Webster’s dictionary defines “fusion” as a merging of diverse, distinct or separate elements into a unified whole. In the past while the word fusion was typically used in the context of energy, most recently it has become associated with food and music. “Asian fusion” restaurants offer an East meets West culinary experience, and today’s music offers a fusion of styles, combining jazz with rock or ethnic elements with more traditional sounds.
Technology has also created fusion with the merging of product offerings. Previously telephone and cable providers offered specific "point solutions" only; today they compete with offerings that fuse voice, Internet, television and cellular products. This fusion of services has separated the companies that offer all-in-one packages from those that offer single products alone, leaving the single service providers looking for ways to recapture lost business.
Given current economic conditions, organizations need to be innovative to drive new business. One of the ways many are achieving this is by focusing on improvements within their infrastructure. These improvements, such as those that involve a company’s business processes, have the capacity to transform the businesses themselves, leading to innovation and opportunities. In his book "Management Challenges for the 21st Century," Peter Drucker stated that “Continuous process improvements transform the business. They lead to innovation. They lead to new processes. They lead to new business.”
Not all business processes, however, were created equal. Structured business processes often exist alongside of ad hoc processes, as well as activity-based processes (which more closely resemble projects). Different types of processes need different kinds of interfaces to optimize and manage them.
While there will always be a requirement to manage both structured and un-structured processes, what is needed is technology that can manage and improve all processes, regardless of type. This is particularly true as companies continue to operate with fewer resources and need to find solutions that help them achieve faster and better returns. That requirement sets the stage for tools that offer a fusion of traditional process management with the ability to also embrace project management requirements.
Driving Competitive Advantage
As a prerequisite for innovation, companies must strive to achieve greater operational effectiveness. To do so, they must improve their internal processes. That enables them to remain competitive, while providing quality services and products. Streamlining internal processes further enables these organizations to become more efficient and, consequently, more competitive.
As a result of implementing new methodologies and approaches, articulated and measured as part of key corporate initiatives, today’s business leaders can point to track records that demonstrate performance improvements within their organizations.
Process improvement strategies and initiatives, including Lean Six Sigma, Business Optimization and Business Process Management, have improved process management. While these Initiatives are excellent at establishing baselines and metrics for the anticipated improvement, the Initiatives often fall short of the goal by failing to address one very vital dimension: Time.
Time is a critical element in the planning, oversight and improvement of business processes. Organizations must seek not only to automate and streamline processes, but to also reduce the overall amount of time it takes to execute those processes. This is particularly true for processes that are repeated with great frequency or those for whom timely completion is a requirement, not an option.
Employing Traditional Modeling Tools
Despite their differences, managing projects and managing business processes have much in common. Both have activities and tasks, often with inter-dependencies and sometimes with conditions and/or constraints.These activities or tasks need to be completed by a number of people, require domain knowledge or expertise and rely on tools to manage them to achieve the desired outcome.
Typically the kinds of tools employed to address the process side of the equation are process modeling tools, known as workflows and flowcharts. Most business process management (BPM) solutions rely on these kinds of tools to model, and subsequently manage, a given process. While the flowchart model is the most widely used, it is unable to answer the questions of “When will this task finish?” or “When will this entire process complete?”
Of equal importance is the fact that many business situations are less about “the process” and more about activities within that process. In that case, how we view process activities is more in alignment with project management than process management (PM).
Ultimately, the solution to successfully managing business processes does not reside in either traditional workflow-oriented BPM tools or in a strict activity-based project approach. Conceptually, then, the ideal solution is a hybrid that offers the best of both worlds -- a fusion of BPM and PM technologies.
The Need for a Fused Product
Taking a closer look at the distinction between activity-based processes and flow-based processes enables organizations to better define both their processes and process management needs. What would a “fused” BPM/PM tool look like? What capabilities and functionality would it need to provide to manage both processes and projects? Based on our previous discussion this fused product would need to include:
- A process engine to automate tasks
- A business rules engine to drive the process
- The ability to seamlessly integrate with other business systems
- The ability to report on and monitor processes and their performance
- Predictive analytics to review past performance and drive future optimization
Organizations that have complex business processes that incorporate both activity-focused and workflow-based components need a fused BPM/PM tool. It is the only tool capable of addressing all their process needs.
They need a solution that:
- Provides for the definition and automation of workflow processes
- Offers a project management-like interface to manage activities and tasks
- Provides the attributes, rules and conditions for highly parallel and reproducible non-linear processes
- Enables business users to make changes to the process in “real time” to reach the desired goals within the required timeframe.
A fused product will enable companies to better respond to periods of rapid changes in their businesses.
The Criteria for a Fused Product
Some of the key areas to consider when evaluating tools that support the fusion of PM and BPM include the ability to:
- Associate traditional workflow attributes with individual activities within a project framework and automates that process based on the project definition.
- Model workflow processes through a project management interface (e.g. project plan, Gantt chart) controlled through an internal state machine that assigns activities and initiates workflows based on the definitions of activities.
- Administer a running workflow, including the reassignment of users, altering of dates and updating dependencies.
- Provide predictive analysis of running processes. The predictive logic uses statistics from past workflow processes to calculate and determine when future activities are likely to be late. And it enables you to measure and adjust the performance of each activity within a given process.
- Report on the status of an automated workflow process, including the overlay of the activities on a timeline.
- Provide an aggregate status, available across multiple processes/workflows, that is not timeline-based but based on weighting the individual activities in the overall project.
- Integrate with Microsoft Project, enabling running workflows to be exported into the MS Project format and for workflow definitions to be created automatically.
Agility, Flexibility AND Time
Agility is an essential quality in today’s competitive business environment. An agile company adapts quickly to new business challenges and opportunities. One of the most important aspects of business process management is that it enables companies to be more agile, more nimble. As a result of their ability to respond more rapidly to change, these agile companies can differentiate (and distance themselves) from competitors as they respond to challenges and opportunities.
This new approach to BPM is necessary to address non-linear processes. It recognizes that there are multiple steps that must occur in a process and that these steps typically have certain dependencies. It also recognizes that the order of tasks or activities does not necessarily follow a specific sequence.
Unlike more traditional BPM tools, this new kind of software facilitates the fusion of process and project management with a heightened awareness of the impact of time. It embraces the definition and automation of workflow processes through activities and sub-activities and provides business managers and process owners with technology that can effect change.
The goal of this software will be to transform the knowledge of the business into manageable and efficient processes, leading to increased innovation, productivity and new business opportunities. This approach leverages the power of BPM technology to govern complex, multi-path and asynchronous processes and to demonstrate that timeliness, and foresight, are critical elements in managing today’s business processes.
Image courtesy of liseykina (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: This is the first article by Joby O'Brien. If you are interested in reading more about business process management, try the following by Deb Miller: