We talk a lot about process management and optimization, and while enterprises and a sizeable chunk of mid-range companies understand BPM as a bedrock for digital transformation, there is a glaring gap in implementation. However, it is not simply lack of implementation or adoption of BPM that will hold an organization back, but the lack of an ability to standardize business decision making. Business Decision Management (BDM) seeks to deliver this standardization, providing decision making with a set of processes whose objective is to deliver consistency, and a data-driven rationale based on facts rather than feelings.
The goal of using BPM and BDM as complementary disciplines is to deliver better business performance, and strategically, to drive and manage innovation especially in customer-facing environments.
The goal of BDM itself is to create a reusable asset out of the decision-making process.
Why is the Intersection of BPM and BDM so Important?
The reason is that to my mind, it is precisely at the intersection of process and decision-making that innovation is either nurtured and ignited, or stifled and killed off.
Consider that process optimization naturally flows from establishing BPM (both as a mindset and as a technology stack). Once we have established visibility over workflows and processes, we start measuring and reporting on activity, and from there to make changes and hope for improvement.
However, at what point do we consider a change to be worthy of large scale deployment throughout the operational environment, or indeed what criteria are used to determine success or failure? At what point do we step back from the process under review, and consider whether we need a totally new way of delivering value? How do we look at value from a process: in isolation (input – output = value?) or as part of some greater, holistic, and complex set of activities which requires the use of modeling and attribution assumptions which increases uncertainty?
These and other questions require “decisions”, and underline that operational decision-making is as much an art as it is a science.
Nevertheless, Business Decision Management seeks to identify, manage, and improve decision-making using both a philosophical approach and automation, just as BPM does. [We should note that BDM currently focuses upon decision-making affecting staff, customers and vendors.]
Under BDM, operational decision-making is treated as a business asset, and as such is viewed as part of the business infrastructure. BDM forces adopters to focus on decision making at project and enterprise levels, whether automation is involved or not (technology neutral). Practically, decision making itself is subjected to the process of defining requirements and approval criteria, which creates a reusable business behavior that can be standardized, managed, and optimized in a systematic fashion.
Removing Subjectivity, Capturing Creativity, and Injecting Data & Facts
We cannot automate creative decision making that somehow picks the right course of action, sometimes working in a totally, counter-intuitive way (yet!)
Creativity is not something that naturally lends itself to automation, and anyone managing creative people understands this is akin to herding cats.
But, that imaginative Factor X is precious!
Creativity and imagination, however, do need to be properly managed for the business to gain value from them. A further challenge is not only to manage creativity effectively, but to capture the process by which creativity has been given positive expression (and thus create a business asset which in turns has value).
The reality for most decision makers though is that while they may seek data and feedback from colleagues, vendors, consultants, and the teams they work with, the decision is frequently made based upon their experience and knowledge. In some instances, decisions are made purely on emotions and gut instinct, with data and logic only subsequently used to support the decision already made.
The outcome of a creative approach to decision making is inconsistency and higher risk levels, with no ability to reuse the decision-making process (i.e. there is no asset or value creation from the decision-making process itself).
The challenge is to create decision-making standardization that enforces the application of objectivity and logic (harnessing knowledge and experience), but without shutting off creativity when it comes to generating a decision. The idea being to capture the genius of a creative decision-making solution and make it reusable, both by the original decision makers and for others.
Implementing BDM requires a thorough analysis of how historic data can be applied to future decision making. In addition, each step of the decision-making process must be identified and have a set of defining criteria established, laying the ground for standardizing the process, and ultimately, for automating it. At the very heart of successful BDM is the capturing and referencing of information needed to generate consistently appropriate decision making, and identifying and defining business rules which underpin the process.
Lean BPM and Business Decision Making
Lean BPM differs from traditional BPM in its speed and simplicity in operation. This means that it is a far more effective tool for putting BDM to work within your organization, because speed and flexibility are essential when it comes to creating and managing underlying business rules to manage decision making. Intelligent decision making will have its roots within documented policies and rules, defined by stakeholders and users, and will include conditional statements, such as, “If no repeat order received by existing customer in 3 months, sales representative to call with promotional discount of x%.”
Such conditional statements and rules may be changed frequently, and especially in demanding customer-driven environments. The BPM must be capable of delivering changes to such business logic as fast as the market demands it, however traditional BPM simply cannot keep pace with the rate of change in most businesses within which it is deployed.
Lean BPM allows for the business user to directly wield the BPM tool itself, such that they are able to replicate business logic, including complex conditional statements and rules, directly into the process management tool as they are required. This does not require specialist IT or coding support, and provides the ability to move as quickly as managers deem is necessary to maintain control and accountability over business processes and decision-making.
The need for BPM agility is paramount because simple decision making can become extremely complicated very quickly. For instance, what happens when a customer becomes eligible for multiple marketing offers and a decision is required as to which one is most appropriate? What happens when a decision itself is contingent on other decisions, or itself acts as a trigger for future decision making?
In such circumstances, Lean BPM’s agility allows for complexity to be managed with simplicity. More importantly, Lean BPM allows those responsible for effective decision making to be able to change and improve the BDM process itself, as they identify change and improvements to what becomes an asset in its own right: the processes by which good decisions are generated on a consistent basis.