The Paradox of Productivity Enhancements

One of the issues/claims for the push of BPM-based solutions is the alleged claim that it provides productivity enhancements on two fronts:

  • For the collar worker, because BPM solutions take care of managing the time and the activity flow.  This reduces wasted time, increases quality (less re-work), and avoids relationship conflicts (accountability).
  • For the IT worker, because the ability to change the activity flow sequence and timing in the context significantly reduces change, testing and deployment efforts, which greatly enhances the relationship with the Business Lines. Moreover, since BPM models are meant to be easily interpreted by those.

However, these advantages have to be measured to support the claims. Why do we measure those? Why do we track that? Why do we change the tasks? The problem is never the HOW but the WHY. It is easy to agree how to measure; is quite a direct and objective problem. It has an implicit correlation with the reason or the strategy.

Then fears appear in those with stakes in the job, and they start to have their doubts:

  • Line workers: “Why would they need to know how I do my job? Am I getting redundant?”
  • Executive: “Why should they learn about the ‘sensitive’ areas? Will I be able to reduce HC?”
  • IT unit: “Why should I move into a business approach? Will my budget be cut?”

And it is here the difficulties to the BPM approach start, since every actor seeks to maintain ‘status quo’ or control for his own benefit. Often, this ROI/productivity analysis allows them to discover, that before using BPM tools, they’d better change the manual process or the incumbent approach.

Now, let’s think about the productivity in practical terms. We have to find what to measure and where it applies.

Where is it that waste is more often felt? In human-dominated processes like: Dossier Management (public administration, healthcare, …), Compliance (FDA, GMP, Mifid, ISO, Basel, AML,…), Product Launches, and on and on. Actually people activity is a workflow whose target is completing a transaction (database record) or a document (file record). However, the traditional approach has gone for the end product – without worrying about the efforts and the reason to have it. This makes companies uncompetitive. Or worse, they end up doing the same as their competitors.

There are two sources of enhancements to achieve from deploying BPM: reduction in time, and removal of tasks [1]. This applies both to the end-user and to the IT unit.

Thus, the process to calculate how much a BPM solution enhances the presence in the market is a matter of identifying:

  • Redundant tasks,
  • Time sinks, and the most common,
  • Improperly executed tasks. The common source for quality issues, financial and reputation risks, information leakage, repetitions, unneeded production runs, late distribution issues…[2]

The first reaction of users (both end users and IT) is positive and proactive. Everybody wants to do his activities well, and everybody wants to contribute an added value. However, at some point the actors implicitly start factoring in negative thinking; bringing the analysis to an end or into a limbo.

There are many misconceptions and fears around the productivity concept. Fears are just the manifestation of misconceptions since this creates uncertainty.

Recently I participated in an analysis to discover whether it would make sense to adopt a BPM approach for a Dossier Management solution. The customer already tried twice beforehand with other approaches – and obtained respective failures.

The analysis focused on: task execution, material consumption, and logistics (collaboration model of the work force, process iterations, and reuse). The analysis revealed several additional enhancements: reducing reputation risk, lower financial over-cost, and the relevant hint that extending the process scope will provide yet more returns.

In order to make the analysis easier to share with actors, their participation was intensive and very positive. The actors discovered that their work could be done in such a way that they could become more proud of it, making it less boring, and more interesting. But, it also showed they would be able to execute their day-to-day work in (substantially) less time. Here, it demonstrated one of the fears, which manifested itself as a bunch of questions:

  • Will the company think I am redundant?
  • How are we to tell we were not properly doing the tasks?
  • Why are we to remain accountable because we suffer/identify when the roots are not in our area? (Other areas are out of scope); and so on.

This way, the big help that a BPM approach provides in order to reduce the adverse effects of the deep economic recession, gets blocked.

There is not an easy answer to these fears. My general answer is: the extra productivity has to be used, e.g. by applying these resources of a company as an answer to strategic defies. For example, these days it is needed to have agility in order to diversify: broadening the segments, moving into other territories, attending customers more closely. This means augmenting the workload of the actual resources. How can it be achieved with the same approach? Difficult, isn’t it?

The decision to invest in a BPM platform has different reasons. Mostly, the reason to look into BPM comes from business pains.

 “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”

– Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson. Co-Authors of Rework, Founders of 37signals.


[1] It is not the scope of this article to explain how this fundamentally differs from other IT approaches.
[2] These are the biggest contributors to enhance the companies’ market position though seldom accounted for.



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By Juan Vazquez @ Ultimus Inc. | October 10, 2012

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