Five Barriers To Process Engagement (vote for the worst offender)

Nigel Warren

Process engagement – ensuring that everyone understands, adopts and helps improve your business processes – is critical to shared service operational excellence. But all too often, the way companies manage their business process knowledge is a barrier to such engagement. Here are the main barriers to process engagement – plus an invitation to vote on the one you think is the worst offender.

What is the greatest barrier to process engagement? Take the poll now: Take the poll now:

Continuous process improvement is hugely important for shared service operations. But continuous improvement is hard to sustain. Done badly it will seem to your customers like "Yet another blinking change. Will these people ever stop tinkering?!" Done well – it’s the route to operational excellence, meaning improved efficiency, quality and customer satisfaction. The challenge is: how do you engage your workforce in this quest for continuous process improvement?


Continuous process improvement: "Will these people ever stop tinkering?"

This challenge is front of mind for Shared Service leaders. According to Deloitte’s 2011 Global Shared Services Survey, nearly two thirds of organizations wished that they had invested more in Change Management. The use of past tense underlined may illuminate the problem here, as process engagement depends on effective communication, change management and knowledge management. If the objective is continuous process improvement, then these efforts must be sustained as part of "business as normal", not isolated as a short term project phase.

Surely, no one would deny that continuous improvement is important. So, what’s stopping organizations from engaging their workforce in process improvement? The answer lies in part in the way organizations are managing their business process knowledge. If people cannot easily find and understand process documentation, what hope have you in fostering any sort of engagement? So, with that in mind, here are what I consider to be the main barriers to process engagement.

Barrier # 1: Process knowledge is hard to access

Often the way process knowledge is stored makes it hard for people to access. Processes have been captured without considering how to make this content easily accessible for all stakeholders. Processes may have been captured by different teams, in different tools using different formats. ERP specialists are more likely to be using technical process modelling tools, whereas everyone else is more comfortable using simpler tools – like MS Office. The resulting content may be stored in different places – folders on the file system, intranet , SharePoint or another document management system. Such a fragmented approach to documenting your business processes is a "knowledge management nightmare". There’s probably a gulf between technical process descriptions that are important for the ERP specialists, and the business facing processes and procedures which people should follow on a day-to-day basis. From the perspective of shared service staff and the hundreds of customers that you serve; such an approach makes it hard for people to find process and procedure information relevant to the task at hand. In a dynamic environment, subject to process and personnel change, the above picture is a recipe for huge inefficiency and frustration.

Barrier # 2: Processes are hard to understand

Let’s suppose barrier #1 doesn’t apply and that all of your processes are easy for all stakeholders to find. Once they find a process description, will they understand it? Will the content help them perform the tasks that are required of them? Will the end-to-end process flow be transparent? Sadly, the reality for many organizations is that not only are processes hard to find, they are hard to understand. The needs of the end-audience have not been considered. What made sense to a few business analysts, process and ERP specialists, is impenetrable to ordinary users, such as shared service staff and their business customers.


Complexity: For example - Swimlane diagrams

A common manifestation of such complexity are Swimlane diagrams; which whilst popular with system integration consultants are seldom useful or popular with end users, not least because such huge diagrams do not fit legibly on a PC monitor. The remedy to this problem can be costly and labour intensive efforts to transpose such process content into work procedures and training content, which can exacerbate the knowledge management challenges mentioned above.

Barrier # 3: Process knowledge is not governed

Distrust that a process description is accurate, up-to-date and approved is a huge barrier to process engagement. If process consumers (whether inside the SSO or across the business) are not certain that they are looking at "one source of the truth" as regards process and procedure information, cynicism and apathy are the norm. Why bother consulting such information if it’s not accurate? Why take the trouble to suggest improvements to such content when you’re not certain that this is the current and approved best practice? Such content governance failures are inextricably linked to the issues behind barrier 1 and 2 above. If process knowledge is fractured and inconsistent and not created with the end-user in mind, those that should maintain it will seldom be held to account for its veracity in the future.

Barrier # 4: Processes lack relevance to consumers

It’s hard to engage stakeholders in process if when they access such content they see nothing more than a static process diagram. The absence of useful commentary, discussion, performance indicators, links to systems and work-aids means that they will look elsewhere to develop what might be termed ‘process mastery’. Imagine for a moment the alternative; that when consulting a process diagram they have access all manner of useful related information and systems that helps them perform their tasks flawlessly. Process can and should provide the contextual framework to make that happen.

Barrier # 5: Failure to support collaboration

If your people cannot easily find, understand, trust and interact with your organization’s business process content, collaboration in relation to that is going to be difficult to foster. The failure to support collaboration between all process stakeholders will be a significant barrier to process engagement. Bear in mind that this collaboration should support not just the stakeholders involved in process content creation and approval, (as illustrated in the graphic below); but even more importantly, collaboration with the entire audience of process consumers as well.

Process Stakeholders who need to collaborate

A vision for process engagement

Real process engagement comes about when the whole workforce can find and follow the processes which are relevant to their role. Done effectively, this is a goldmine for every employee. A single source of the truth for everybody to understand how the organization operates, what they have to comply with and how things are performing. That provides a platform on which you can support the collaboration needed to foster engagement and drive continuous improvement.

No doubt there are other barriers to overcome and it’s as much to do with culture in addition to the enabling technology to support knowledge management and collaboration. But what do you think? Join the poll to have your say and find out what other SSON Members are thinking – vote now!

Webinar: Hear how BAE Systems' Finance Transformation program overcame these process adoption barriers using a business focussed approach to process management. Register for the free webinar.

You can meet Nimbus at the Finance Transformation and CFO Forum in Chicago, September 19-21; and Finance Transformation and CFO Forum London February 2013.