Mutually exclusive, or two halves of a whole?
Business process improvement initiatives are almost always key projects in an organization and, even if they appear to be limited to a specific department or business area, they are likely to impact the entire organization.
This is why it is important to treat these improvements as strategic projects and utilize a project management approach to their design, development and implementation. Doing this will greatly improve their opportunity for success. This applies regardless of the size of the organization, or the size of the planned process improvement initiative.
A continuous event
Process improvements do not have an end date; these initiatives are continuous. As any organization grows and changes to meet market conditions, they will need to continuously look at and analyze their processes, refining them to ensure that they are doing business effectively and efficiently.
Having the capability that mature Business Process Management gives you to constantly fine tune your processes will give any organization a true competitive advantage in this new global marketplace.
Beware the trickle down effect
When improving processes in one area, you need to be mindful that this may have unexpected, adverse effects on other processes. Much of this impact is likely to come from newly created bottlenecks. If you improve the efficiency of one process, it is possible that the next process in the production line may not be able to cope with the increased throughput, causing a backlog at this stage. For example, if a company makes improvements to its order processing but does not examine the capability of its order fulfillment process, it is likely that a bottleneck will develop.
Viewing individual processes in isolation without taking account of their role, or place in the overall delivery of services is inadvisable. It is important that the entire business landscape is taken into account when looking for improvements to avoid creating new, and frustrating, bottlenecks.
Treating the process improvement as a project will encourage you to seek out the dependencies and constraints and take these into account when designing your improvements. In the situation described above, the initial project would have been assessed to see if making changes to this process would be beneficial to the business, and would have determined that additional investment would be needed for the order fulfillment process to keep pace.
But projects need a beginning and an end
We have been taught that projects must have a defined beginning and end date, while BPM involves a cyclical process for continual improvement. How then does this seeming incompatibility work?
We can look at the monitoring of the improved process as an operational responsibility, however each cycle of improvement needs to be seen as a separate project. When monitoring has detected an opportunity for improvement, a project, with a defined beginning and end date, budget, goals and objectives should be established.
Improvement without impact on current business
Using a project management approach allows a business to make improvements that will meet future needs, while not impacting current requirements for customer service. When business improvements are managed by the operational team, it is easy to have unplanned negative impacts on current capabilities as components of new, or improved processes, are trialled without being fully tested or evaluated.
Using standard project management methodologies can allow major changes to be made to existing processes without making negative impacts on the delivery of services or products to the end customer.