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A BPM Success Story with Nuno Serra

Sandeep Johal Sandeep Johal on October 18, 2016

BPM is a journey that a lot of us aspire to take. It is one that we're convinced brings about value. But is that the case really? There are so many instances where we get asked at conferences and at our client's about the actual benefits of BPM.

How many BPM success stories actually delve into practical BPM actions that you and I can implement tomorrow and get immediate benefits out of? Sure we talk about transformation, but it's all about showing a successful journey and successful steps in that journey as we move forward.

Nuno Serra from UniPartner talks in this chat about his successful journey in a specific BPM project. 

Sandeep Johal: Nuno is a very well-known consultant in BPM and has much experience in improvement, transformation work for over two decades. Thanks for chatting Nuno.

Nuno Serra: It's my pleasure to be here and to share with you one of the projects we have done here in Portugal which I believe it's somewhat of a unique project and different from the others that we typically do.

Sandeep: Nuno, tell us a little bit more about what this project was trying to achieve.

Nuno:  This initiative started as a project of the Portuguese National Archives and the main goal was to build process catalog to support interoperability between government agencies. By doing this they were changing the way they fund their activities. Traditionally they used an organizational and a thematic approach by separating what ministry X or Ministry Y did instead of looking at the purpose and the function that they all prefer. This would lead to creating a common understanding, a common language that could be used as a semantic instrument to connect all the ministries.

Sandeep: We find that connecting people is exactly what BPM does best. What was it that the goal of this project was when you embarked on it?

Nuno: Firstly we had to identify and elicit all the government business processes. We had to do this in a way that could cover all the ministries of the central government. Also we would have to achieve a common understanding, so we had to look into the businesses in a way that everyone could agree upon. 

Sandeep: Not an easy task at all I can see Nuno. What is it that you can share with us in terms of the actual positives and impact that your process or your project made on this particular initiative?

The first goal was to have organizations collaborating in the project. They had the opportunity to join or not to join the project at that stage, so we had to convince. We were able to convince 130 different organizations to join the project and participate. Also we had a timeline to do this. We had three months to build a a pilot, and then we had eight months to reach the other organizations. The pilot we did with 25 organizations of the Ministry of Culture, and the other eight months we were able to replicate the process we tested with the Ministry of Culture with all the other ministries. We did that by implementing well-defined cycles, and we had five different cycles with different work groups organized of course functionally according to the business functions. The result was the identification of over 1200 business processes, and we were able to do that by talking with 700 participants. This bottom-up approach was key to reaching consensus about the output, the process catalog.

Also we had to do at the same time a top-down approach to build the macro-structure where the processes fit in. We had to identify the government business functions, currently they are 19, and we had to divide those functions into sub-functions. Then at the third level we had the processes. It was very important to combine these two approaches, the top-down and the bottom-up approach.

Sandeep: Sounds like a huge undertaking, and I'm impressed at how much you've actually achieved. Getting consensus in the government is one challenge that most of us only hope to be able to overcome. That was just one challenge, what about some of the other challenges that you faced Nuno while you were doing this project?

Nuno: By combining the top-down and the bottom-up approach, we had to reach different people within the organizations. We had to find the people that had the overall view of the business, and we also had to reach the people that have a deep understanding of each business process. It was very challenging to communicate to the organization what kind of contributions we were looking for so that they could indicate the right people for each work session. Secondly, well, the ministry that was leading the project disappeared. We had elections, there was a change in government, and in the middle of the process we had to resell the project to the new leadership.

In the context of changing parties in the government and changing the government structure, we had to explain that, what we were doing. First, the functional approach would make the outcome independent of the government organization because if we are targeting what the government does, it doesn't matter how the government is organized. That was the key selling point in this change. Also the large participation base, we had only two and a half people working in the project so it was not visible to keep personal communication with 700 participants. For that, we implemented a portal to convey all communication electronically and to make all the information that we gathered available to all participants regardless of the organization they belong to or the function they work on.

Finally, but not less important, we had to start agreeing on definitions. There is not a clear definition, a common one at least, of what a business process is, where it starts, where it ends. We had to do that in order to have the processes in the catalog defined under the same rules. It was also key to achieving the longevity of these instruments. 

Sandeep: BPM is definitely the way to go. We have seen some benefits come out of that, and we have seen some big benefits come out of consistency and having a central place to go to find information. That in its own right is already a big benefit that any organization with different opinions, definitions of stuff can read from. What I'd like to know is, now that we've inspired a few people to think there's still hope in the BPM journey, what other kind of advise can you provide for those who are embarking on a BPM journey? Give them words of encouragement, what would you say?

Nuno: First of all, it's critical to involve the people that work on the processes day by day. We did that in a large-scale elicitation project, and we should do that also in smaller-scale organizational level projects. Also we need to look both at the business view and the IT view, because most of the optimizations that come from these projects rely on new applications and technology, so it's critical to align the business view with the IT view and how the new business processes will be supported by applications and technology. By the end of the day, we have to do a value and even in projects that aim to create a common understanding, common instruments, a common catalog, we need to establish clear goals on how to implement and what to achieve by implementing the common instruments. Of course by having a common process catalog, we are able to digitalize processes and share those common processes between different organizations. We use a lot of the information we produce, and we can provide that as the best practice to implement that process.

Also we can look at the value of information that is produced during the execution of the business process. When we look at the archives, usually we find lots of information that no longer has value, and we keep assigning resources to store and to manage that non-valuable information. By assigning a business value to the information that is generated by each business process, we are able to more efficiently manage a lot of our archives, we can reduce cost, and we can focus the resources we have in the most valuable information. Those were the main goals for implementing such shared common instruments.

Sandeep: Wise words there from Nuno. Thank you very much for joining us, I hope our viewers did get some inspirational words and words of comfort knowing that the BPM journey can be yours, successful one and as practical applications for us. Thank you very much for joining us Nuno. 

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management