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Gero Decker: The changing role of the Process Manager

Written by Gero Decker, CEO, Signavio

Process professionals — the people charged with mapping, scrutinizing and improving the thousands of processes required to run an enterprise — are the unsung heroes of digital transformation.

According to McKinsey, 70% of digital transformation projects fail resulting in $900bn of wasted investment. Is it the failure of technology, or of people? In my experience, the mistakes and missed opportunities are largely the result of a failure of process: either in its design or implementation.

Effective process design and process mining, the practice of optimizing processes, can significantly boost the odds of digital transformation success by creating an operational environment in which the incoming technology – AI, cloud, big data, cyber security – can flourish.

This is where process professionals come in. They bridge the gap between a beautifully imagined customer journey and the back-office machinery that makes it reality. A slick user interface and AI-fuelled chatbot can’t stitch together the 700 internal steps across siloed teams required for a customer to take out a single bank loan. Process design can.

However, a chronic lack of C-suite support and investment takes its toll on organizations with high digital ambitions but little regard for the process function. Companies did not experience ‘a higher volume of calls than usual’ when COVID-19 struck. The real culprit for long wait times and declining customer service was lack of process know-how to rapidly stand up a virtual customer service centre. It’s little wonder that Signavio research last month revealed that a third of UK consumers felt customer service had worsened during the pandemic.

Virtually all companies accelerated their digital transformation efforts in response to COVID-19. But to avoid being counted among McKinsey’s 70% of failures, they must engage and invest in their process teams. To empower them to lead the new wave of process mining and design aligned with post-COVID-19 digital acceleration, business leaders must be ready to strike down several barriers.

Engage them early

Too often, process managers are marginalized at the beginning of a project as ‘not strategic enough’ or only brought in to troubleshoot avoidable problems at the end. C-suites need to empower process leaders to influence projects from the start, and even temporarily put them into reverse, by understanding that nailing process at the beginning will significantly accelerate the implementation of any technology or system further down the line.

Embrace the data

Data is a fuel for faster decision making, yet many large enterprises aren’t empowering their process function with the tools to capture it, surface it and leverage it to transform and optimize their processes. Far too many complex mapping tasks still rely on pen and paper, a jumble of disconnected documents, or a few focus groups and a whiteboard. Project teams need access to data-fuelled software that enables them to automate mining, mapping and process redesign to unlock efficiency and growth.

Bust the silos

In most organizations there is a huge operational gap between the desired customer experience and the supporting processes required to deliver it. An error in the Order to Cash or Procure to Pay journey could be caused by a process failure in six or seven different departments. Mapping provides a rigorous, objective ‘single source of truth’ and ensures that a company can quickly pinpoint the exact link in the chain that is responsible for a system error. 

Train the team

The future of the process management discipline is both data-driven and customer-obsessed. As a result, it urgently needs an influx of new skill sets in data science and design thinking in order to unlock its true potential. It also needs the tools to create systems that scale well beyond a sticky note exercise on a whiteboard. 

The community of process professionals is excited to embrace this new future, but companies must invest in the right training and skills development programs to support them. This includes building hard, technical capabilities as well as the softer, change management skills to ensure the process function builds clout and gravitas, and keeps its seat at the table.