Is Micro-Managing with BPM a Myth?

Jonathan Kraft's picture

APQC recently talked to Scott Francis, co-founder and CTO of BP3, about why more detail in modeling isn’t the answer but knowing the right details are. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @sfrancisatx

APQC:  You’ve mentioned before on your blog how the ‘Myth’ of micromanaging with BPM irritates you.  You talked about the importance of having the right kind of detail and right context when it comes to BPM. Why do so many people believe more detail always is better quality?

Scott Francis:  There’s a mistaken belief that more detail is better than less. But of course that’s only true when you’re in an information starved environment. Today we’re inundated by detail.  What’s most valuable is getting the *right* information and knowing that we’re looking the the right information.  Right doesn’t just mean factually correct- we’re overwhelmed with facts.  By “right” details - I mean the details that actually matter for me as I’m doing my job - whether that is modeling business processes, implementing them, or being an end user in the process.

When it comes to modeling, specifically, I’m not sure why people believe more detail will yield better quality.  I look at it like the mathematical concept of false precision.  You can work hard to add precision, but it isn’t more accurate, because you’re looking at the insignificant digits.  I’m also partial to my solar system analogy.  Taking it back to modeling - it is important for the model to be accurate - but that isn’t the same thing as being precise.  Accurate models have the right level of abstractions, and the right level of detail to promote shared understanding. Finally, modeling at the right level of detail means that the details that are captured actually increase the likelihood of achieving the business value we’re seeking.

APQC:  Sometimes in BPM removing a process detail from a diagram is viewed as a crime against BPM. You mentioned on your blog some simple questions that can be asked to let you know if a process can be removed. Yet it seems sometimes those questions aren’t asked by the people in charge. Why?

SF:  One issue is that many in management aren’t trained in practical process improvement and business management. They may be trained in some of the mechanics of Six Sigma, but they didn’t absorb or buy into the concepts of voice-of-customer and value-stream-analysis. 

Many times the project team leadership doesn’t feel accountable and authorized to act.  Often they feel neither, but many times they only feel accountable - but without authority to do what they think is right.  So they don’t ask the hard questions and challenge assumptions. 

As outside consultants, we can be that breath of fresh air because we do feel authorized to act, and accountable for the results. 

However, if you present the list of questions I ask to determine if a detail can’t be removed, almost everyone would say it is the right list of questions to ask - of course it is. But no one can explain why they weren’t asking those questions before.  Sometimes good advice is only obvious in the rear view mirror.

APQC: If you could only ask one question to decide if a process detail should be removed what would it be? 

SF:  “Is it adding value to our end-customer?” Because our end-customer is #1.  If they’re happy, it will act as deodorant - covering up a lot of other process improvement opportunities and inefficiencies in our processes.  We could have the best process ever, but if we don’t make the customer happier, all that efficiency goes to waste. 

APQC:  You’ve talked about how its BPM’s job is to relieve workers of tasks that can be automated, and to more efficiently present them with information they would otherwise have to chase down themselves. What causes people in charge to lose sight of this goal?

SF:  Two things: first, a laser focus on ROI can sometimes cause management to be focused on headcount reductions as a result of automation.  But the goal isn’t to get rid of the people that take care of your customers and automate them out of existence.  The goal should be to provide better service and results for customers.  Which, in my view, is the result of relieving workers of tasks that can be automated and presenting them with information they would otherwise have to chase down themselves!

Second, there tends to be a mistrust of the team responsible for the processes.  Humans are quite error prone, compared to automation, it is true.  But automation doesn’t create emotional ties with customers.  Automation doesn’t have good judgment, it can’t make subjective decisions.

If you don’t trust your team, hire people you trust, or invest in the team until you trust them.  Don’t expect software to fix trust issues. 

APQC:  You mention sometimes how the actual people who will use BPM software aren’t taken into proper account and this greatly affects the user getting free of the busywork. Without naming names or identifying the guilty can you give us an example?

SF:  As an example - take an engineering change request. If I’m responsible for getting that process completed, but the process puts control in someone else’s hands, then it is forcing me to micromanage that person to get the job done.  I have to hassle them to do it if the business process isn’t designed in a way that works well.  If I’m responsible for getting a change into the SAP system, but the company is using an ACM tool, I’m not going to be able to get my engineering change into the fulfillment system without “micromanaging the process” - I have to do it myself in SAP, or get someone else to do it.  An end-user is not going to whip up an SAP integration just to get a specific engineering change request implemented.  They’re going to swivel chair… and then we’re back to square one.

APQC:  On the flip side, have you seen a situation where an organization had terrible business process management but made the right choice in process technology and saw dramatic improvement?

SF:  Yes.  You wouldn’t expect it to be the case-  but when you buy technology from a technology partner that believes in BPM and evangelizes it, it can become infectious.  We’ve worked with several companies who bought a technical solution to an IT problem by buying a BPMS.  But when they worked with us, they discovered BPM had a lot more to offer than just the software implementation.  I used to see similar conversions when I worked at Lombardi, as we would open their eyes to the potential value that could be unlocked.  Often it was the second deployment of the same process -version 1.1 or version 2 - that opened their eyes to how much improvement (and ROI) was available in their business processes if they just invested in achieving it.

Want to learn more about process improvement and management? Join APQC for its 2013 Process Conference held October 21-25 at The Houstonian Hotel.




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