BPM is a globally-themed concept that has remarkable similarities from country to country. In line with that, the following is a guest blog by Janne Eriksson of Sweden, a business process management professional who works in the Nordic Countries:
I recently read an article by Swedish researcher Anna Rylander (University of Gothenburg) about Design Thinking. There has been quite the hype around Design Thinking in recent years, pushing for giving more focus to a “think outside the box” way of finding solutions and creating diverging choices for solving problems rather than making choices from converging ideas (the basic concept of consensus). A favorite example given frequently of the output of Design Thinking is the iPad. We’re in business process management, however, so it needs to come back to what a BPM professional can learn from Design Thinking.
Rational way of solving problems
First, let’s take a moment to define what kind of questions a BPM professional is trying to solve and the approach used in the traditional way to solve business problems. The knowledge worker in a typical business environment is bringing four basic ideas into the conversation:
- The knowledge is intellectual and theory driven, meaning it is in the hands of trained experts
- The problems are “tame”, even though complex, are science driven and with well defined with borders. Another word used for this is ‘incremental’.
- The problems are very rational
- They create value by using verbal interaction (between people), drawing out knowledge from questions and then the knowledge worker applying their own experience and technical prowess to develop the answer
They traditionally solve problems and define processes in a linear way using knowledge-driven theory to solve complex problems. In a hierarchical business environment, this fits well. They are the proper tool for the job and are utilized by management to create an outcome.
Design way to solve problems
It is quite bit different when you compare the four concepts and process above to a Design Thinking pattern and process. The following are the traits of a Design Thinking-inspired environment:
- The knowledge applied is practical (embodied or internal to the idea), and with reflection-in-action, or learn-as-you-go
- Problems are open ended and can at the same time have a specific monetary or time-measured goal. The goals can be very human-centered, in fact. Enabling collaboration is a reasonable goal (participation in a process versus consumption of a process).
- The identity is creative, meaning that instead of thinking about what to build, build as a way of deciding what to think
- They create value by interaction with physical objects and with people
Solving the problem hinges on developing creative new ideas, not on the amount of linear thought or previous experience applied. There aren’t right or wrong answers, only better or worse ideas. Linear methods aren’t suitable for these kinds of problems and would only create incremental benefits instead of real change. Design Thinking is about improvement through experimentation and a cycle of moving from problem definition to problem solution and maybe back to problem definition. The beauty is in the iteration and creativity, which break through incremental change and create quantum change instead.
The following is an excellent TED presentation on Design Thinking by Tim Brown.
End User perspective
A design way of thinking also means that you take the end user way of looking at things as a starting point. This is the point where consultants and business process professionals have something to learn (or at least the ones I’ve met…). In a Design Thinking pattern, one starts with a group of users, their interactions with designed artifacts and the meaning that these interactions have in specific environments. This is very much the opposite of a data-driven way of finding solutions, where one reaches conclusion when everything is prepared for the moment that re-involves the end user with training and other instruction for how to use the solution you’ve created. This is also the set up for the later complaints that end users just don’t have the capacity to grasp the fantastic things that have been created for them.
Examples of doing things incorrectly can be found in most software or in early mobile phones, where it was obvious that the end user was never the starting point. The popularity of the iPhone and other Apple products arise from the obvious end user focus that was applied from the very beginning of design.
Unfortunately, the same is true for BPM software as most involve complex methods of capture, complex notation (like BPMN), and lack redeployment and ownership by the true process experts. They are essentially the polar opposite of Design Thinking. It is fair to note that the results that are being achieved by old-school software are both incremental and underwhelming. In times of great change like we’re currently in, likely the greatest since the industrial revolution of the 19th Century, we need new alternatives and new ideas.
Create a successful business process environment by choosing a system that supports the end user. Involve the end user in design and then deploy the solution back to those same end users.