Nearly all businesses are continuously looking for ways to become more efficient and more productive.  Many organizations are looking to digital transformation to help with this. To get the full benefit from digital transformation, automation initiatives should be built on the foundation of a sound process management system.  Process Management refers to aligning processes with organizational mission and key competencies, designing and implementing process architectures, establishing process measurement systems that align with organizational goals, and building an infrastructure to manage processes effectively.  Having a process management  system in place will enable better implementation, sustainment, and continuous improvement of process performance and automation effectiveness.  In order to achieve long-term productivity gains through digital transformation, organizations must put fundamental process management systems into place.

Digital transformation is the implementation and integration of new technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into all facets of a business.  By successfully introducing new technology, businesses can become more efficient, more productive, and deliver higher value to the customer.  However, successfully integrating new technology into an organization can be far more difficult than it originally sounds. It requires the business to fundamentally rethink process design and the flow of work.  Without innovating how work is performed, organizations may only achieve short-term productivity gains.  In order to achieve long-term productivity gains through digital transformation, organizations must put fundamental process management systems into place.  Rather than focusing on departments and functions within your company, focus on the flow of the work through the entire organization by using effective managing processes.  A company’s desired end result will only occur through effectively managing processes.

There are six process management principles that must be met to enable smart automation.  By adhering to these six principles, your business will become more organized, more efficient, and ultimately more productive.

1) Process Inventory

The first principle is to identify all of the key processes in service delivery and support operations.  Think about the services and outcomes that you try to achieve in your organization. Then try to identify the processes that deliver these services.  Many work activities may be identified as a subset of higher level processes. Typical service processes include customer registration, order processing, service delivery, customer support, and customer billing.  Within your own company, identify all of the key processes your business performs. A complete process inventory will greatly aid in identifying digital transformation opportunities and priorities.

2) Process Definition

The second principle is to define and document your processes.  This is often done through process mapping, that is, creating a process flow diagram that shows all the steps of the process.  Written procedures are also used to define how a process should work. Processes that are well defined and documented are better understood by those who must execute or follow the process.  Process handoffs are identified and standardized. Therefore, processes perform more consistently and with fewer errors. Process documentation becomes a source for business rules that are required for automating work tasks.

3) Process Owners

The third principle is to define process roles, process responsibilities, and process owners.  In a traditional organizational structure, reporting lines are usually very clear. But who has responsibility for a process that crosses departmental and functional boundaries?  By naming process owners, you can better manage the process from end to end, across boundaries, and throughout the organization. Having process owners in place allows organizations to appoint a person to make key decisions during transformation and during maintenance after the transformation.

4) Process Measurement

The fourth principle is to identify process needs, requirements, and measurements.  As process thinkers, we must start with customers and what they want from us. Process requirements must be established consistent with the needs of your customer.  Your customer is the recipient of the services and other outcomes of your process. This may be the person placing an order, it may be an end user; it could be a series of people who use or are affected by the product or service.  Knowing your customer is critical to identifying appropriate process requirements. Knowing your process requirements is critical when measuring your processes. The process requirements put in place make it easy to know what to automate for the collection of key data to understand how processes are performing.

5) Process Evaluation

The fifth principle is to evaluate process performance.  It’s been said that what gets measured gets done. By measuring the key process inputs and outputs, you can make informed decisions about process performance and consistency in meeting customer and stakeholder needs.  Output measures are tied to key process requirements and enable you to evaluate process capability. Input measures help you to evaluate day-to-day operations and keep processes in control. With digital transformation, there is increased opportunity for closed loop process controls where adjustments can be automated and/or alerts are triggered.

6) Process Improvement

The sixth principle is to continuously improve the process. Performance excellence is achieved by routinely assessing gaps between current performance and the desired performance of the process, and using a systematic approach to improving the highest priority gaps.  To improve process performance and reduce variability, you may use approaches such as a Lean Management System, Six Sigma methodology, ISO quality system standards, PDCA methodology, or other process improvement systems and approaches.  Process automation offers many advantages to speed up process improvement including automated gap analysis, analysis of stored operating parameters and results, and simulation testing of potential improvements.

Following these six principles is the key to success within a process management system.  With a sound process management system in place, digital transformation can delivery much higher impact and success.  Customers, business owners, employees, and other key stakeholders will benefit from your alignment of process management and digital transformation.

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About Er Ralston

Er Ralston is an accomplished coach, trainer, and advisor, specializing in business process excellence, strategic and tactical business planning, Lean management systems, Six Sigma improvement methodology, and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria for performance excellence. Er brings more than 30 years of experience in numerous operations and quality leadership interventions. He is a Lean expert and certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt.