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Philipp Joebges

Hence, I'm relentlessly working with my colleagues at Leonardo Consulting on improving business processes and building Business Process Management capabilities in organisations of all sizes and industries. This has given me experience in a wide range of business process modelling, measurement, analysis and improvement approaches, tools and techniques. I'm passionate about utilising these to achieve measurable improvements.
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5 Challenges to Improving a Process Mindset

Philipp Joebges Philipp Joebges on February 14, 2017

'Change is changing' (2).png

Every quarter, the team at Leonardo Brisbane take part in the Brisbane BPM Roundtable – a group for like-minded BPM practitioners to network and wrestle with the big questions of process management. At the recent roundtable meeting, we talked ‘process mindset’, and asked people what their biggest challenge was when it came to implementing mindset at their organisation.

What is Process Mindset

To ‘do process’, an organization, and its people and their teams, need to ‘think process’.

In a process centric organization employees are conscious of their roles in the execution of a range of processes. They think beyond the activities described in their own job description to see their role in the bigger picture of creating, accumulating, and delivering value to customers and other stakeholders. The unrelenting emphasis is on conscious, proactive, cross-functional collaboration—and that is often different and challenging for individuals and functional units in an organization.

Tools and techniques are critically important, but they are not the main game. Having the right IT and other tools is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient, for success. Tools and techniques alone won’t create a viral spread of the idea of BPM. Hearts and minds are also needed.


Challenge 1 – Natural human resistance that the majority businesses have on top of busy BAU

Many organisations share the situation of not having enough capacity to look at how to create more capacity. What tends to be successful is to start small and simple. Simple ideas that make the day-to-day a little easier are easy to implement and will have a positive result.

A local government department was in this very same position – they have now increased capacity and can process more than ever before, while taking on more and more challenges.

People with a ‘process’ mindset think beyond their jobs and what they do. By thinking of the day-to-day job in a different manner, improvements can slowly be identified and implemented. The improvements can increase capacity (and other dimensions around service, etc.), which, in turn, can be invested into more process knowledge, more improvements, and more radical change. Not every unit or organisation has the luxury of having dedicated process improvement people; but the above-mentioned government department didn’t either – it was not required. Albert Einstein warned us: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Here’s a simple example. When driving to work, do you take the same route every day, or do you try work out the quickest way to get there? Do you try new routes, think about alternative transport options, or listen to the traffic reports? These are all done while going to work, before work, during work, and after work. Some are implemented and some succeed, others don’t; but it is an ongoing activity.

Similarly, while you are working, you can ask yourself, “How can I work better, easier, and quicker?”

Challenge 2 – The functional view of the organisation vs. the end-to-end view of process

Process encourages one to think beyond the boundaries of their role, their job, and their department. It encourages people to look at the cross-functional processes and the contribution they make to the customer (stakeholders). Understanding how information, tasks, and products move through various functional units will help make a stronger case for change than simply looking at role of just one of them. This inspires conscious, proactive, and cross-functional collaboration, which can vary for different people and areas within an organisation.

There have been many studies and cases that prove, beyond a doubt, that an end-to-end process view is superior to a functional view – especially when it comes to improving process flows and lifting the focus on the client. This is not to say, though, there is not a time and space for a functional view.

Challenge 3 – People don't think that process is important.

This is often the case for people who either don’t understand ‘process’ and what it can do, or see process as a bunch of models, measures and architectures, which, by themselves, do not uplift organisational performance. Too often, companies embark on huge modelling efforts, but once the models are done, do not know what to do with them. Process mindset is not about the modelling, the tools, or the measures – it is about how one thinks about the work and the environment. The rest (change, modelling, improvement, etc.) will follow.

Unfortunately, the bad experiences people have witnessed makes them wary or mistrusting of the promises of process. However, to believe process doesn’t add value would be to belie what has been achieved across the world to date. There are those who think a process is a clever or fancy way of describing what a business does – but there is so much more to it than simply ‘understanding’ what is done. Just the act of running a simple modelling exercise will often highlight little improvements, or areas which don’t make sense.

