Adopting a “Living Process” Mentality – Break Free of the Rigidity

Over the years, organizations have created "business processes" mainly to rein in the chaos that has proliferated inside their operations. They have installed BPM tools to automate their processes and make sure tasks can be repeated successfully over and over again.

This practice does a good job of restoring order, but it also has a downside. Installing a rigid process can create a system where an organization gets too locked into certain procedures and ends up repeating the same mistakes. What organizations need is a less static, more iterative approach that sets rules to bring order from chaos, but allows them to make changes easily when parts of the process become outdated, irrelevant, unnecessary.

A new way of thinking

We refer to this concept as a "Living Process."

Business Process Management (BPM) tools should ideally help an organization adjust dynamically, like the human body. A human circulatory system is constantly moving, constantly adapting the body's performance to handle the task at hand -- whether the body is getting ready to sleep or run a marathon. A Living Process becomes the heartbeat of an organization.

In a business sense, following a Living Process blueprint gives the organization the ability to tap resources to meet its business goals. If a dynamic organization wants to branch into a new business area or shift to a higher-margin, higher-value model, it can channel resources to do so. And as a body slows down when it gets ready to go to sleep, an organization can downshift in response to changing conditions.

As business conditions change, objectives change. A Living Process adapts very quickly to those changes and keeps the organization from getting into the trouble it would with a static or rigid process.

Adoping a Living Process mentality can help an organization a number of ways. For example, imagine a company that has a business objective to triple its number of customers in the next six months. Is it willing to sacrifice customer service to achieve the first goal? Probably not. If an organization follows a rigid set of processes geared to one of the objectives, the other objective will suffer. Customer growth and customer service need to be attached to each other and woven into a new set of processes. You can institute processes that lock the organization in to meeting the needs of the status quo – or you can allow them to evolve to contribute to the new set of business objectives.

Moving beyond repetition

Of course, there are barriers to adopting this kind of thinking. Going all the way back to the first set of assembly lines and continuing through modern systems design, the model has been that employees and systems need to work rigidly, repetitively. But we have found that the benefits of repetition are diminished as systems become more sophisticated and work becomes more complicated. "We've always done it that way" is the one statement that no one wants to hear – or work to. Companies have to be ready to change, and they have to put processes in place that encourage maneuverability in the art of decision making.

Adoption of a Living Process may require that organizations make subtle cultural changes. People become more invested, become active participants in the process, and offer ongoing feedback. Living Process requires that individuals and organizations recommend changes and solutions when they see the need. If something isn't working, employees – along with other stakeholders such as customers and suppliers – will have feedback mechanisms to suggest ways to change things to make things better. Living Process allows organizations to do a better job of collecting feedback at the precise time they're feeling pain.

Do you need to change skillsets in organization to make a Living Process happen? Not really. Unlike some other process methodologies, Living Process builds on top of the BPM methodology; it simplifies how you can improve your process. You're making it better by adding better technology, clearly communicating business goals, and making sure you have feedback mechanisms. When feedback mechanisms are social they can give the process a life of its own, so you can adjust it quickly to support changing business goals.

These are all things that organizations are already doing. The same people can adjust to new processes without having to undergo long, involved sets of training programs.

Looking to the future

While rigid processes are the norm today, they won't be in the future. Static, rigid process or ways of doing business aren't going to be sustainable for much longer. Employees, customers, investors and suppliers are all demanding more. Today's business climate demands that companies circulate knowledge well and remain constantly aware of their surroundings.

More and more, stakeholders are going to demand that companies take all of the input available to them and use it to influence their market. An organization that doesn't change and continues down the path of rigid process will be obsolete very quickly. Moving to a Living Process mentality will prepare organizations for this next- generation model.

Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.