Process drives the work we do. We can evaluate processes on two axis – complexity and strategy – that help us decide the best way to manage and improve the processes.
Process complexity and dynamics are what types of tasks are involved in the process. Is it a simple, repetitive procedure with a few rules for handling cases outside of normal operation? Or is it a complex procedure with lots of decision points and special case rules? Think of this like driving somewhere. Driving to your local grocery is a simple procedure, with few possibilities of exceptions. Driving across the country has a ton of variables and dynamism to it.
While complexity can help drive the decision to automate, I strongly recommend that when thinking about it don’t ask if it can be automated, only ask what would be involved if a human were to do the job or how it is done with current technologies. Starting with the answer of automation leads to automation for automation’s sake, and that is a waste.
Dynamics is how much the process changes – some change rarely while others change rapidly to keep pace in response to changes in product or external factors (such as regulations).
Strategic importance asks about the value the process contributes to meeting requirements. Is the process a core competency, or an enabling process that needs to be accomplished to ensure that you can do something else that meets the core requirements? Needless to say, one company’s strategic process is another company’s routine process, which is why more and more we are looking at organizations as ecosystems.
Processes are in a hierarchy, and we use levels to describe the subdivision of processes. We’ve discussed the difference between process, procedure and task. At the process level we usually have the high-level process, the architecture level, which are the big things an organization does (e.g. research, manufacture, distribute), mid-level processes that are more discrete activities (e.g. perform a clinical study) to even more discrete processes (e.g. launch a study) which usually have several levels (e.g. select sites, manage TMF) to finally procedure and task.
|Level of Process||Includes||Key Ways to Address|
|High-Level Process||How key objectives are met, highly cross functional||Organization design. System Design|
|Mid-level Process||How a specific set of departments do their major work blocks||Process Improvement|
|Low-level process||How individuals conduct their work in sub-blocks||Knowledge management, task analysis, training|
To truly get to this level of understanding of process, we need to understand just what our process is, which is where tools like the SIPOC or Process Scope diagram can come in handy.
To understand a process we want to understand six major aspects: Output, Input, Enablers, Controls, Process Flow, People.
Complex and Complicated as Tools for Process Understanding
Simple processes usually follow a consistent, well-defined sequence of steps with clearly defined rules. Each step or task can be precisely defined, and the sequence lacks branches or exceptions.
More complicated processes involve branches and exceptions, usually draw on many rules, and tend to be slightly less defined. Complicated processes require more initiative on the part of human performers.
Complex processes are ones that require a high level of initiative and creativity from people. These processes rapidly change and evolve as time passes. Successful performance usually requires a connection to an evolving body of knowledge. They are highly creative and have a large degree of unpredictability. Most complex processes are viewed at the system level.
- Benedict, T. et al. BPM CBOK Version 4.0: Guide to the Business Process Management Common Body of Knowledge. ABMP International, 2019.
- Harmon, Paul. Business Process Change. Morgan Kaufmann, 2019.
- Nuland, Y. and Duffy, G. Validating a Best Practice. Productivity Press, 2020