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Why Business Processes Matter to Organisational Design

Darren Wright on March 3, 2015

Business Processes Organisational Design

It is a rare enterprise that has not undergone some degree of change in structure in the past five years. As internal and external circumstances change, enterprises must change themselves to better suit those circumstances, most commonly by changing their organisational structure, hopefully to some kind of conscious design. Conscious or not, employees and managers alike will attest that restructuring or redesigning (or recovering from change which has been imposed without a design) can be one of the most difficult, stressful work experiences, full of uncertainty and difficult decision-making. However, as the drivers for these restructures are increasingly seen as just part of the normal business environment, the redesigns themselves can be seen as expected, regular events in the life of an organisation.

Human-operated business processes fundamentally depend on the roles and positions (and in some cases, the individuals) that carry them out. So, any change to the organisational structure will change business processes, even if only by changing those responsible for them. In addition, a restructure not only changes who carries out a process, but also, in many cases, how processes link together. This can introduce a number of issues:

  • Lack of clarity over who is responsible for which processes
  • Reduced process performance due to the unfamiliarity of new operators
  • Breakdown or disruption of cross-functional processes because of a lack of clarity over where hand-overs should occur
  • Process breakdown or disruption due to a mismatch between the volume of work and the resources available.

In each of these cases, it is apparent that knowing more about the business processes affected by the restructure before it is designed and implemented is critical. In other words, restructures can tell you much about business processes that you didn’t know, but it’s rarely going to be good news. Even in more moderate situations where the restructure is designed to reinvigorate a team by providing new leadership, the ‘shake up’ in reality must encounter the processes, not just the people. Simply throwing new leaders at broken processes will not produce results.

In an ideal world, the first thing the team charged with constructing a new organisational design would do is consult their up-to-date repository of process information; they would then run reports detailing the processes of interest for all the roles and organisational units affected by the proposed restructure. The linkages between processes would made explicit, so that new or reshaped teams could see who they depend on, and where the outputs of their work goes to. A detailed and accurate set of process metrics would describe exactly how many human and other resources are required to carry out the processes as currently configured. This way, changes to the size of teams could be understood by their impact on the amount of work able to be performed, or the cycle times for each process. Where entire lines of business are being retired, an analysis of linked processes would show which of them need to be decommissioned, and whether this would have any upstream or downstream effects.

If the analysis of process capability shows that the current process in unable to meet requirements with the new level of resourcing, processes would be redesigned and/or technology initiatives put in place to bring those capabilities up to requirements.

A detailed map translating the old roles to the new ones would be created, a draft RACI matrix for processes produced, the process models describing the new to-be landscape circulated and various rounds of review and updating would be conducted. An agreed organisational chart linked to a set of processes for every unit and role would then be published. Implementation would then proceed on the basis of conducting the people and process changes in a coordinated way so as to ensure that everyone knew what they responsible for and how the processes work.

Even in a world where things are far  from ideal, it is possible to use business process management techniques to improve the outcomes of a restructure and put it on a better path over the long term. Constructing a process architecture, assembling logical end-to-end processes or value chains and paying attention to process performance in the wake of a restructure all represent relatively low investments of time and effort and can deliver good returns. Done with care and at the appropriate times, these interventions can greatly reduce the risk of a restructure ending up as a series of process failures followed by ground-up redesigns.


Topics: BPM - Business Process Management