Elise Olding and Carol Rozwell kicked off the afternoon with a session on the hidden costs of unstructured processes: although a lot of focus of BPM efforts (time and money) is on structured processes, as much as 60% of an organization’s processes are unstructured – and probably also unmonitored, unmanaged, unknown and unruly.
Gartner defines unstructured processes as “work activities that are complex, nonroutine processes, predominantly executed by an individual or group highly dependent on the interpretation and judgment of the humans doing the work for their successful completion”, and notes that most business processes are made up of both structured and unstructured processes. Unstructured processes are costing organizations a lot of money in lost productivity, lack of compliance and other factors, and you can’t afford to ignore them. Although most processes aimed to meet regulatory requirements are structured, unstructured processes provide a company’s unique identity and often its competitive differentiation, as well as supporting operational activities.
In order to start managing unstructured processes, you need to get some visibility into them; start by understanding the critical path through the process. This can be a bit tricky, since as you start to map out your unstructured processes, there will be some points at which the process participant just has to wing it and make their own decisions. These are, after all, knowledge workers, and it’s not possible (or desirable) to map every possible process permutation. Instead, map the structured portions of the process, then the points at which it becomes unstructured, but don’t try to overengineer what happens in the unstructured parts. The unstructured parts can be modeled by the notification mechanism (how someone is notified that a piece of work requires attention), the information provided to the participant to allow them to complete the unstructured work, and how the outcome is recorded.
They presented a number of analysis techniques for getting to the heart of unstructured and folklore processes:
- Observe work being done, and challenge tasks that don’t make sense. Keep asking “why”.
- Use storytelling (“tell me what happens when…”) to uncover decision-making logic, methods and best practices: these types of narratives are not well-captured in standard process documentation.
- Analyze the unstructured interactions between people (e.g., customers and CSRs) and extract the themes and patterns. Rozwell wrote a report “Business Narratives Supplement Traditional Data Analysis” that discusses one technique for doing this, although it wasn’t quite clear what it was from the discussion.
- Get clarity around roles and who is the decision-maker in any given process.
There are a variety of different areas of knowledge that you need to consider when analyzing unstructured processes, from identifying what metadata is used for collaboration, to looking at alternative analysis techniques such as mind mapping and social network analysis. Understanding collaborative technologies is also key, since unstructured processes are often collaborative in nature, and make use of the participants’ social graphs.
Their final recommendations are to keep an eye on the technologies that can support unstructured processes, but not to go overboard on monitoring and managing these processes.