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Business Process Change – Book Review – Chuan Yu

by on November 10, 2008

Business Process Change, Second Edition: A Guide for Business Managers and BPM and Six Sigma Professionals. Paul Harmon. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 2007. 592 pp. $49.95. (ISBN-10: 0123741521, ISBN-13: 978-0123741523)

The only constant is change. As the business world keeps changing, in order to allow senior executives to plan, monitor, and manage enterprise transformation efforts, today¡¯s leading organizations are focusing on enterprise business process architectures and on developing corporate management and measurement systems for process changes. By providing an entire range of different business process change options with a systematic approach, Business Process Change ¨C A Guide for Business Managers and BPM and Six Sigma Professionals becomes a must-read manual book for business managers who are increasingly facing the challenge of redesign, improvement, and automation of their company¡¯s business processes. The book is written by Paul Harmon, an expert and principal consultant with rich experience in business process change management. Paul helped numerous companies apply business process technologies and methodologies to solve their problems.

Reflections on Content
At the beginning of the book, Paul presented readers with the reason why introducing the business process change options by breaking them into different levels. Paul argued that instead of one common way of handling all business process problems, there were a range of different types of business process change problems, which varied by the organization¡¯s level of concern. For example: some changes are undertaken to provide executives with the tools they need to manage a process-centric organization. Other changes only require modest improvements in existing processes (pg.xxxv).

Therefore, to introduce the business process change options, Paul applied a top-down approach. The book begins with breaking the concepts and practices of business process change options into three levels: Enterprise Level, Process Level, and Implementation Level. The content is unfolded from top to bottom smoothly. Paul first introduced the enterprise-level concepts and practices that were the keys for organizations to become process¨Ccentric organizations. Then he moved down to the process level and introduced the methods for redesign, management, and improvement for process change projects. The book ends with implementation level content: Process Modeling Software, Business Process Modeling Suites, and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for supporting process automation efforts. I really like this structure because it helps to establish a systematic view on business process change issues.

Beyond the three-level structure, throughout my reading, I found that there were two underlining central themes: value chain and processes. The content is central around these two themes, aiming to make up value chains by integrating major processes and sub processes. As is pointed out in the part of enterprise level, making up such value chains eventually helps the organization to achieve a significant competitive advantage (pg.27). While I thought Paul should go further to explain why making up such value chains helped to achieve a competitive advantage and how the competitive advantage was reached with examples, he just stopped here and continued to introduce the methodologies. Nevertheless, with these underlining themes, the principles for content assembling for each individual part become clear:

The first part provides methodologies to define business strategy; to align corporate-wide goals to goals of specific value chains; to define business process architecture for each value chain by subdividing the specific value chain to its major processes, sub processes (divided from major processes), and ultimately activities (divided from sub processes); and to refine process governance and management. Paul demonstrated how to perform all these tasks with very concrete information and mini cases, which really helped me to understand how they are executed in a real-world practice.

Once business process architecture for a value chain is established with clearly defined processes, then any specific process change project becomes a matter of redefining on a well-defined portion of the business process architecture (pg.231). The methodologies for redefining and elaborating this specific portion, which is one single process, are provided by the second part of the book, Process Level Concerns. This part include more technical aspects, because, compared with the first part that concentrates on higher level architectures for value chains, the second part comes with subjects that inherently require a more technical approach. Subjects covered for process change projects include Process Modeling, Process Management and Measurement, and Process Improvement. Paul applied Unified Modeling Language (UML) as the technique to model processes, and the Six Sigma approach as the method to improve processes. Thanks to Paul¡¯s considerable experience in this area, all the technical tools were introduced with proper diagrams and examples that assisted me to understand how it is used in real-practice. I did like the tools he introduced, though I had known UML long before, this was the first time I saw its use in a case. After reading the UML modeling case, I fully recognized that the effectiveness of UML as a precise and unambiguous modeling language. Furthermore, I hadn¡¯t seen any tool that could be used for Process Improvement with a quantitative approach before I read the book, and I thought for Process Improvement, a quantitative method might not exist because it was a managerial issue in nature. Therefore, I was surprised by the fact that there was such a quantitative method: Six Sigma (originated as a set of statistical techniques to measure process performance). After reading the chapter of Six Sigma, I found it was a useful tool in that it made processes and activities measurable and helps trouble shooting from the outcomes.

After methodologies for redefining and managing a single process change in the value chain were introduced, Paul moved to illustrated how a variety of software can be used to implement process changes, which is the last part. This part is not so helpful in that compared with the previous two, it¡¯s just a summary of the softwares, which I am already familiar with.

