Who Cares About Your Business Processes? (Part 1): My Introduction to Process Thinking

Roger T.  Burlton
Roger T. Burlton President and Managing Partner, Process Renewal Group Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Roger T. Burlton

Early in my career as a project manager I was told by my manager at the time to register for a project management class that he had heard good things about.  I thought that I already knew how to develop a schedule and balance it — after all, as an undergraduate industrial engineer, I had been exposed to PERT and CPM scheduling methods, and also Operations Research approaches of optimizing resources, time, and cost.  I did not feel I needed to do all that again.  It did help that the class was at a golf course that was hosting a national PGA championship a month later and we would get to play, so I was not all that opposed. 

This class was run in Toronto by a slightly eccentric yet highly-commonsensical facilitator named Michael Howe.  Michael loved to challenge mainstream thinking models that were primarily objectivity based and get people to use their subjective side a lot more.  Once we started the class, I soon figured out that all the scheduling and resource balancing in the world would not be sufficient to get someone to like the results of our work and that good project managers built relationships to get them through the tough situations to come.  Michael challenged us every step of the way by continuing to ask, "Who cares?"

His elegant project management model was based on commitment management.  His main question was based on the idea that if the corporation or business unit has formally committed to complete a job on behalf of the customer, how can we assure that all the players on the project team will make and meet the required commitments?  This was surely a different way of dealing with project management.

His simple project triangle whereby all boxes and lines had to be resolved prior to doing any professional/technical work was the basis.  Every triangle for all levels of the work breakdown structure had to be sorted out early or communication problems would surely follow.  This meant that project management and communication was everyone's business, up and down the hierarchy of work components and also across the delivery chain, as illustrated below.

In putting all this together I realized through Mike that the real end products were more than physical and technical things and that the job is not done until we (the deliverers) have assured that the responsibility for each end product has been transferred unambiguously to the acceptor.  This means that project management, if seen as a stream of work, actually requires a network of relationships to be managed.

A network of managed relationships  

This was my entrée into process thinking beyond the scope of the project world.  The day-to-day running of the business is no different.  All the dots have to be connected and aligned.  It was all just common sense.

Eye of the Hurricane

Around the same time I was given a book entitled "The Eye of the Hurricane."  For me, this built on Michael Howe's concepts by addressing the issue of how change managers are typically in a conflicted position.  There are many stakeholders pushing, pulling, wanting a say (or even a veto) on the results and the process of transformation work.  The unfortunate project manager is buffeted from all sides and can easily be drawn into the storm front.  You have all experienced differences between what the client wants and what your boss thinks the client should get, as a simple example.

This small book compelled project leaders and business managers to not be drawn into conflict resolution issues until the criteria for resolution have been sorted out among the various stakeholders and agreement reached among them on what success looks like.  The author's analogy was, of course, to stay in the calm of the eye — avoid being sucked into disruptive arguments on specific details.  Establish the stakeholder relationships first, and understand and resolve fundamental conflicts among them right up front.  Constantly balance the multiple perspectives.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any reference to the specific book anywhere anymore (I loaned it out to someone), but the concepts have stuck.  Finding the right balance among competing perspectives is real work and essential.

Relationships are Everywhere

What I learned in project management became the stimulus for me to get into quality and process management very early in the life of those ideas.  It was obvious to me that the same problems that dogged project managers were those that affected outsiders of the organization that we were striving to serve — and by extension all the other stakeholders serving us. 

I brought the idea of relationship management to process management in 1991.  I realized then that the real issue is to balance and manage 'who cares' about our business processes and that everything I had learned to date would be very relevant.  However, the applicability of the ideas has spread much more widely.  We now have to recognize that we have relationships with:

  • Stakeholders outside our company or agency,
  • Inside stakeholders who are in the value stream (upstream and downstream from us),
  • Those who manage and direct the units or departments navigated by value streams/ processes,
  • Peers and associates, and
  • Technologies that do work in the value stream/process.

For each type, some will be based on a pure exchange basis, some a direct working involvement, and others with an indirect relationship in the work yet critical to it.  All of the relationships must work.  Any one of them can cause difficulties and stop progress and success.  For all relationships to work, trust must be established.  That means it must be sought, earned, and nurtured.

Next Time...

Future columns will take a look at ways of conducting stakeholder analysis targeted to the type of process management you are conducting.  Next time, we will cover 'Stakeholder Analysis in BPM' in general.

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Standard citation for this article:


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Roger T. Burlton , "Who Cares About Your Business Processes? (Part 1): My Introduction to Process Thinking" Business Rules Journal Vol. 11, No. 6, (Jun. 2010)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2010/b541.html

About our Contributor:


Roger  T. Burlton
Roger T. Burlton President and Managing Partner, Process Renewal Group

Roger is a respected pioneer in the introduction of innovative approaches for Business Management. He is a world leader in the field of Business Process Management, having authored one of the most read and followed books on the topic early in BPM's growth as well as the Business Process Manifesto. Roger's leadership is also witnessed by his position as chair of several of the most influential conferences each year on BPM and Business Architecture and by his role as chair of the BPTrends.com Advisory Board. The insights he brings to PRG's consulting clients are thoughtful and pragmatic.

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