Project managers the world over are being asked to do more with less every day. In the hyper competitive world of consumer product manufacturing and retail advertising staffers are overwhelmed and looking to technology for help. This is where business process management offers great promise, and a plethora of tools abound. Project Management, Business process Management, Digital Asset Management and Enterprise Resource Planning tools are center stage. Each tool applies its technology to address the challenge of doing more with less. In most cases these systems do overlap, and integrations between systems are common. This article focuses on the proverbial “elephant in the room” when it comes to the interface between technology and man. How to best use machines to manage people and their assigned tasks without “pissing them off”.
Project Managers rely on others to help them get the work out. Each has their own special style of pull and push techniques to move the work along. Some are more effective than others. How much does technology play a part in their success or failure is a really good question. The project manager orchestrates the flow of work by using the best tools that they can master. It is important to recognize that the adage; “You can buy a box of paints, but it doesn’t make you an artist” applies here as well. When it comes to workflow orchestration, it is all too easy to abuse people with technology.
Case-in-point. A BPM system is programmed to manage the flow of work through a task in a workflow that typically runs for 90 days. The task is an early stage process approval that should take less than an hour, and needs to be turned around within 4 hours. The task precedes a workflow milestone that should be achieved no less than 60 days before the “Final Due Date”. The backlog of jobs waiting at each task fluctuates based on resource availability. Planned vs actual throughput at each task fluctuates based on complexity and skill levels. Priorities shift according to client demand and quality control. The project manager has special knowledge that is relayed from the field and internal staff. In my experience this real world environment can become highly emotional. Introducing a BPM system into this environment is a real challenge. Managing the change is key, and making the technology work for the people rather than using it to make the people work is critical.
There is a variety of tools to aide the project manager as they try to keep all the “balls in the air”. Automated Email notifications triggered by events are one communication method that keeps coming up, especially with new customers. Experience tells us that the over-use of email quickly gets treated as SPAM. Yet project managers want the system to automatically escalate emails to management. Naturally anything can be programmed, but there is always the CPU expense to consider, and systems that spew out thousands of emails a day tend to be blocked rather quickly.
We prefer the dashboard approach where the project manager monitors the flow of production by filtering views of the workflow based on milestones, and task load. We prefer to color-code the milestone status as jobs flow ahead of or behind schedule. We resist the notion that email is the best way to remind people when their jobs are late. Yet, we find that we are constantly being asked if we can program the system to discipline the workers. In my opinion, the single largest reason that BPM projects fail is when they are used to manage people rather than support them.
We are once again writing use-cases to further refine our approach to this challenge. We would like to hear from the project managers and the producers. What is the best way to design a user experience that keeps the work flowing, is intuitive to use, easy to program and efficient to run?