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Human-Centric Business Process Management: Amplifying BPM with Design Thinking

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

By: Katherine Ina Fuentes, QuickReach Digital Transformation Consulting Associate

The words “’business process” mean different things to different positions in a company. For a department head in finance or operations, business processes mean their people processing information or requests in an efficient, informed manner. On the other hand, process designers and managers see it as the performance of a set of actions that is crucial to the business operating as smoothly as possible through a system. IT managers then manage the system in which the employees fulfill the process. When process managers and IT managers come together to enhance and manage processes, the outcomes of these revised processes don’t always pan out the way it should on paper.

Why is this? While everyone knows that almost all actions in a process are done by humans, decision makers and process designers don’t take into consideration the realities on the ground that force the users themselves to enhance their own workflows. These workflows end up being unnatural for the users and end up creating many redundancies in addition to other day-to-day challenges such as cluttered inboxes and multiple, non-integrated systems.

Process designers might pull up a flow chart-making program and create a box that says, “Send an email to the startup”. They would draw an arrow to the next box that says, “Receive documents from client”. While these are certainly actions done by humans, these are not valuable work. Nor does other actions such asthe sending, transmission of data, nor copy-pasting values into different systems. Rather, the value of the actions in this process lies in the analysis, review, and decisions to be made at each step of the process.

The result is a disjointed and inconsistent process that encumbers the whole organization. Important actors miss out on vital information that could be used for decision making, and these leaders do not have visibility on the overall health of their operations.

Some organizations have begun solving these pains through automation, implementing technologies such as RPA and machine learning in order to lessen the complexities of the processes. In our experience though, most departments simply delegate these to the IT department without being strategic in their implementation. They realize that they need a system to simplify their workflow. These departments have a laundry list of items that they want fulfilled and the IT department goes on to acquire the systems or technologies. When the time comes for implementation, the department realizes that the systems don’t feel as natural and intuitive to them as they need it to be. This leaves the expensive systems unused and unappreciated. The cycle then begins once more. Everyone ends up doing more work instead of optimizing the process, and IT has more and more systems to keep track of.

How can process managers and designers avoid this? The answer is Design Thinking.

Design Thinking (also known as Human-Centered Design) has been around as a concept for quite some time but has become more popular thanks to the Stanford Design School and thought leadership around it such as Lean Startup. It is the key to creating value and the method by which many disruptive startups have grown rapidly.

Why Design Thinking?

Innovating on current business processes (and the resulting customer or employee experience) could make a significant difference within your industry. This difference can be in the way your employees handle customer-facing roles such as support or sales, or in your internal support processes such as finance or IT. Whether external or internal facing, being more thoughtful and deliberate about designing processes can do wonders for productivity and employee engagement.

With design thinking, you can compete not only on efficiency and upsells but also on other qualitative measurements of success such as increased engagement and more positive buzz both online and offline. Eighty-four percent of the respondents to a Deloitte survey said that companies need to improve on their “employee experience”.

Design thinking can also open up previously undiscovered upsell opportunities that are more natural and seamless with your existing business. With an eye for observation and practice of empathy, you can find more needs and pains previously unseen which your business would be capable of serving.

In order to be more competitive with other incumbents and emerging startups, process owners and business leaders have to think more carefully about their own processes and their method of doing things. They also have to consider their employees to be their number one asset and trust them to do more value-adding jobs such as analysis and insight generation.

Design thinking, in the long run, will not only ease everyone’s workflows. Its practice can also lead to innovative products and services that could lead to blue oceans and new revenue streams.

Applying Design Thinking into processes, not just products

How does this work? It starts with empathizing with your customer. As a process designer, your customers may mean paying customers, employees, partners, or even suppliers. Design thinking entails scrapping whatever assumptions and previous knowledge you have about a process or even a group of people within your company. That is, of course, easier said than done especially if you have been with your company for many years.

Human-centric designers begin their rethinking process by first empathizing with their customers. They throw out any notion or previous knowledge of the customer. They participate in the day-to-day habits, experiences, and practices that their customers have. They ask questions openly and listen actively to both verbal and non-verbal cues about the jobs and pains of their customers. While gathering information, they visualize their customers’ journeys through tools such as the Empathy Map and the Customer Journey Map.

These maps then extend to become the Service Design Blueprint which gives designers a fuller view of all the stakeholders within a seemingly simple process such as Account Information Update or Subscription Cancellation.

Active listening, observation, and participation in the actual process will help you as a process designer to understand the jobs that your user needs to be done. Make sure that you get the following information as you discuss the current process (don’t skip ahead and think of improvements while discussing their current process with them!):

- What is the objective? Ultimately, all processes have to achieve an objective.

- What needs to be done in order to achieve this? The next step would be to identify all the actions that need to be done. One way to do this would be to highlight all the verbs while describing an action, such as:

  • Send an email to the department head

  • Approve the request

  • File a leave

  • Route the process

- Determine which actions can be automated

- Who are the actors that in the process? Are the actions currently assigned to them something that could be automated? Are there any blockers that hinder the actors from achieving their objectives?

- What kind of information do these actors need in order to fulfill their own objectives within the process?

Long-term Gains

Any real and lasting change takes time. For you and your organization to see the benefits of Design Thinking, you have to constantly revisit and measure your performance. The line should always be open for feedback, whether positive or negative, about the processes. Design thinking is iterative, and you must be prepared to measure and iterate to progress towards a better future.



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