All in the process

25 05 2011

Often I talk about adaptive processes, the need to be flexible within our implementation of processes, but I haven’t spoken much about the power of processes. By this I mean the potential processes can have on impacting an organisation, or even how we live our lives as consumers. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

When I speak of processes, please don’t think of a defined process map, or some case with defined tasks. These are implementations of a process, not the process. When I speak of processes I always mean a very high level view of how something is done. This post is all about this type of process thinking…


Process definition

We get used to following a certain pattern on how to do things, the way something is done, this even applies to how we discover or design processes. How many of you use a BPM designer tool to design processes, or to communicate them? Working in this way means we can often shut the door on process innovation and innovative thinking in general.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use such tools, but we shouldn’t be using them right from the start, rather sit down with a blank bit of a paper and a pencil…By using designer tools, or working with processes we know well, it means that in many cases we actually refine a process, rather than redefine or create new. The problem here is not one of flexibility, or capabilities to adapt, rather the way the business, individuals and teams believe the best way of doing things is. I need an example…

Take “check out” at a supermarket, how long has it taken someone to look at the checkout process and say “actually, why don’t we allow the customer to check themselves out, why don’t we let them operate the till?”. Let’s face it the technology has been there since the POS was invented to do this, but no one has really changed the actual check out process until recently…What has been happening is that we all presume the current process in general is the best way of doing it. It’s only that someone stepped back and re-evaluated the process in general that we end up with self-checkout.


All in the process

When we look at processes, no matter how flexible they need to be, there still is a definable process, once you step back and look at the whole problem. The trick is not to define in minute detail a process, nor to take a process and simply refine it, but to actually step back, take some time and re-evaluate the complete process from end to end. The best way to do this is to throw away what you know about the process, throw away any preconceptions of how the process will work, and start with a blank sheet of paper. Ask yourself what is the business problem? What is the start point? What is the end goal? Once you have done this, throw together some very loose and high level processes to achieve the business goal. I like to make them as different as possible as this often illustrates to me the massive variations that are possible, it also forces me to think outside of the box so to speak and I find, spark some innovative thinking. If you do this well, you will have a number of very different processes on your bits of paper, only then should we try to put some flesh on our process bones.

When fleshing out processes I then move to designer tools, but again I don’t ever want to enforce too much, nor put in any more detail than I need to. Once you have done this, then you can really look and evaluate your very different processes for the same business problem. It maybe (like our supermarket checkout) that more than one of these processes will be used to meet the business need, or that you opt for one in particular. The point is though, that you evaluate the processes in general, at a high level.

Innovative thinking and processes can make a massive difference to a business goal, it can even flesh out new ways of doing business, new ways for customers to purchase from you, open up new doors of revenue / savings and spark new life in general into an organisation. That’s the power of processes when you look at them at a very high level.


When you come to implementation, that’s when you look to tools that aren’t rigid, solutions that can adapt and allow process refinement by the end user. After all, the end user will be the ones that make the process work, and work well. End users need to be empowered by your software solution to enable them to carry out your business process. If your end users are restricted by the software, if they are restricted in their thinking, then your innovation is lost, your processes ability to meet that business goal diminished and the benefits start falling away. End users are the key to success with any business process…

This is when I start talking about Adaptive Process Guidance, adaptive capabilities and flexible implementations….(see other blogs J)



9 responses

25 05 2011
Max J. Pucher

Andrew, I agree with the principle approach. However, there are usually very few people if any who all alone have an overview of what processes entail in the real-world. Even if you do a 10 mile high, end-to-end view that may still be tough. Therefore starting with a blank piece of paper is usually not practical at all. The blank piece is your business architecture design.

Processes are defined by objectives from the executive, targets from management, goals from the process owner, skill/activities by the performer and desired outcomes by the customer. All five need to be involved in creating and improving the process. That’s where the social aspect comes in. That’s why we need transparency. That where the need for a business architecture comes in. That’s where the need for an adaptive approach to process creation comes in.

