Monday, November 02, 2009

Listen to your gut when process intelligence fails you

Business leaders seem to pick for themselves one of two styles of decision making: decisions based on data or decisions based on gut-feel. Both have their place, but only the former can seem to be enhanced through the use of technology. When measuring work inside business processes, gaps in data are assumed to be a failure of the analysis, rather than an underlying indicator of something worse.

If you take a read of ZDNet's Is BI ready to meet the real world? article today, it should reinforce the fact that leaders pick their own style, though the article pushes the belief that logic trumps intuition, even if the data it is based on is only 70% complete. The article suggests that intuition and the gut can be all too easily influenced by such 'evils' as marketing and branding, things that are designed to generate a reaction at a subconscious level. The problem is that a leader making a decision based on data is also being manipulated - by the often blinkered assumption that the data shows all the facts, or is even relevant to the decision he or she is trying to make. Numbers, charts, and 'lies, damned lies and statistics' present a view that one can not argue with.

My experience working with business process management (BPM) tools and the statistics they show are that rarely, if ever, is the performance information they present at all truly valuable to a business leader attempting to make high level decisions. The data is valuable only to a micro-manager concerned with the task-level supervisory role. The so called 'process intelligence' (that I admitted to be a novice of, back in 2006 when I first wrote about it) that is provided by BPM is limited to the slice and dice of individual workers' times to complete work, or such similar metrics; experience has shown me that there is little relationship to the actual value of the work to the business. To give you two examples of where process intelligence and BPM really fails:

1) The process intelligence does nothing to help make an assessment of where in the organization your highest value sales-leads are, what the conversion factor is, and whether increasing or decreasing the opportunity count in any part of the sales process generates higher or lower total revenue.

2) BPM does a fine job of allocating work, but a terrible job of understanding the complexity of the work that it is delivering. When the BPM analytics look at the work that was pushed around, it sees it only by the simple classifications that the data contain (this was a 'work order', that was an 'employee onboarding' case). There is nothing about the complexity of the work, since BPM can't handle the ad-hoc nature of the requirements and these continue in email as before.

"OK, so BPM and process intelligence don't give me that information. I'll just use the information I do get from it.". The problem here is that the data will lull you into a false sense of security - you will believe that you have everything you need, and will force fit decisions into what the data shows you. It is hard to get the gut and logic to work fairly, side-by-side, when both know that they are right.

So instead, it becomes important that you gain a better view of what is really going on inside your business processes, while actually running them better. If BPM can't provide the data for what your people are doing, its probably because the tool or implementation can't actually influence or assist them in what they are doing. That is what the data is really telling you: there is a gap in your data because there is a gap in your processes.

If you want your business to run better, don't try and fill the data with gut-instinct. Instead follow what your gut is really trying to tell you: the BPM implementation you currently have is not delivering all it should. Work to improve it, or replace it with something more appropriate.

A post from the Improving It blog

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