Good Aspects
After I finished reading the book, I realized that the value of this book does not lie on one single innovative thought or one particular methodology to solve one particular problem. Rather than presenting a single thought and a particular methodology, Paul aimed to expose to readers a large variety of concepts and practices in building architectures, modeling processes, and implementing business process changes (almost covered every aspect in this particular area). The concepts and practices include both classical theories that are most widely used and the most recent methodologies.

One feature of the book I particularly appreciate is that it is extremely practical -the content is very comprehensive and concrete. When Paul illustrated the approaches to solve a problem, he listed all possible options. For example, when he tried to provide methods to define business strategy in the first part (enterprise level), instead of using only one tool, he utilized a suit of three tools for this purpose: Porter¡¯s Three-phase Process to define a strategy; Porter¡¯s Five-force (Industry Competitors, Buyers, Suppliers, Substitutes, and Potential Entrants) Model of Competition; and three strategies for competing: (1) cost leadership, (2) differentiation, (3) niche specification (Porter, 1980). Not only did Paul manage to achieve a broad coverage, he also went deep into topics that were of great significance. Instead of just exposing concepts, he provided very concrete details from real-world examples to support them, and some mock mini cases are also given. For example, when providing a supply chain example to explain how to build process measures for process measurement, Paul not only listed the performance attributes such as supply chain costs, but also provided more concrete metrics to measure such costs: Cost of Goods Sold, Total Supply Chain Management Costs, Value-Added Productivity, and Warranty/Returns Processing Costs. I was pleased by such detailed metrics given. In many other books, the author only goes as deep as the performance attribute level without providing more concrete information, leaving readers wondering: ¡°Hmmm, supply chain cost is a performance attribute I must think about, but what kinds of metrics to measure such an attribute in practice?¡± Another good example for this kind of concreteness was when Paul explained the method to decompose the specific value chain, in order to supplement the step by step guideline, he provided a mini case showing how a Widget Value Chain is subdivided into three major processes: (1) Design New Widgets, (2) Manufacture & Distribute Widgets, (3) Market & Sell Widgets; consequently, how the major processes are subdivided into sub processes; how the sub processes are subdivided into activities. Such a mini case really helps the reader to form a correct understanding of the method. Otherwise, without a mini case, even a step by step guideline might still mislead readers.

The organization of the book is also perfect. Instead of turning the book into a big chunk and massive chaos of countless concepts and practice guidelines like other books of such a large size would become, this book is organized very logically. The content flows smoothly from higher level to lower level, being cohesive to the underlining themes. This makes it possible for readers to form both a broad range of knowledge and a systematic view on business process change issues.

Shortcomings and Recommendations
While the book is good for its practical and well organized content, some shortcomings exist.

First, in the 11th chapter (a chapter in part 2) on managing business process for process change projects, the author appeared to be too instrumentally rational and failed to take enough human factors into account. In fact, in any change project, human factors are the key to success among the four management processes: Plan, Organize, Communicate, and Control. For a certain change initiative, if the manager of this process change project lacks the capability to communicate effectively on the goals of the change or if he fails to alleviate the stress of people who feel that they will be adversely affected by the change, such a change in this process will never happen. In essence, in any process change project management practice, just following up instrumentations step by step is not enough and human factors must be factored in. The managers must possess the capabilities to influence, persuade, and motivate others who are involved in the change. Therefore, I would suggest Paul to take human factors into consideration in the next edition.

Second, as we know, sometimes major shift happens. For example, in change management, an urgent problem caused by the external economic environment may result in an organization wide strategy change. Visions of the change will be created. But how does this kind of major transformation affect process level practice? How will the methodologies of Process Modeling, Process Management, and Measurement, and Process Improvement be adjusted in response to such a big high level change? While the book provides sufficient process level practice for the changes at process level (e.g. an Order Fulfillment Process change), it fails to answer how process level practice adjusts itself to accommodate high level changes. Therefore, I highly recommend that Paul adds content that can answer this kind of questions.

Paul has written a good book for managers and practitioners who are dealing with business process changes. The book is worth reading. It not only provides a powerful tool set for professionals to develop architecture for business processes and execute process change projects, but also succeeds in empowering them with a structured and systematic view of the whole area of business process change related issues. While the book already serves as a valuable resource for conducting process change projects, the effectiveness of the book could be improved further by adding concerns around human factors when it talks about managing business process. Adding content that illustrates how process level practice adjusts itself to accommodate higher level changes is also helpful to improve the overall quality of the book. If such modifications are accomplished by the third edition, the book will absolutely become an excellent guide that will help managers achieve excellence in any process change project.

Michael E. Porter (1980). Competitive Strategy. New York: The Free Press.

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