A key element of process efficiency is the proper hierarchy of activities and the associated knowledge/skill segmentation. Innovation will not happen on the end-to-end level but at the ‘leverage points’ where performer knowledge is converted to customer perceived value.
More here:

and here:

25 05 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

Hi Max,

I agree with you 100% once we start talking more detail of a process. But the problem is many processes are not looked at at that 10 mile high level. I am currently working on two such examples. Stepping back has allowed me to identify a completely new way of completing the business goal (in terms of a process). This is so very different to what they have now, but the payoff is that the process is far shorter, easier to manage, and is far far more efficient. Sure the detail is yet to be added, and thats when skills/activities etc etc need to be looked at and we need great transparancy, and sure thats when social will step in and help etc.

But the point I am getting at here in this post, is that unless we step back and look at the whole process, the business goal in a real high level, we are only ever refining what we know, never re-designing or creating new…I think your response has proven my point very well and addresses the best way of going about making an innovative process vision into a real working solution…

25 05 2011
Chris Taylor

Your ideas are spot-on for things that need to be reengineered from a high-level, but how is process best mapped, deployed and then change managed across large enterprises? At some point, there are existing ways of doing things that people need to share and be informed about and for that, a system is needed that is both easy to understand and flexible for change. That system can capture the conversations around process as well, rather than leaving those strands of important information in low-value places like emails. That’s what I see in “social stepping in”.

26 05 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

When you get to that implementation stage etc etc that is where social concepts work really well. You need though a platform that allows these social interactions to actually be able to change the definition of the process, and by that I mean the process flow itself, but also the players in that process. This is where we get onto concepts of implementation such as APG or ADAPTIVE in Max’s case. Typical BPM solutions cannot facilitate these needs well, they are too heavey with bureaucratic change processes…

26 05 2011

I totally agree. This is a great post. The need for process stakeholders to unlearn before embarking on a grounds up definition of what is required, is critical to achieving process innovation. This is definitely something that is missing in many BPM (and process transformation) initiatives. I really think the tool and the modeling part are very incidental. Yes they sure give us a very friendly visual presentation of how things go on, but surely, thats only when you are able to first define how things should go on.

28 05 2011
Alberto Manuel

Hello Andrew:

The analysis / mapping tools are important to communicate, but I agree that sometimes it’s the method used to think how a process should be designed that kills or limits people reasoning. Also using that kind of tables with input (source)/output (source), throughput, cycle time, voice of the customer etc. It can be important to gather data but can kill the innovation. Well some times I feel that it’s better to put a a very big sheet of paper glued on the wall and let people freely make some Pablo Picasso stuff – by today’s standards it’s anti social because it cannot be shared among the enterprise – gathering people around to put their hands making contributions instead of looking to some image projected on the wall saying that the box it’s lot aligned or there is a typo, misspelled world – concentrated in the picture rather than in the process.

31 05 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

Sometimes we do get caughty up in “trying” to do the latest and right thing. I think social is one of those.

Social is a great concept, and its needed. The capabilities to adapt and refine a process based on social contribution is a business must, but, and I do mean a big BUT, there is still a time and a place for a few process designers to sit in a room, with a big old bit of paper and brain storm a process idea.

Just because Social is the big idea at the moment, doesnt mean we should use it all the time, nor does it mean it will deliver the best results all of the time…We need to ensure we use these “options” when they best fit…

29 05 2011
BPM Quotes of the week « Adam Deane

[…] BPM and Process Innovation – Andrew Smith Take “check out” at a supermarket, how long has it taken someone to look […]

7 06 2011
John Hansen

Hi Andrew

You are very spot on! Driving innovaton from business process design requires that you start on a blank sheet of paper. I’ve just made a similar statement in a post ( In addition I think you are right that focus should not be om modelling tools.

Great post!

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