Digital transformation is promoted as the way forward for more effective management, increasing efficiencies, better customer experience (CX), and improving the bottom line. Big Data, process automation, organizational visibility, enhanced employee collaboration, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and integration of people and technology, and a lot more, are all contributing to the Digital Revolution we are living in.
On the demand side we have hyper-scaling, while on the supply side we have hyper-customization, both of which are creating opportunities at a rate we have not experienced before.
What all of this boils down to for real-life people is complexity, a staggering amount of complexity, which is growing exponentially.
Big Data is a good example of how the data science industry has grown before our eyes, but where is the corollary for managing complexity?
Perhaps we have overlooked this issue, with a focus on the elements making up the digitally-driven economy, instead of how do we provide leadership and effective management holistically.
The traditional business approach to managing complexity has been to simplify, at least to a level where complexity can be tolerated in a trade-off with the value complexity generates. With technology breaking down barriers to entry in markets (market disruption), while generating a mass of information (Big Data), and the ability to segment customers and markets in a microscopically granular way, this flight to simplicity is now obsolete.
Instead of seeking to reduce complexity, we should be looking to embrace it.
Just as digital technology has driven complexity, so has it given us the ability to manage it effectively.
The Lean BPM Emergent Approach to Complexity
Emergence theory holds that you can gain insight into larger systems by working out how smaller, component or related systems are working. By improving your understanding of how smaller systems interact and work, you are able to improve your understanding of how the overall system operates.
The Lean BPM approach to complexity is not to map out all of your business processes, nor to deploy a BPM or work platform in a “Big Bang” deployment. Instead, a creeping approach is adopted, which allows you to automate a small chunk of an existing process, typically, a part of the process you can see or think you can see.
This is only practical because Lean BPM is exceptionally fast and very simple to use without the need for coding or development skills. Lean BPM tools are also designed to be used by the business person, the process professional, business analyst, team supervisor, or senior executive directly without the need for a specialist, technical intermediary. We refer to these people as “citizen developers,” i.e. people who create and manage business processes within a secure environment using tools such as Visual Workflow, task management and resource utilization tools, and collaboration functionality.
Using Lean BPM solutions, such as HighGear, creating and modifying live processes can be done in a very small fraction of the time a traditional or low-code BPM requires. By ‘fast’ I mean workflows and processes that have traditionally required months to create and deploy, will now take hours. This allows more time to be spent on improving existing processes and testing optimization theories, and to do so at a very fast rate which brings you closer to achieving “continuous improvement.”
In addition, there is no need to map the “As Is” state, nor to create a “To Be” set of processes because the tool is simply deployed over a part of your existing work. This can be visualized as a “burning platform” of work. Burning platforms can usually be diagnosed by mountains of Post-It notes, whiteboards, endless meetings, poor collaboration and record keeping, complicated Excel spreadsheets only one person knows how to update and manage, and multiple business systems needing to be accessed in order to get a work completed, but which do not talk to one another very well. In addition, no-one really knows what is going on, reporting is always out of date and decision-making is based more on feelings rather than facts.
By taking a small, manageable chunk of a process on the burning platform and automating it, we now have gained visibility on that chunk, and in turn this allows us to establish measurement and the generation of real-world data. This eliminates the need to estimate the “As Is” state or its performance, because we now get access to the reality of work activities.
Where the automated process does not actually follow reality, the simplicity and speed of a Lean BPM tool allows you to modify what you already have. You can either make a change to your automated process, or add further parts of the process to your BPM representation. As you gain visibility into what is actually happening with shadow processes, edge cases, and real-world performance, you then add more associated work processes into the tool, bringing even more of the work chaos and burning platform under management control and gain greater visibility.
For many process professionals this is a leap of faith, not least because so many BPM platforms have made the claim of being fast and agile, while having the ability to deliver visibility with ease of use. Consistently, these marketing promises have proven to be nothing but pipe dreams and snake oil, while leaving the hope of managing complexity still out of reach.
Lean BPM’s approach is to deliver powerful BPM functionality directly into the hands of citizen developers, who can quickly and effectively bring the burning platform of work under control. By using pioneering advances in digital technology, non-IT business people can leverage BPM tools directly to bring very complex processes under control using the Emergent or piecemeal approach to process management and optimization. By gaining process visibility and adding the control of work that BPM brings, then much higher levels of complexity can be tolerated and managed effectively. The benefit of this is you are able to leverage the value and opportunities complexity brings, whether this complexity is created by customer customization or the need to scale dynamically.