Why you need a BPM role concept and how it could look like

New Process Role Concept

I still remember the times when no one wanted to take ownership of processes and processes took on a life of their own apart from the actual business. Process ownership was a responsibility that no one wanted and that was not valued at all. Does that sound familiar to you?

In a cooperation with the University of Bamberg, I conducted research on the topic for many years, carried out benchmarks with other companies and introduced the resulting concept in practice, lived it myself and evaluated it.

In the meantime, the awareness for processes increased drastically. In the past, only a few people worked on processes as a hobby. In many parts of the organization, this work is now carried out full-time by experts who have been trained for this purpose, and organizational units have even been formed to bundle these experts.

Today, working on processes is a valued activity that is even visible through specific job descriptions such as the Process Architect which is one of the core roles of the BPM role concept we have developed.

By a BPM role concept, I mean the definition and interaction of roles that work in the process of process management. Roles like the Process Owner or the Process Architect, which are needed to describe the activities to work on processes. The introduction of a BPM role concept helps to make process management more visible and actionable. It’s a powerful tool to bring process management – and New Process – to life.

In my experience, there are three core requirements a BPM role concept has to fulfill:

1. Solve the disconnect of processes from the real business:

The main problem I have observed in many organizations is the lack of linkage between responsibility for processes and the real business. Everyone wants to be responsible for the business, but no one is interested in processes. – Whatever one understands by this exactly. To resolve this situation, it is elementary to consciously distinguish between the two areas of responsibility, design and execution. – A.k.a. processes and business.

The design responsibility defines HOW processes are supposed to be performed by the employees. The execution responsibility defines WHAT exactly an employee is supposed to do. By combining both areas, it becomes clear for an employee WHAT to do and HOW to do it.

For me, it is elementary to distinguish between these two responsibilities to be able to combine them.

It must be clearly defined in an organization who defines the process design and who is responsible for the execution of the process design. Of course, this can also come together in one person, but especially in the case of processes that are to run in a standardized manner at different locations, one will want to assign the execution responsibility locally. Thus, a separate assignment of responsibilities for all locations becomes inevitable.

As soon as we are aware of these two areas of responsibility and appreciate the respective importance, we can begin to combine the two. – And this happens through roles and their corresponding processes.

2. Establish precise role definitions for clear assignment of accountabilities and responsibilities:

Within the two areas of responsibilities, it is necessary to assign the respective tasks to specific roles. This will help to make these tasks visible and assignable.

For me, it makes a big difference whether responsibility for processes is assigned to a vaguely defined process responsible, or whether a fine distinction can be made between individual tasks and the roles responsible for them. In my view, it is much more valuable to be able to assign the specific tasks for the continuous improvement of a process design to the actual expert. Or to be able to say exactly who is ultimately accountable for how a process will be executed in a company.

In this context, it is also important to distinguish between responsibility and accountability in terms of a RACI classification. The role that actually performs an activity is responsible for that activity. The R of RACI. The role that ultimately bears responsibility for the execution of the activity is accountable. The A of RACI. Classically, the Line Manager is accountable and his or her employees are responsible for the activities they perform.

The Line Manager is therefore accountable before the law for the correct execution of activities. The Line Manager must go to prison if something goes wrong. – At least until he or she can prove that he/she has fulfilled his/her duties as a Line Manager. 😉

Further down in the text, I will show an example of how the roles within the two responsibilities can be precisely defined.

3. Define interaction of roles to get the system running:

Once the design and execution roles are defined, it is important to clearly define how they interact with each other. We therefore need a process of process management that describes the interaction of the roles involved in working on processes.

Defining the process of process management is also the perfect way to bring the New Process Principles to life. For example, the joint development of the Process Purpose with the involvement of the entire Process Community, involving the employees who work in the process in the work on the process through joint workshops, or the integration of freedom for own decisions in the process design as well as the consideration of the needs of the employees in the development of the processes. And much more…

Here, it is particularly important for me to also address communication along the process. Who talks to whom and when? Who needs to be involved where? How do you agree on the prioritization of process changes? And who decides which process changes should actually be implemented and how?

Defining the communication flows will also avoid unstructured escalation by offering the possibility to take decisions where the respective knowledge is available. For example, detailed solutions to process questions can be answered by the experts. If no decision can be reached, the experts can present different options and their expert assessment to the Process Owner for a decision. And if the Process Owner is uncertain about the strategic fit of his or her decision, the Process Owner can obtain a strategic assessment at senior management level.

Together with my fellow researchers, I have published several academic papers describing how a respective BPM role concept could look like. To push this to an even higher level, I would like to highlight the New Process aspect for you while sharing the core elements of the concept.

As already explained, it is crucial for the concept to distinguish between the two areas of responsibility: design and execution. To clearly assign the accountabilities and responsibilities for process management tasks, the following roles are essential:

Within the design responsibility, the Process Domain Owner is accountable for the strategic direction of a group of processes. Assignment of this role starts on the highest-level process map of an organization and can be cascaded throughout several levels of sub-domains with their respective Process Domain Owners. The Process Domain Owner nominates all Process Domain Owners as well as Process Owners within his/her process domain. – As soon as we reach the level of a specific process description with roles, activities and decisions, a Process Owner is named.

The Process Owner is accountable for the design and improvement of a specific process as well as its overall coordination and should be assigned to a management level position with the respective power of attorney to really be accountable for process design. The Process Owner is supported by the two roles of the Process Architect and the Process Manager.

The Process Architect takes over responsibility for process design and improvement from the Process Owner. I would always recommend assigning this role to the real expert on an employee level. On the one hand, the Process Architect is the expert for the business process itself. On the other hand, the Process Architect should be familiar to process management methods. In my opinion, this is the key role to get the system running.

The Process Manager takes over responsibility for the inter-org unit coordination of the process within the respective process instance from the Process Owner. The Process Manager represents the interests of the assigned process instance towards the Process Architect and Process Owner and locally talks to Line Managers and Employees to make sure that the process runs smoothly throughout all organizational units.

Within the execution responsibility, the Line Manager is accountable for the process execution of the respective organizational unit. The Line Manager role is assigned to managers of organizational units on all hierarchical levels. As a core task, the Line Manager assigns the process roles defined by the Process Owner to the employees of the respective organizational unit and makes sure that employees are qualified accordingly.

And – as already explained above – the Employees are responsible for process execution by performing the activities of the assigned roles within the respective processes.

The New Process Life Cycle describes how these roles interact and how the New Process Principles can be brought to life. Here are three examples:

  1. In the “Define Process Purpose” process, the Process Owner invites a representative sample of members of the process community. This should include Process Architects, Process Managers, Line Managers and, of course, Employees. For more details on what this process can look like, see the “Define Process Purpose” process in the New Process Toolbox.
  2. In the “Design process” process, the Process Architect invites representatives of the process instances to workshops to define or improve processes. Besides Process Managers, also a sample of Employees should be integrated into the design workshops following the New Process Principle to integrate people working in the process into the work on processes.
  3. The same principle can be implemented within “Improve Process Execution” where the Line Managers are required to integrate the employees into process improvement and to ask them for their advice.

There are a lot more ways to integrate the New Process Principles into the New Process Life Cycle. I will add further details to the New Process Toolbox and the role concept will be an essential element of the New Process Booster. – Sign up for the waiting list now and be the first to get further information as soon as the details are set.

Reference: Kettenbohrer, Janina, Beimborn, Daniel, and Kloppenburg, Mirko (2013): Developing a Governance Model for Successful Business Process Standardization. Proceedings of the 19th Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), Chicago (IL)


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