a guide to a process outcome -- that is, in terms of process quality or the cost of non-conformance. In this way, the cost of an inappropriate rule is the total downstream cost of not having the right rule available. This includes extra cost or time, lost business due to customer dissatisfaction, extra work to repair or correct, etc. The cost of taking too long to change a rule is the cost of lost opportunity that would have been realized if the rule were to be changed immediately rather than after a lag.
In any case, the cost or value of a rule (as with all knowledge) is through its impact on the total set of processes where it is used. This argues strongly for rule independence and the establishment of cross-reference mechanisms and a culture of fast change -- sharing new rules responsively -- and helping maintain the utility of the business processes.
A Process for Keeping Knowledge Current
What's needed is an ongoing process (one that does not exist in many organizations) to take the learnings from everyday experience with today's processes and rules and produces renewed ones so that improved performance is made possible the next time through.
If there is no specific knowledge management process to take these lessons learned and evaluate them and change the capabilities on a regular basis, either performance of the process will stagnate with no improvement or will degrade due to the process becoming out-of-touch with a changing set of stakeholder expectations.
What is needed is a formal process of improving the capability, including updating the rules and the enablers within which they are embodied or embedded. This Improved Guidance Creation Process will require resources and a commitment in a process-managed environment. With new rules published and communicated regularly and with enablers renewed regularly, improved performance will be delivered, staff will continuously learn, and the organization will adapt and thrive.
While in operational mode, the key activities in the Improved Guidance Creation Process are:
- Analyze lessons learned regarding capabilities -- especially processes, knowledge, and rules from process execution and stakeholder feedback.
- Understand current business drivers and strategic intent.
- Identify stakeholders and their expectations.
- Re-examine processes' performance gaps.
- Analyze processes using root cause analysis to examine rules and other capabilities.
- Update process design, including guides and enablers.
- Determine renewed rules for renewed processes, and gain approval for changes.
- Identify enablers for knowledge and rule distribution and access (embedded or embodied).
- Build or renew enablers.
- Communicate new capability.
- Implement new capability.
These activities work for ongoing business process operation. For larger changes with a more significant impact, a more formal overall approach is required that starts with strategy and delivers a more formal program of integrated change based on holistic process analysis.
Independent but Aligned
In closing, nothing stands alone: not strategy, not data, not process, not technology, not knowledge and not rules. To ensure adaptability and ease of change, all of these should be independent of one another but aligned with the business direction and stakeholders' needs. Clearly all aspects must work in concert and each must be tuned to support the objectives of the business overall. The job of business processes is to provide that link.
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