BPM Guide (Part 3): Scoping and Prioritizing the Business Process Architecture

By Joanne Wortman Posted July 6, 2016

This is a guest series by Joanne Wortman, an independent business/technology consultant and freelance writer in the NY Metro area. She has almost two decades of experience providing business process optimization, organizational change management, M&A integration, and program management across many business sectors, with a concentration in manufacturing.


As we pointed out in our last post, targeted optimization of a single process or of the processes in a particular department can yield real business improvement. However, without effective scoping and prioritization of BPM efforts, both point optimizations and enterprise initiatives sometimes mimic the situation described in the classic tale of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man touches the elephant in a single place and infers a different form and function for the creature. Similarly, an individual process team or department may see only a part and not the whole process. Inability to grasp the big picture may lead the team to make changes that have unintended and potentially harmful consequences for other processes and for the overall goals of the business.

Establishing the Enterprise Process Scope

The best way to avoid the blind men and the elephant approach begins with the development of an overall process hierarchy. At the highest level, begin with major business processes like quote-to-cash or orders-to-cash. Most process optimization teams adopt a hierarchy like the following, although the name of each level may differ from those we suggest below.

Level 1-Enterprise Process: Aggregation of inter-related complex processes that tie to overall organizational goals

Example: Orders to Cash

Level 2 – Process: group of processes within a single area of authority or department

Example: Manage Sales Orders

Level 3 – Sub-process: A series of steps that encapsulate a single activity. It may be further broken down into various "flavors" or types in Level 4.

Examples: Enter Sales Orders or Cancel a Pending Order

Level 4 - Process Variance: A distinct "flavor" or sub-type of Level 3 that may have unique goals and steps

Examples: Enter a Sample Order or Enter a Recurring Order

Many organizations have taken the time to develop their own process hierarchies and maintain them through multiple business initiatives and software implementations. There are also standard process hierarchies available for many business verticals through APQC, and these can serve as an effective starting point for businesses that are starting from scratch.

The hierarchy can be captured and maintained in any application that describes an organization chart such as Visio, or it can be stored easily in a spreadsheet.

Establishing Ownership, Responsibility, and Accountability

With the process hierarchy in place, the next step is to establish process ownership, responsibility, and accountability. At the highest level, the executive team has the authority to establish enterprise process goals and metrics that align with overall business strategy. Process ownership/authority does not necessarily become more granular at the lower levels of the hierarchy-such an approach may lead to the blind men and the elephant scenario.

For the lower levels in the hierarchy, businesses must be clear about which roles have the authority to place requirements on the process at that level. For example, the accounting department has the right to specify requirements on how the production plant handles raw material receiving so that vendors can be paid in accordance with corporate accounting policies.

At the lowest levels of the process hierarchy, it is important to flag how the granular processes map to specific job roles within the organization. A simple approach is to map the lowest level to the roles that perform the steps in the process. This is helpful for training, but a more comprehensive approach is to map the lowest levels in a RACI matrix using the following definitions:

  • Responsibility for performing the process or task
  • Accountability/approval authority for the results achieved by the process or task
  • Consulted: the roles that have information required for successful completion of the process or task
  • Informed: the roles that need to receive notification that the task or process was completed

Early in the BPM initiative, teams may only capture the responsibility and accountability/approval information. Detailed analysis sessions will include discussions of who needs to be informed and consulted.  With the responsibility and approval assignments information defined and agreed upon, it becomes very clear who really has the authority to make or approve changes to business processes. This gives process improvement teams the guidance they need to seek alignment and approval of process changes.

Within a particular process or workflow, the full RACI matrix provides rules that can drive the development of automated workflow by specifying the information that is sent to approvers and those who need to be consulted and informed.

Using the Process Hierarchy Effectively

The hierarchy with a supporting RACI matrix improves the ability to flag and manage changes to inter-related business processes. Without such a structure, the business is at risk of unintended consequences from changes made in a vacuum.

Once established, the process hierarchy can be used as:

  • A map for flagging the changes/impacts of business and technology initiatives ranging from M&A integration to major software implementations or upgrades
  • A framework for phasing and communicating about large enterprise initiatives
  • The basis for effort estimation for process improvement work
  • Outlines and agendas for training and software testing
  • The categories and sub-categories for the information architecture that governs  the storage, versioning, and permissioning of process maps and supporting information

Prioritizing the BPM Initiative

BPM is never an academic exercise that proceeds in a vacuum. At a given point in time, businesses face concurrent and sometimes competing for needs for such exigencies as shifts in strategy, revenue growth, cost containment, and pressure to replace legacy software applications. While these needs may be thought of as distinct projects, the business process hierarchy can be used as a tool to coordinate effort so that the concurrent changes to a single process area can be implemented together. This makes it easier for end users to absorb the changes.

A Project Management Office or similar structure within an organization can heat map the hierarchy, flagging areas that are may be at high risk when major changes are in the works. These "Code Red" processes on the hierarchy provide the visibility that management needs to inform difficult decisions like the following:

  • Moving the most experienced project leadership to the highest risk projects or engaging outside expert project management
  • Deferring or rescheduling initiatives to reduce the level of risk
  • Adding staff in certain areas to cover upcoming dips in efficiency during periods of significant process change
  • Offloading management responsibilities while supervisors are coaching their teams through high-risk changes

Remember, it is fine to begin your process management efforts with a quick win within a single department or functional area. As other parts of the business seek to duplicate the initial success, the effort put into scoping and prioritizing will pay off as the BPM team moves forward with the coordinated effort.

Joanne Wortman

Joanne Wortman is an independent business/technology consultant and freelance writer in the NY Metro area. She has almost two decades of experience providing business process optimization, organizational change management, M&A integration, and program management across many business sectors, with a concentration in manufacturing.


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