A first step could be to make staff realise that everything they do is a process, regardless of whether they like it or not. Using everyday examples – visualise how there must be several activities and people involved to create something of value for internal/external customers. Based on this fundamental understanding, more initiatives such as process modelling / process improvement can begin. It is critical that people see they are part of a ‘big picture’, otherwise they will not see the value in anything process-related.

Challenge 4 – Change the culture for those not willing to let go old practises and procedures

Many people do not like change; they like security and comfort zones, and the fact that there are so many published methods on change management is evidence of this. People getting married, moving house, changing jobs often experience an element of nervousness and uncertainty mixed with excitement.

Therefore, shifting the culture will never be easy. A key thing to understand is that people move, or change, at different speeds when accepting the new. People generally want to know ‘what is in it’ for them. There are those who may have seen something like this before and it didn’t work, which will make them sceptical.

Changing the mindset is a step toward changing the culture. It is best to let people experience and learn for themselves rather than forcing it on them. Let them experience the rewards of making a change to improve things. Did anyone force us to use mobile phones? No. They were adopted because people saw the value in them, and this happened at a pace that suited the individual.

The value/benefit of everything process-related must be clearly demonstrated and articulated to those involved. Start small, grow big. Key influencers can be identified, their buy-in sought and then used to build support within teams, departments, and organisations. This is the most complicated tactic to achieve by far – hence, the whole discipline of change management was created.

Challenge 5 – Establishing what business process is

Address people’s perspectives and views about what ‘business process’ actually is. A lot of baggage comes with the term 'process' – resetting that and removing negative views on what it is or isn't can be difficult. Undoing ‘history’ is difficult. Unfortunately, people are not like computers, which you can reset, re-format, and re-load new software.

Even those of us within the BPM discipline struggle with a common definition for what ‘a process’ is. However, more important than having a clear definition is to use everyday examples from the organisation in scope to visualise which business processes are in use. This might include claiming travel expenses to on-boarding a new employee for a specific business process that stakeholders execute daily.

A good starting point is to focus on what ‘makes’ a process: the different people involved; the handover of work; the value created for a customer. While walking through these examples, staff will likely identify many areas within the business that need attention. That can, in turn, be used to identify key pain points, and why there is so much resistance to talking about business processes. Then, one can move the focus away from business processes in general, to specific root-causes (why is this process performing badly?), or begin talking about different, well-performing processes to remove negative biases.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management

Process Models Need Modeling Conventions

Philipp Joebges Philipp Joebges on June 8, 2016


Process models are used by process professionals across organisations of all sizes to document, improve or automate business processes, and to communicate in an easily understandable way with SMEs. Due to their broad appeal, process models come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and flow-directions. Unfortunately, this diversity becomes problematic when existing within a single organisation. The value delivered is significantly reduced by these inconsistent models. Invariably, this causes unnecessary disruption and confusion in the business as users have to interpret and discuss the meaning of process models. Modelling conventions aim to reduce the production of inconsistent models and increase speed of understanding. This article provides an introduction to what process modelling conventions are, and how they are used to create standardised process models that can be used by everyone within the organisation.

What are modelling conventions?

Process modelling conventions are a set of agreed rules that govern the look and feel of all process models created within an organisation or beyond. Modelling conventions can be developed at the start of a new process modelling project; however, they are commonly managed within an organisation’s process modelling practice lead (e.g. Office of BPM). Modelling conventions govern all aspects of a process model: from the basic layout (e.g. model from left-to-right, or top-down) to the naming of specific objects (e.g. activities must start with a verb in the present-tense) and everything in between. Modelling conventions are made available as references to anyone interacting, consuming, authoring, or managing process models.

Conventions can be organised in categories to facilitate their understanding and application, for example:

  • Architecture/Decomposition – How many levels of process models exist? What modelling notation is used for each level? How are processes uniquely labelled?
  • Objects – What objects are used when modelling a process? What shapes represent these objects? What colouring scheme is selected?
  • Layout – Is the model’s flow direction from left-to-right or top-down? Are intersecting lines allowed? What restrictions are placed on the layout size?

