In the fair dinkum department, the most important question about BPM must be "is it worth the effort?" It works in theory, but does it work in practice? What is the return on process? How should we measure, and report, the outcomes of process-based management?
The Wrong Answer
Let's deal with the wrong answer first. It's not about the artifacts. No organization has a business problem called "we don't have enough process models." It is not a business improvement outcome to say we've trained 50 people on Six Sigma analysis, or appointed some process owners, or modelled a process architecture, or assigned process KPIs — these are all necessary, but none is sufficient.
To the executive not yet fully engaged with the promise of process-based management, all this activity might sound more like a problem than a solution, more like a waste of resources than a successful outcome. And if that is all that is happening, she would be correct.
We need good models, architecture, methods, and training — a metamodel of management — they are a means to an end, but not an end in themselves. Just having management tools is not the point; we must use them to deliver real organizational performance improvement.
If our process management and improvement activities are not delivering measurable, objective, proven organizational performance improvements — improvements better than we might have otherwise achieved — then our process activity is, by our own definitions, waste.
There is a Better Answer
We invest in process-based management because we think it is a better way to manage. Our objective is to make improvements in organizational performance, and that must be at the core of our assessment and reporting of the usefulness of BPM.
1. Identify Business Benefits
So, the first thing we must be able to do is to identify delivered business benefits, preferably supported by objective, quantitative evidence. The evidence here would be about reductions in time and cost, about solving specific customer satisfaction problems, about removing a quantifiable risk, or any other outcome that offers quantifiable proof of value. The benefits might be large or small, quick wins or longer projects, one-off gains or enduring benefits. It will be the aggregate of all benefits that will be the main assessment criteria. This may not be easy to do, but it must be done.
2. Assemble Compelling Evidence
Secondly, apart from the hard data of improvements, it may be possible to assemble compelling evidence by way of the support for process-based activity expressed by managers at various levels. Do managers across the organization think that the process activities are worthwhile? This is a customer satisfaction assessment.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) approach might work well in that it would provide a single number on which to focus and the data collection is straightforward. NPS is criticized by some as being simplistic and too broad a measure. It would need to be properly tested and tailored to be sure it was reflecting the right outcome.
A common NPS question is "How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?" The answer is usually a single number in the range 1–10. For our purposes in assessing the usefulness of process-based management, we might change that question to something like "How likely is it that you would recommend the BPM approach as you see it implemented in this organization to a friend or colleague?" Whatever technique is used, it should be possible to also make soft evidence compelling.
3. Measure & report on impact of BPM effort
The third type of required measurement and reporting is about how well the organization of process-based management is working and developing. This has more to do with the artifacts mentioned at the start. If we can demonstrate, using the hard and soft evidence discussed above, that process-based management is worth doing, then we must also show that the organization is developing its ability to do it. What is the health of the process management and improvement 'system'? Is it developing in accordance with a credible roadmap?
An important element in this regard is a regular assessment of BPM maturity and the development roadmap that such an assessment would produce.
If the organization agrees that the process approach is valuable, and the hard and soft evidence supports that it is, then knowing that the management infrastructure of BPM is being developed well is also important.
So, there are three types of assessments we should make to track and report the usefulness of process-based management:
- Hard data on problem solving and opportunity realization closely tied to the process approach, evidence of cost or time savings, of operational problems solved or averted — objective, quantitative, credible proof of value.
- Support coming from the set of managers and staff for whom the benefits should have meaning, evidence that they find the process approach making their working lives easier — subjective, qualitative, personal support.
- Evidence that the development of the infrastructure of process-based management is on track, that BPM maturity is developing according to a plan, giving confidence that the performance improvement outcomes delivered to date will continue and even increase — continuous development of the process of process management.
If process-based management is to be supported, there must be proof that it is useful. That proof may not be obvious; some digging might be required to reveal it. Too often the need to measure and report, to tell and sell, the positive benefits of process-based management is overlooked.
The processes of process management and improvement can, quite rightly, be expected to be the most efficient and effective in the organization — and what do you think would happen if they were?