One thing I’ve learned as a consultant, observing the business processes at my clients’ companies and at my own company:
Not all business processes look like this:(see end of blog for diagram credits)
A process like the one above probably doesn't need to be so complicated, but many processes are inherently complex and cyclical in nature, without the comfort of that “End” terminus in the flow chart.
Yet most of the organizational measurements in place, and the terms we use, reflect linear thinking. The account executives “close” business (when isn’t it really the case that they’re just at the beginning of a long and evolving relationship with the client or customer?). Opportunities move through a defined pipeline of stages (although the work product generated around them may be leveraged and improved upon again and again). Projects are planned in a string of dependencies, and financial systems key off their start and end dates (when the reality is that controlling activities, like project management, are difficult to build into a project plan, and the lessons learned and resulting methodology improvements that influence the way the next project is run usually don’t fall under a billing code).
In October 2009, I heard Daniel W. Rasmus talk about non-linear work in a presentation on the Business Case for Social Computing at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. He said “We don’t have a language to describe non-linear work; we’re still in the industrial age. We talk about productivity and efficiency – hospitals talk about moving patients through the system – but doctors answer they want “healthy patients.” This is not a linear process.”
What are the “healthy patients” in your organization? How do you work toward the strategic goals that may be vague, circular, iterative, or amorphous, but still critically important? And how can the tools at your organization support this effort?
Here are some examples of nonlinear business processes I’ve seen, which may include finite sub-processes, but which don’t have a true end point:
- Building a brand
- Developing business strategy
- Ensuring happy customers
- Cost containment
- Creating buzz
- “Going Green”
- Encouraging diversity
- Seeking business opportunities
- Increasing market share
- Employee performance reviews (These are often treated as linear – I work for a period of time, I fill out a long and tedious form, I meet with my supervisor and have a review, the review gets filed, end of process - but in an ideal world they’d be a continual exchange of feedback, growth targets, recognition, and improvement. Rypple has the right idea here.)
Let's take building your company's brand as an example. This is a long-term activity that may shift and change over time, but requires investment over the life of the organization. Following is a list of ideas of how SharePoint 2010 components could be used to support this:
- Blog of Great Ideas where the team can brainstorm and collect concepts, including partnering or co-branding ideas
- Wiki of what your competitors are doing to build their brands
- Web analytics reports / graph of activity on your public-facing website
- Calendar of upcoming events, branding team meetings, and important dates (product releases, etc)
- Image library or slide library to hold screen shots of the company's Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook pages - to show visually the increase in followers over time
- Task list to collect action items from meetings and approved Great Ideas
- User tags on internal content to reflect changing trends, topics, directions
- User tags on external content – e.g. “competitor,” “viral,” “inspiration”
- Noteboard / activity feed of what the team is doing at any moment to build the brand
- RSS feeds of mentions of your company in the press and on social media sites
- Document libraries for meeting notes, strategy documents, presentations
- Links to customer interactions - surveys, testimonials
- Links to Marketing, Sales, and Corporate Communications within the organization,for collateral, product images, logos
- Custom list serving as an index of resources - books, websites, reports on brand-building (this could be an Access database exposed through SharePoint if your library is large and complex)
- Contact list of experts within and external to the organization (for example, include the individual responsible for your product or delivery quality)
- Blog or wiki of ideas around internal marketing - the initiatives that will help the entire organization understand the brand values and positioning.
- And, if you're collaborating with an external marketing consultant, PR firm, or communications vendor, an extranet site where collaboration could happen with these external contributors.
Just brainstorming that list got me so inspired that I want to go build this site right now! (I know, I know, If I love SharePoint so much, why don't I marry it?) There are so many possibilities beyond the ones I've explored here.
I'd love to hear from others:
- What are the non-linear processes you need to support in your own organization?
- Which tools (in SP 2010, other ECM systems, or web 2.0 sites) are you looking at to support them?
Drop me a comment and let me know!
Credits for the business process flows above:
BP Trends for the simple diagram:
Richard Ziade at Basement.org for the complicated diagram: