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You’re a BPX, it’s Monday morning and you’ve arrived at a brand new client. You have a limited engagement of one week. Your mission: to produce documented recommendations for new technology supporting an existing business process requiring some redesign. How do you get the job done?

This scenario is a common occurrence to the Business Process Expert who functions as the ‘hired gun’. It is not uncommon for the BPX to be called into situations which require high- to mid-level analysis and a quick, but comprehensive set of recommendations as output.

To accomplish this task, the BPX must deal with the following factors:

– quickly developing a relationship with the client, to establish trust and credibility
– sorting through the business issues, often with little or no understanding of the client’s business or particular circumstances
– analyzing the technology in place and understanding the future of the landscape (i.e., upgrades, etc.)
– designing (at a high-level) various alternate solutions
– creating thorough recommendations (and the corresponding document).

How does a BPX quickly establish a relationship with a new client?

To establish trust and credibility, it is important for the BPX to become a ‘trusted advisor’ to the client as quickly as possible. Sometimes the client is aware of the BPX’s profile and history; however, regardless of the client’s prior knowledge, it is still imperative that a face-to-face relationship be established to increase the productivity of interaction between the client and BPX.

Clear communication is key between a BPX and any client, but particularly essential in a short-term assignment which results in ultimately influencing business change. Some of the tactics of a BPX for creating a relationship should include:

– listening attentively to the client (often they drop hints about the pains in their culture; sometimes they may actually be explicit)
– active listening: asking questions for clarity
– demonstrating forthrightness: be clear that you do not have a hidden agenda, and that you are working for them
– briefly outlining your own experience in two minutes or less, focusing on other occasions where you were a trusted advisor

Typically, this openness will precipitate a comfortable, receptive relationship which facilitates your getting the information you need to create your conclusions.

How can a BPX sort through business issues when he/she knows nothing of the client’s business?

This can be a tricky situation and often requires reliance on two things: your past experience and intuition. However, that’s sometimes easier said than done.

It is easy to feel like a fish out of water in a foreign environment, however one of the surest ways to gaining an understanding of the client’s business environment and issues is by listening for similarities to your own past experiences. Often situations, although radically different in exterior application, can be very similar in nature at their core.

By actively listening to the client and asking clarifying questions regarding business priorities and areas of greatest pain, a BPX can quickly get a sense of where the most urgent concerns exist. Generally, this will naturally become evidence to formulating recommendations.

It is critical to accumulate information that forms the “bigger picture” which includes the client’s culture, technical environment and political landscape. Having this bigger picture can direct the recommendations to solve very specific issues.

Analyzing the technical environment

While seemingly straightforward, it is often necessary to dig deep into the system landscape only to ensure that nonconforming systems are indeed identified in any formal architecture discussions. No one likes surprises at the end of an assignment where he/she discovers that there was a complete application built for one area of the business outside of the main landscape, which executed the exact requirements of the consulting assignment! Know all the players involved, even if you must unearth clues through your listening.

Also, ensure that a complete technical landscape is provided to you, inclusive of the go-forward plan for technical upgrades. This can impact the timing of implementation of your recommendations or can drive to a phased implementation approach.

Now that I have the information I need, how do I design the solutions?

This step typically involves your own personal style. Generally speaking, the recommended solutions will begin to become apparent throughout your discussions with the client. As the client unfolds their circumstance and explains their issues, the possible solutions often naturally ‘fall out’ of the analysis.

Again, the development of solutions is reliant on your own knowledge and experience, and in cases where some information may not be available, a healthy dose of your own intuition may be required. More often than not, implementation of similar solutions follows a similar path at its most fundamental level. Intuition, then, can be useful in making a best guess on high-level timing of a project or an approach to phasing-in a solution.

And, finally, I have to write the recommendations document: what should I address?