Understanding and developing modelling conventions is enhanced by determining the purpose of using those standards.

Why use conventions?

Consider having a convention that states: Each activity must start with a verb and should describe only one process step. This convention clearly indicates that an activity should not be used to summarise several steps. Without this convention, models would inevitably contain activities describing several steps –  for example: “Review project timeline, insert comments and send back to Project Manager”. If every activity were to describe multiple steps, then the models would be inconsistent, and each activity would need to be looked at individually and carefully. Users would take more time to understand the model, and analysing the business process becomes complicated due to the merging of several steps into one.

In general, modellers will always have very different levels of process modelling knowledge, experience and training. Conventions provide a common reference point for them, resulting in process models that have the same look and feel, regardless of who created them in the organisation. This offers a major advantage: consistency, which ensures the organisation can understand the process models – and, therefore, the models are more likely to be used widely. Widespread understanding and use of process models is what makes them valuable.

What is a good convention?

Good conventions set the right modelling boundaries by providing standardised building blocks. Conventions enable each modeller to express process models in the same way, through clearly defined shapes with a standardised look and feel. Good conventions:

  • are easy to understand and apply;
  • are broadly accepted by model authors and consumers;
  • can be quickly learned by new modellers or consumers;
  • have been created by a collaboration between the modelling team and the customers of process models;
  • have been tested and extensively trialled;
  • can be implemented in a process modelling tool (or, if one does not exist, easily described in a list of conventions).

After good conventions are designed and developed, the effort of using them effectively commences. 

Download Object Oriented Process Modelling Repository

How to use conventions?

The first step is to train modellers to understand and applying conventions. Once modellers are successfully trained and start the process modelling effort, conventions play a role at each stage in the model lifecycle:

  1. Create – During the initial phase, new models are created and existing ones are revised. Modellers apply conventions when creating or modifying models, which results in a consistent look and feel.
  2. Review – Modified or newly created models are reviewed for their accuracy against organisational modelling standards. Inevitably, conventions act as guides of model compliance.
  3. Publish – In this final phase, models are made available to the business for consumption. Now the customers and users of process models apply those conventions to easily read and understand them.

Organisations that use a sophisticated process modelling tool may be able to implement modelling conventions within this tool. This is a great way to achieve consistent process models, as everyone with access to the tool can review the existing conventions easily, and automatically check process models for their compliance with them. Furthermore, it allows for simplified testing of new or revised conventions, as the impact of a change can be tested on existing models, and the rework effort can be estimated.

Since conventions are best used by all model creators and consumers, it is important to govern them to ensure effectiveness and sustainability.

How to control conventions?

No matter how well developed conventions are, it is likely that modellers will find themselves in situations where it seems necessary to question the existing conventions. A possible scenario is that a new business process has to be modelled with requirements that exceed conventions. Current conventions might be too restrictive, creating the dilemma for the modeller of having to balance accuracy and conformance, and of ensuring that each process model is fit-for-purpose.

There are different ways dealing with these situations. The recommended way is for the modelling team to revisit the existing conventions, take the case at hand, and analyse the gaps. This might result in either a revision of existing conventions, or a solution to the case at hand that is both compliant with the conventions and satisfies the modelling requirements. This simple escalation process ensures that the model’s quality remains high, regardless of any day-to-day issues the modelling team might encounter.

Depending on the scale of the modelling efforts, it is suggested that modelling practice leads regularly meet to work on difficult cases, revisit existing conventions, and discuss suggestions for changes. Modellers should be comfortable and aligned with the idea that modelling conventions are there to improve model quality and consistency.

In conclusion, process modelling conventions are essential to ensure that process models are valuable to the organisation. A broad understanding of the use of process models is only secured if they have a standardised look and feel – which is governed and enforced through conventions. As modelling requirements change, so too must modelling conventions. They are not set in stone, but need to be regularly revisited and adjusted to new or changing needs.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management