Monday, 10 March 2014

Personal Workflow

How much government is ideal?  How much should be organized by the community?  Each country answers that differently.  In some countries a lot is organized by the community.  In other countries, more freedom is left to the citizens and less aspects are managed centrally.  I’ld say that Business Process Management (BPM) doesn't have any such balance yet.  At the moment, BPM is limited to top-down initiatives.  This would be similar to only having government initiatives and no freedom or initiatives from citizens.  

Corporate executives start by analyzing how work gets done in an organization.  This analysis is often challenging as people doing the work optimize their piece of the puzzle.  To get a complete understanding how people actually collaborate is not that easy.  It’s even hard for employees that get interviewed to explain all their knowledge that goes into tackling a given task.  Therefore, the procedures that result of such BPM initiatives are often incomplete.  That uncertainty creates risk for the people driving a BPM initiative.  They have the power to change things, but they don't have all the detailed knowledge that goes in to the tasks.  And this approach doesn't scale very well as there is usually just a single top down BPM improvement initiative at a time.

Still these centrally lead initiatives can lead to the biggest gains in efficiencies as top down initiatives can create the necessary momentum and executive buy-in to change things.  And the efficiency improvements are multiplied by the number of times these procedures have to be accomplished.  Imagine you can bring down the average time spent on handling a damage claim in an insurance company from 3 hours to 2h30.  For an insurance company dealing with thousands of damage claims per day, these savings add up. 

In countries with less government, self-interest is an important driver and motivation to take initiatives.  That’s an angle totally missing at the moment in BPM and a very interesting one if you start thinking about it.  

What if employees could start automating their own repetitive and tedious work patterns without having to think globally.  As an example, think of Jack's tasks like this: For every invoice email that he gets from Supplier XYZ, he extracts the attachment and uploads it to Google Drive, then passes a link to the document on to Jane in procurement.  What if Jack can build a workflow by himself for his own repetitive work.  He can start improve his own work without requiring any change to be discussed between colleagues.  Since people keep working as they work before, it's really easy and fast to start automating these process snippets. That really reduces the risk and makes it a much faster approach.  All the fine details of how work is done, what's important and what not doesn't have to be talked through.  Instead, employees can just build workflow snippets directly themselves.  

Personal workflow adds an interesting approach next to top down BPM initiatives.  Picking the low hanging fruits like that is easy and scalable.  Imagine all employees creating their own workflows.  This doesn't require meetings and decisions that take months.  Instead it takes 5 minutes to get going.  And all employees can start doing it simultaneous.  Just like societies require a good mix of centrally controlled government and self-interest initiatives, I think that both personal workflow should complement top down BPM initiatives to harvesting those low hanging fruits.