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Critical processes: the outside-in perspective

Critical Processes Outside In

We’re all familiar with the symptoms of organisational failure. Your luggage was lost during that never-ending stopover. Your order was mixed up with another at your favourite restaurant. Your internet still isn’t working after numerous phone calls to your telecommunications provider.

These various nuisances are all the result of poorly managed processes, but not just any processes, critical ones (i.e. they impact the customer directly). This post will explore critical processes; why any process that interacts with a customer could be seen as critical. I will then ask you to rate your organisation’s management of customer interactions. We’re interested in your thoughts, so feel free to offer your perspective at the end of this post.

What is a Critical Business Process and How to Identify One?

A literature review provides us with several definitions for a critical process. While some emphasise contribution to organisational performance or the unsustainable risk the company would undergo if the process were to fail, a topic-relevant one states that “critical processes are the visible activities or processes from a customer view”.[1]

So critical business processes are either:

  1. risky (potentially exposing the company to harmful effects),
  2. vital (their contribution to the business is too important) or
  3. in contact with the customer (affecting the delivery of value).

Identifying those seemingly abstract processes is not trivial (for instance, identifying certain risks and their impacts can be a program in itself), so for the sake of this post, let’s focus on the rather simpler ones to spot: those acting as an interaction platform with the customer.

If you are not customer-focused, your business processes won’t be either: yet customer-centrism is a paramount element to keep in mind on the BPM journey. Let’s find out why.

Be your own client

No matter what your business is all about, your organisation’s ‘bread-maker’, i.e. your customer, only sees the processes with which they interact. Do you know the technicalities behind the Amazon Cloud service? Most of their customers don’t -but it doesn’t stop them from enjoying the service: a credit card and a short amount of time will get them some servers running, and that is what the customer wants. The processes running in the background to deliver your product/service do not matter to your customers - only the output does. They matter to you (hopefully!), but not to them.

To deliver excellent products and services, we must sometimes look at our business from the customer’s perspective. In other words, we must look at our processes from the outside-in. By getting into our customers’ shoes, we can discover things from their perspective (which can lead to some humbling reality-checks).

Easy on paper, harder in reality: managing human-centric processes is complex. It often involves defining complex interactions between humans and machines. Is this a reason to stop managing them? Definitely not as they are critically important.

Complexity aside, customer-centric processes can be easier to manage than previously expected.  They often exhibit simpler patterns since many of the decisions are driven by human judgement (such as approval/rejection, information request etc.) rendering modelling simpler as there would be fewer activities compared to their purely technological counterparts. Furthermore, customer-centric processes can also be more agile as they are inherently and repeatedly exposed to the end users, and they are thoroughly “user tested”, resulting in issues identified faster and more often. Additionally, considering the potential impact of unhappy customers on bottom lines, change requests usually move up the priority list.[2]

Managing those processes with touch points with the customer is not easy, but it is necessary. In order to achieve this feat, it can be beneficial to shift perspective from the inside-out to the outside-in. So forget for a minute what you know about your organisation, put your customer hat on, and consider what you company looks like from the outside. Who knows?  You may be better off for it.

Download Critical BPM Discussion Paper

Blog’s question:

Considering the importance of any process interacting with the customer, how would you rate your organisation on the following statement? Please use the poll below or leave a comment - we would love to hear your thoughts. 

My organisation is consciously and systematically managing our interactions with our customers (which can include measuring and/or standardising the interactions, building scenarios…)


[1] Melnyk, S. A. (2000), Value‐Driven Process Management: Using Value to Improve Processes, Hospital Materiel Management Quarterly; Rockville 22(1).

[2] Gal Shachor, Yoav Rubin, Nili Guy (Ifergan), Yael Dubinsky, Maya Barnea, Samuel Kallner, Ariel Landau, What You See And Do Is What You Get: A Human-Centric Design Approach to Human-Centric Process, Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing Volume 66, 2011, pp 49-60

Clement Hurpin
Clement Hurpin
Clement Hurpin has put his business process management knowledge into practice by working on projects involving process engineering and design, process modelling, gathering user requirements, process automation, data modelling, use case definition, workflow and report design.

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