"You can't solve a problem on the same level you created it."

- A. Einstein






Business process approach

Professional process management approach is a great opportunity to all organizations for enhancing overall business performance and realizing modern professional quality management and quality assurance.

A comprehensive approach to practice process management covers following topics:
- Recognizing general concepts, guiding ideas, and principles of business processes and process management

- Understanding development stages in the process management

- Developing business processes from strategic needs of an organization and within organization's business system and its networked environment
- Integrating process management practices within operational and strategic business management
- Realizing quality integration through process management
- Applying effective information /communication technology for process management that also covers documentation needs
- Monitoring, evaluating, and analyzing process performance
- Understanding people issues in process performance and management including knowledge and mental aspects
- Taking consistent measures for process performance improvements
- Striving for a comprehensive enhancement of the business process approach

Process concept in business environments

Processes adhere to all daily doings or activities within an organization. In fact originally the process concept just denoted action or operation. Business processes particularly are processes for fulfilling the business needs of an organization. Business processes consit of interlinked different business activities, "elementary processes".

Structural questions of business processes are interesting from management's point of view for increasing process efficiency. In some cases, however, there has been a danger that structural aspects, e.g. process diagrams, are being over-emphasized in process management. Business structure and business processes are orthogonal issues to each other. Processes should have primary role and structure, e.g. organizational chart and process diagrams, is a secondary issue.

Business process management

Process management is a comprehensive business management issue. Today truly effective and efficient process management implies a radical change to the traditional established management thinking and structures in organizations. Process management as a management practice has a remarkable role in both "getting better" (strategic change) and "earning money" (operational run).

Business management is realized through process / project management. Projects are singular processes for singular business tasks. Basic business processes imply continuously running business activities. A major challenge for the top management is to convert a traditional vertically emphasized hierarchical organization into an approach that consistently and effectively reinforces horizontally interlinked and interacting activities (i.e. business processes). Both strategic and operational management levels are involved in this approach, the strategic one focuses on the network of business processes (i.e. the whole business system) and the operational one on single processes and projects.

General development of the process approach within an organization starts normally from strong vertically organized functional business units, organizational "silos", and with a clear need to improve the effectiveness and efficiency and customer-focus of the organization. Development means movement towards emphasis on horizontal business processes for providing products (goods and services) to the customers. This development is always in practice a long-term development journey. 

Process management consists of planning, controlling, improving the operations, and assuring quality. Most practical general model for process management is PDCA (Plan + Do + Check + Act) (see the diagram).

The basic lines of process management include:
- Management of existing processes based on existing plans: process network and individual processes
- Process re-engineering, i.e. improvement of process plans and structures

People issues in process management

A critical issue for process performance is the operation of individual human performers within processes. This should include also mental and knowledge aspects.

One of the most difficult questions in practice is the clear understanding of roles of the process owners and line managers. In fact, there could be no process management without a process owner. Process owner's responsibilities should be clearly defined. There is always a potential risk of conflicting interests between the roles of process owners and line managers.

Information technology for business processes

Process automation and modern collaborative software applications are important challenges in using information and communication technology (ICT) in the development of business processes and their management.

The use of information have been increased overwhelmingly within all kinds of organizations, and particularly in business processes. However, often only ICT solutions have been emphasized. This has induced to difficult situations in many business cases because, ICT is much more than only a technological issue. One should also take into account thinking, understanding, competences, skills, commitment, and feelings of the users of the technological systems in business processes. These things are linked to the tacit or implicit knowledge of people.

Modern Web-operated social networking applications have a wide variety of applications for business process management. They are particularly useful for connectivity, interactivity, and sharing information and knowledge taht are key issues in operations and development of business processes.

Business processes in modern business environments

Process management calls for responding to the realities of the modern business environments and especially nowadays the needs for managing variety and agility. Managing process complexity goes beyond simplistic tools, and the managing feedback loop needs to be much faster than the business system's response time. The modern business environments require especially understanding organizations as complex responsive processes of relating.

Challenges for continual development and learning

Comprehensive enhancement of the business process approach is carried out according to the principles of organizational learning. That is also a good and practical basis of quality management development and establishing solutions for quality integration and quality assurance.

Practice proves that process management is a very simple thing, but its implementation seems incredibly difficult because it always puts a strain on the organization's leadership issues. Development of the business processes and their management is a long-term effort and should take into account realities of business environments in question.

 [This material has been presented in different forms in differerent seminars or conferences]

Juhani Anttila