TLA and BPM: How Three-Letter Acronyms Pose Risk of Failure

three letter acronyms and BPMRecently, I attended a company conference where the discussion topics ranged from new technologies to business process management.  I was the speaker for the business process management topic and was not scheduled to speak until about mid-way through the second day. So this gave me the opportunity to learn about new trends in technologies, which could be potentially leveraged to develop solutions for business processes.

One of things that struck me and quite honestly I found frustrating, was the amount of TLAs (three letter acronyms) that were used.   I could follow the flow of the conversation but was often side tracked as I tried to figure out what a particular acronym meant. I was not the only one attending who experienced this frustration. So when it came time for me to present on business process management (notice no TLA), I stated up front that I would not use any acronyms and in the chance I did, please stop me and ask me to describe it. The result was an increase in communication and participation from the audience.

I equate this experience to conducting business process management workshops. During workshops, mostly during current state workshops, the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will describe activities, information inputs and outputs, roles and/or systems using acronyms. When this occurs, I stop them and ask for them to define what terms the acronym is short for and a description of the acronym.  For example, during a workshop, Rikki was the name of a key system  and when I asked what is was short for and a description, the answer was it was from a Steely Dan song and that is was a system that stored numerical data.  It basically came from a lyric in the song, “Rikki don’t lose that number!”  This information was captured in a dictionary that defined the language of the business process. In other cases, when I have asked the SMEs (pardon the acronym), what an acronym was short for and a description, the response was no one knew what is was short for, it had been passed down from one work generation to the next work generation and the original terms lost.

The key point is that like it or not, acronyms exist, and when you come across them in workshops and you definitely will, ask what the acronym means, capture the response and include it in a process glossary of acronyms and terms. Without defining the language, your business process management project runs an IRF (increased risk of failure).

PS: No TLA was harmed in the creation of the blog.


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By Kevin Feldhus @ Perficient Inc. | June 25, 2012

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