Effective Process Design

Ever tried to herd cats? It’s a lot like trying to do process design

It doesn’t make any difference what kind of cats you are trying to herd; they all have their own mind and their own ideas about where they want to be, or if they want to move at all.

Remind you of the last time you tried to work with all the stakeholders and define a process, any process?  It makes no difference whether it was a business process and you used Business Process Management (BPM) or an ITSM Process and you worked within the ITIL® framework, or an Audit process and you worked with CobiT.  You can get all the stakeholders together, but that doesn’t mean they will all end up where they need to be with a common, well-designed usable process that can be implemented across the organization.

So what’s the alternative?  Striking out on your own, or with one other person, using your own knowledge and skills to design a complete process? I have no doubt you will end up with a nice looking process with all the roles and responsibilities for all the activities and tasks documented.  Unfortunately, it will also be one that no one will use.

So how do you do process design step by step?

Well, first off, you really can’t herd them and we really aren’t cat herders.  Getting behind them and trying to drive them all in one direction will never be successful.  We can, however, use some basic ‘cat herding’ principles, such as the following. Find some way to entice them; find the “What’s In It For Me” – the “WIIFM”. With that defined, identify the influencers, the ones the others will pay attention to, and convince them that what’s ahead is where they want to go. Next, start leading them in that direction, making sure they get some samples of what lies ahead (quick wins) to keep them enticed.

Stage it out, so it is not one long journey and make sure you can provide successes along the way. Consolidate your gains to get everyone comfortable with the new way, then rally the stakeholders and make sure everyone is still onboard.

Identify Who’s Involved

  • Who will benefit?
  • Who will fund it (process design and ongoing execution)?
  • Who are the users (the ones who need it to do their job functions)?
  • Who will support it (build and deliver training, provide continual service improvement)?
  • Who else has a vested interest?

Create a Shared Need

Articulate and verify why a process is needed. What is not working well today? Why it needs to work better? Why a common process design is the way to go? And, why now?

With agreed answers in place, find out their WIIFM. What will this process provide that they don’t have now but want to have? Make sure you have something specific that will resonate with each stakeholder. You need to be able to answer questions such as:

  • Why would they want a process at all?
  • What, specifically, are the expected benefits
  • Why would they want to contribute resources to do the process design?
  • What would the process need to look like so they would use it once implemented?

Shape the Vision 

Identify the influencers.  These may be senior managers, team leaders, or just well-respected practitioners. These are the people that everyone else listens to, those people whose ideas and opinions are respected.  But don’t forget you need executive buy-in too. You will need a sponsor/champion; someone from the executive ranks who understands what the process is all about and believes it is necessary now.

Sell the influencers on the idea, the benefits, the ultimate goal and the steps that need to be taken to get there. Make sure you have their unwavering support, that each one has some direct WIIFM and that they all agree this needs to be done and now is the time to do it. Verify the commitment before moving on and presenting the vision to the remaining stakeholders.

A note about commitment

It is often the difference between success and failure. Design team members must have one thing in common. They must be empowered to make decisions.  Decisions that will have an impact on the functional units they represent.  Their management must commit to that empowerment and make certain that the members will be available for the duration of the process design and that they will participate in every design workshop and any breakout sessions.

The design team are the leaders and need to socialize the process as it unfolds keeping the areas they represent abreast of the progress being made.

The Process Design

Start with a process straw model. It is easier to work than starting from a blank page. The straw model should be based on best practices for the discipline and have:

  • A Goal and Objectives
  • Policies, Controls, and Metrics
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Activities and Tasks
  • Process Flow

Provide a design facilitator. This should be someone who is familiar with the straw model process and overall best practices. The facilitator needs to be:

  • Collaborative
  • An active listener, able to draw information from all participants
  • Constantly building towards consensus for design decisions, and
  • Able to keep the session on track

Keep in mind:

  • You will likely need more than one pass to complete the design
  • Choose a process framework that fits your organization and use a straw model process as a starting point
  • Do not be afraid to add or remove things, the final process must meet your organization’s needs

Concentrate on the ‘What’ and avoid getting stuck in the weeds on the ‘How’.

Completing the Design

Once you have the process designed and documented, circle back and engage with all stakeholders, not just the design team, to validate the design.

  • Produce and distribute the complete process document including:
    • Process flows
    • Goal and Objectives
    • Policies, Controls and Metrics
    • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Activity and Task descriptions
    • RACI chart
    • State Diagrams
    • Conduct interim reviews with dissenters to bring them on board
    • Schedule the validation workshop and ensure all key stakeholders attend
    • Have the Process Owner present the process to the stakeholders
    • Establish/Verify overall consensus
    • Obtain formal acceptance signoff from the Process Owner, Sponsor, and executive management.

You are not done yet

Just because you have a well-defined process that everyone agrees to does not mean you are finished. The process needs to be implemented to be useful. This means that you need to:

  • Identify an automation tool (there are many tools out there such as ServiceNow or BMC Remedy that can be used), to support the process
  • Define the data requirements and tailor the automation tool
  • Build training materials
  • Write the procedures
  • Schedule and deliver the training
  • Deploy the process in the tool

Effective process design is a special skill, but with practice and patience, it can lead to the destination wanted.

Collaborate with your thoughts and ideas below!

Brian Lenner

Brian Lenner


Principal Consultant with Navvia, have over 35 years experience in IT and Business spanning a multitude of business verticals. Enjoyed successes in IT re-organization and strategic planning positioning IT to support new and changing business plans, improve technology penetration into the mainstream business units while maximizing the ROI on IT investments. Prior to starting the consulting career I'd enjoyed success at the IT Executive level with experience in the application, technical, and operations arenas; including all aspects of IT governance. These include: Financial Services; Insurance; Telecommunications; and Retail Packaged Goods.


• Posted by Brian Lenner on Feb 14, 2013
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