Business process: We love our pretty pictures, but to what end?

We’re visual people and the changes the Web brings make this more the case. So when it comes to business process, we love our pretty pictures, but to what end? There are many ways to capture the visual representation of what we do, from PowerPoint or Visio to the most elaborate enterprise architecture tools, of which there are plenty.

It only works, however, when the ‘system’ informs and engages the target audience…those who need to understand and perform the activities. Simplicity rules, especially for the generations now entering the workforce. If people need a key to read the process map, they’re either highly specialized/technical or already tuned out.

Guide dogs for process?

If the organization’s investment is in complexity, end users find their own ways to cut through the confusion that complexity brings. It will be passive (ignorance and cynicism) or active (printed, out-of-date checklists) but it will be a short cut to poor process understanding.

I once heard a customer say that their process maps, developed and managed through IT on a highly technical software platform, were the work equivalent of giving a razor blade to a baby. Brutal imagery, but I heard his point clearly…better for the business NOT to touch, even with adult supervision. Visual complexity leaves users in the dark, reliant on on specialists for navigation.

Weeds in the garden?

The second challenge to the engaging the audience visually has the same passive and active challenges as complexity. Even the most cleverly visual and simple processes become irrelevant if not kept current. Who looks further into a process that is wrong at a glance? People that need to be engaged will quickly tune out process maps that aren’t simple AND current. It is still more the rule than the exception that maps are created for a purpose and then left to get dusty until a new initiative arrives.

The organization goes through a flurry of updating and validation before the weeds are allowed to grow in the process garden once again. The value of all of that effort to capture is lost when there’s no systematic way to keep the content accurate and fresh. Valuable information is ‘choked out’ by the clutter of the out-of-date.

Keep it simple, keep it current. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we’re in a battle to attract the eyes and thoughts of the organization. If we win, the audience’s attention makes us better at executing and adapting to constant change.

Chris Taylor joined Nimbus in 2009 as VP Consulting Americas, and leads a team of business process improvement consultants who serve major corporations across the world. Chris’s clients include Nestlé, Cisco, Northrop Grumman, ThyssenKrupp and many others, who use Business Process Management (BPM) tools and techniques to drive process standardisation, improvement, quality and compliance initiatives. His insight to what makes BPM a sustainable success for so many client organisations makes him a valuable industry commentator. Before joining Nimbus, Chris held senior consulting and leadership roles focused on business transformation with ILOG (now IBM), Perot Systems and Accenture. In his early career, Chris managed aircrew and flight operations while flying for the US Navy. He is an avid skier, hiker and sailor and spends most of his off time exploring the mountains and coasts near his home in Southern California and the rest of the world.