It seems a contentious point of view in Business Process Management – but when we come up to the “Understand Phase” (“As Is” or “Current State” model ), we recommend “time boxing” the work to ensure that the activity is kept at a suitably high level. The intention of this activity is really to create a baseline; a reference point for the BPM project.
Now those who continue with their “legacy thinking” perspective usually decide that it is important to create a detailed description of how work happens. They model everything in sight, trying to create an accurate representation of the work as it happens today. While this is good for the “billable hours” of consulting firms, it does little for the business managers engaged on a journey of change and discovery.
The point is that the amount of work expended here is usually wholly inappropriate to the benefit derived. If your intention is to change the way things happen, gathering a great deal of detail around current work practices is a waste of time. If you are going to improve things (with or without the use of automation), then you will be changing how the process is carried out … i.e. how things happen today will soon become a thing of the past.
Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely essential to develop a baseline understanding of the ways things are done. It’s just a question of emphasis. The issue for those involved in the exercise is just what degree of detail is required. They should be asking “can we stop now?”
The real purpose of current state modeling is to establish a baseline – so that the team can establish a realistic business case (allowing them to track benefits and improvements during and after implementation), and to identify the areas that require attention.
This is more about a pragmatic assessment of reality and clarification of current performance metrics than it is about process modeling. The metrics in question are those that the customer of the process really cares about (not the detailed cycle times of some low-level sub-process). From a modeling point of view, the need is for enough structure to hang the metrics upon (and perhaps one level of detail below). Anything more than that is a waste of time and resources.
So how much detail do you really need? Well, I normally start with high level outline of the process – the major chunks and then draw a simple high level process model. I recommend a high level BPMN diagram, but I usually seek to contrast that model with a Role Activity Diagram (not the same as a flow diagram with swim lanes, RADs model how the Roles involve change state and synchronize their actions), and perhaps simple Object State Transition Network (how the things moving through the model change state).
With a high-level flow diagram or outline of the process, it is really very straight forward to develop these alternative views, but they really do help people see things differently. I often say that the problem with Flow Diagrams, is that “the more you look at them, the less they mean.” Flow diagrams always look correct – for example, in my recent book “BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide” (authored with Stephen White the main author of the BPMN specification itself), I have yet to receive a note from anyone telling us that we have a major flaw in one of the models (yes, there is at least one). It just looks correct (and this is a book where we tried our very hardest to make sure every model was “right”).
Incidentally, the best reference on RADs is Martyn Ould’s “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach.” And for OSTN, I prefer the IDEF3 perspective as it is relatively simple and easy to understand (UML also has similar modeling capabilities).
Coming back to the Understand Phase, in the workshops with the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), I also seek to understand the volumes of work, any major exceptions and the percentages of items that follow the major paths from decision points. The other thing to understand is the numbers of employees involved in the work (FTEs and the amount of time spent on each area of the process). From that information you can calculate the costs of undertaking the work and where the money goes. You also need to understand the roles involved, and the capabilities of the staff members who fulfill those roles. All of these become essential ingredients for the business case. Without it you are whistling in the wind (when it comes to asking for funding). Even if you already have the funding, you should do this anyway (it will certainly be needed later).
I could go on here at length, but the point I am trying to make here with this blog post is this … if your consulting provider is asking you to fund a detailed “As Is” phase of work, then you are throwing money away. They are more interested in lining their pockets than assisting the client. The only exception that I can think of is where the process is itself highly regulated (and a rigorous work definition is mandated by law). In such cases, I think you have to draw your own conclusions on how to avoid “analysis paralysis.”