Companies often embark on business process modelling projects with the best of intentions. Modelling may be a part of an intranet project designed, at last, to definitively capture the ‘way you do things’. You may hope it’ll identify cost savings, protect you from compliance breaches and bring order to the chaos. But there are a whole bunch of ways these initiatives can end up as a spectacular waste of time and money.
What is business process modelling?
Business process models are graphical representations of the different workflows used in an organisation. They are designed to bring a clear picture of organisational structures and the ‘way you work’. They can help companies find new opportunities to drive efficiencies and close up compliance gaps. Business process modelling is often used to create training materials and populate Quality Management Systems with auditable SOPs.
But why does the output from these projects so often fail to be utilised effectively by the companies who commission them?
7 reasons your business process modelling project is doomed
1. It’s a project cut off from the ‘reality’ of your business
You know the sort. That grand plan to install an Intranet that documents all your business functions and SOPs with a labyrinthine piece of software. It might be spearheaded by a QA team bent on creating the ‘ultimate resource’, or a group of outside consultants bought in to help you achieve ISO certification. But often these projects end up being too complicated, with the output difficult to navigate and impossible to update. Research shows 90% of intranet projects fail largely because of poor U/X and lack of governance. And, if that’s the case all the business mapping that you’ve carefully documented could just sit there untended and unloved until the next project comes along...
2. The process modelling has been done without consulting the people who actually do the tasks.
All too often, for time and resource reasons, these models are developed without proper consultation and so don’t reflect what happens on the ground - or what needs to happen to improve efficiencies.
3. The processes you’re attempting to model seem too organic to capture and document.
If this is the case, then you may be attempting to document the wrong processes, those that don’t need to be done in a particular way. Or it might be a signal that you’re being too granular or prescriptive in the way you are capturing them. Alternatively, it could suggest that these are exactly the processes that need to be standardised. That’s why a great business modelling process is a collaborative effort between the project and the task owners themselves - getting to the bottom of each task’s objectives and agreeing the optimal way for it to be done, so they can be more effectively replicated.
4. The process modelling is not focused enough
‘Process edge’ cases are the functions that the theorist Peter Keen says are among a limited number of major opportunities for improvement that exist for a business, but often go unidentified. He argues that focusing special attention, money, and human resources on these specific processes can often deliver the most transformational results. Using business process modelling to identify which key functions are failing to deliver - and then optimising them - can be a major benefit for an organisation. There’s a good argument for saying you shouldn’t waste time and resource attempting to break down every element of your operations. Instead, prioritise identifying and fixing those that will bring you the most significant and long term return on investment.
5. The process modelling results in too loosely defined process flows
You don’t want to create overly prescriptive processes, but you don’t want them to be so flexible that they can be interpreted in any way an operator pleases. The purpose of SOP workflows is to ensure uniformity in approach in order to achieve uniform results - not to overwhelm with instructions.
6. The action of documenting the process has the effect of freezing processes in time
Many businesses create and optimise their process models once, file them in their quality system and leave them to gather dust. This can be a result of an intranet that’s difficult to update or it could be that there is just no plan for using them or process for evolving them over time. A QMS that is fit for purpose should use these flow diagrams as dynamic repositories of best practice. While they need to be locked down against unauthorised changes, it should be a quick and easy process to update them to reflect any required changes. It should be easy to collectively rework them to ensure continual organisational improvements.
7. The entire process ends up in chaos
The process modelling process can result in diagrams, documents and SOPs created in different formats, stored in different platforms and shared via different media. The more places these documents can exist and the less ‘controlled’ they become, the greater the risk of any individual document causing issues that lead to compliance breaches.
The purpose of business modelling is to document vital business flows and SOPs. They can identify process gaps and inefficiencies in order to establish and document better ways of working. Used as part of a graphical quality management system to which an entire organisation can contribute and grow over time, they can be supremely useful. But created in isolation from the rest of the business, sealed in a PDF and ‘filed away’ never to be seen again - they can end up as a supreme waste of time and money.