Content Developer’s Intro to Business Process Management

cogs-gears-bwYou’ve spent months, maybe years creating content for your organization. In that time, you’ve learned the ins and outs of your organization’s processes, discovered the strengths, and identified the weaknesses. That presents an opportunity for you and for your employer. Whether by choice or by necessity, it’s time to take your process knowledge and present it in a different way.  Perhaps you’ve been called on as an expert in content development to leverage your knowledge of your organization’s processes to find ways to optimize them. It’s a hefty task to be sure, but it’s not insurmountable. By following the practice known as business process management (BPM), you can become an agent of change for your organization.

Making the Complex Look Simple

So, what is BPM? First, recognize that BPM is not a separate practice from content development, but another discipline of it. Like traditional content development, you must effectively capture organizational, system, and/or similar processes and present them in a meaningful way. The difference with BPM is twofold: 1) how you capture information, and 2) how you generate new content from the captured information. With BPM, you take your captured information and use it to map your organization’s workflow in order to enable process analysis, change, and improvement.

Before we dive into specific methods how to capture and present process-oriented information, let’s review BPM’s key benefits. First, while capturing and generating BPM content may seem a daunting, grandiose task, the final product is often very simple in presentation. One of BPM’s goals is to take complex processes and break them down into simple steps. With BPM, you create a visual representation of processes in a format that is easily shared and understood, which is BPM’s first key benefit.

This representation, known as a business process model or map, enables your audience (typically business stakeholders) to take advantage of BPM’s second key benefit – identifying process strengths and weaknesses. An effective model will get passed around and discussed. Your stakeholders will want to meet with one another and with you to discuss ways to further leverage the strengths, and seek solutions to the weaknesses.

Your model becomes the driver of BPM’s third key benefit – enabling change. Your model provides the evidence of common process issues such as bottlenecks. By identifying these issues, your stakeholders can take steps to change them for the better, which leads to BPM’s fourth and ultimate key benefit – driving higher efficiency, lower cost solutions for your organization.

More than Creating Flowcharts

Traditionally, business analysts dominate the process modeling field. Fortunately, experienced content developers are well equipped to transition to process modeling. There are good reasons why. Content development is not a static, pedestrian vocation. It is as fluid and ever-changing as your customers’ or employer’s needs. As a result, content developers need to not only stay on top of applicable technology changes, but to also play many roles, including that of business analysts. By trade, content developers are analytical, logical, and organized – all requirements for effective process modeling.

This is not to say that transitioning from traditional content development to process modeling is easy; it requires a scrupulous attention to detail and the ability to capture complex information and distill it into its simplest form. You need to constantly define how to move from point A to point B at a level of granularity (depending on the project needs) that you may not have considered before in a standard flowchart. In fact, a full-blown business process model is a three-dimensional document comprised of cascading levels of process deconstruction, moving downward from the most abstract to the most concrete. Consider the top level to be an organizational overview, whereas the bottom level is true step-by-step technical execution, and everything else falls in between.

Rather than scaring you off from BPM, this explanation is meant to show that it’s not enough to open Microsoft Visio (or a similar application), slap some text inside some boxes, draw some arrows, and call it a day. However, the good news about BPM is that you can start as small and contained as you like, and you can start by taking advantage of a wealth of free online resources available. A great way for you to get started is to review bpmn.org, which explains the basics for creating process models using Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) 2.0.

Like a programming language, BPMN is a specific syntax to use for BPM. Think of BPMN as a defined set of traffic signs your audience uses to navigate your process model/map. How rigidly you follow BPMN depends on your organization’s requirements and the tools you use, but once you get a handle on the syntax, BPMN offers a logical, well-thought out means to organize process models. Take a look at this example:

Example of a business process management model using BPMN syntax

BPMN is the syntax used for business process management modeling (image courtesy of Object Management Group – http://www.omg.org/)

The above image depicts a simple example of a workflow generated using BPMN 2.0. A hardware retailer’s shipment process is laid out in a pool, and the tasks (known as sub-processes) are split into separate swim lanes for each participant (logistics manager, clerk, and warehouse worker). As you can see in the example, not only does BPMN enable you to organize your content, it also standardizes how you create business process models, which ultimately helps your audience interpret them.

Remember that this example represents only one layer of the business process model. The entire shipment process could be contained within a single box on a macro-level view of the organization’s business model. On the other hand, a single task, such as request quotes from carriers, could be broken down into a pool of its own to detail the individual tasks that make up that specific sub-process. This latter concept of breaking down a sub-process is referred to as process decomposition.

BPMN is a syntax, not a development tool. Therefore, you still need a tool to create your process models. As mentioned above, you can use Microsoft Visio as a very good starter option for process modeling as it is widely available. You may have it already, depending on your version of Office. Other, more advanced and significantly more expensive enterprise-level BPM solutions exist, as well as some open source options if you search online.

Knowing Where to Start

Now that you know the basics to creating a business process model, how do you decide what process to start mapping? Chances are, you already have a wealth of information, either memorized or recorded about your organization, but the sheer volume can make the task feel overwhelming. You need to define a project goal and scope before doing anything else. Ask your stakeholders questions regarding the processes in the organization, as well as the goal of a BPM solution.

  • Is the goal knowledge capture and retention?
  • Or is the goal process analysis, optimization, and change?
  • Do you need to capture all processes/areas (unlikely) or a specific process or area(s)?

BPM is not always either a top-down or a bottom-top approach. Frequently, stakeholders want BPM in response to discovering a pain point(s), but not knowing how to fix it. They want to see a detailed analysis of the process impacted by the pain point. This should be your starting point. You can create quick wins by mapping out the process, identifying the issues, and working with stakeholders to resolve them (thus justifying a need for more BPM in the future).

The practice of identifying pain points, mapping the current process (known as the current state), and then creating an optimized future process (known as the future state) is the bread and butter of BPM development. You can map the current state with the knowledge you and/or your stakeholders already possess. The future state can be more difficult to define and harder to achieve, requiring you to interview, capture, create, propose, and repeat through many iterations that must integrate the business goals with requirements for how to get there. Yet, if you can reach an optimized future state, you will be rewarded when you see your model put into practice.

Becoming an Agent of Change

Remember, an effective business process model identifies process strengths, highlights inefficiencies, and drives change with the end goal of becoming more efficient at a lower cost. As a content developer, you can enable this change by creating models to share with your stakeholders, in turn provoking discussions and brainstorming of solutions. So, be ready to put on your business analyst hat when diving into the world of business process management. Get comfortable developing within the BPM format and notation, and soon you can become an agent of change for your organization.

Sources:

http://www.bpmn.org/

http://www.omg.org/cgi-bin/doc?dtc/10-06-02

Chris Denman

Chris is an independent business education and management consultant. He worked his way through the ranks of IT consulting as a training developer, technical architect, team leader, and service delivery manager. His professional interests include the integration of process modeling and training, interactive learning, and change management. Outside of work, he is often seen sporting tech shirts, chasing his kids around the soccer field, and watching American Ninja Warrior. You can find him on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter.

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