Typically, a comprehensive document should include the following sections:

– Introduction (why is this document being created) – Scoping Summary (when the exercise and occurred and what the general outcome was)
– Detailed Business Process Information of the specific scope reviewed
– Alternative Recommendations (a text description of the recommended solutions)
– Organizational Impact Assessment (how will the organization be affected)
– Interfaces (a brief description of any foreseen technical interfaces into the new solution)
– Security, Authorizations and Roles (how the new solution will impact who does what in the organization, both from a business and a technical point of view)
– Integration Points (what other parts of the business and technical landscape may be affected by the new solution)
– Training Requirements (at a high-level)
– Description of Improvements and Business Benefits (a brief summary)
– Resource Estimates of the main actions to be taken to implement the solution
– Proposed Timing of the Activities
– Issues (any issues within the organization which have been identified and must be addressed as part of the project)
– Key Success Factors (what will it take to make the project successful)
– Project Assumptions (what was assumed to create the recommendations and resource estimates)

Closing thoughts…

The expectation of the client is that the BPX has the knowledge, expertise, ability and confidence to ‘hit the ground running.’ This can be a tall order in politically difficult situations, however by sticking to the basics of analysis and design as discussed above, the BPX has excellent odds of being successful under most circumstances. These tactics have worked for me and for others. Honing one’s skills through repeated exercise is the key for owning the process of quick situation analysis.

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8 Comments

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  1. Guido Brune
    Hello Helen,

    thanks for your insights on BPX.

    Looking back into my consulting history I think I have met a few BPX’s, but then I’m thinking what their passion is about …

    Regards & Thanks & All the best,

    Guido

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  2. Paul Wilson
    Hi Helen,

    Great practical overview of a BPX at work in a time-pressured situation.

    From my experience as a Business Process Expert activities also include facilitating day long workshops with, as is my preference,Microsoft  Visio on a projector, so you can create the process as people are describing it. When people see the process being documented in an easy to understand manner, I find that sessions are far more productive than simply letting people talk which is often everything which is not the process.
    Sometimes in pressured times, you cannot be the personal counselor for people who want to complain that the problem lies in another department. This is where firmness is key. I often find in these environments, that you as an outsider are targeted as a release valve to vent frustrations people have with everyone else. This is why I use the projector-I find it easier to draw people’s attention back to the task at hand, which is mapping processes, and then re-engineering these processes as part of an optimised process solution.

    However Helen, as you said above ” listening attentively to the client (often they drop hints about the pains in their culture; sometimes they may actually be explicit)” raises the question, which comes first, BPX or OCM?

    Let’s face it, you can have the best lean six-sigma processes across the organization but if there are issues in the culture, performance will be hampered. Another one of the biggest issues I face is people do not easily think outside of their silo, as I mention in my reply to Sascha Introduction: SAP Organizational Change Management (OCM)

    Change Management includes all of things which you describe but with an Organizational Development approach. Meaning that a change in processes is provided as part of the solution, whilst recommendations for addressing issues of culture can also be ‘safely’ documented.

    I think this is why we are finding more and more that businesses are looking for a Business Transformation solution, of which Businesses Processes supports a larger recommendation targeted at real business challenges.

    Very often politics and bad communications are the actual problem. I also find that I am asked to present an obvious solution to a problem, however because it comes from an external person, it is politically neutral and thus more likely to be implemented…strange but true.

    With Kindest Regards
    Paul Wilson

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    1. Helen Sunderland Post author
      Thanks, Paul, for your thoughts, which I whole-heartedly agree with.

      It IS a challenge in these types of situations to not get ‘sucked into’ the politics of the organization. 

      Your VISIO idea is worthy of comment!  Any tools that can objectify and, perhaps, quantify subjective situations are of valued use.  I personally haven’t resorted to this type of tool, but you lend me food for thought.

      Thanks for your insights — they are definitely complementary to mine.

      With cheers,
      Helen

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  3. Jiju Mani
    Hello Helen,
    At the moment, BPX does sound like the ultimate TLA (Three Letter Acronym).
    I am curious to understand how SAP could support this role. The way that this role has been described – it seems to be technology neutral. Is there possibilities of having BPXs who favour VISIO + SAP + Java ; with others favouring other technologies (ERWin + OA, etc) – or should BPX be technology neutral always… 
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    1. Andre Truong
      It’d be tough for BPX to be technology neutral. BPX operates in the context of Enterprise SOA, ESA or the Agile and Flexible Enterprise. It’s a natural evolution of the functional/business analysts functions. But ultimately the approach, methodology, tools used to perform their job are different than what they use to do and use. The consequence is that the BPX will rely heavily on Netweaver as the Business Process Platform or Composition Platform to address innovative business processes as opposed to using conventional or traditional means to address business requirements.

      What I’d like to see from SAP is a certification program for functional experts to become BPX. Only then we’ll know who is a BPX or not and what it’d take to become one.

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      1. Helen Sunderland Post author
        Thanks for your comments, Andre.

        I couldn’t agree with you more:  there is no such thing as a technology-neutral BPX.  After all, the goal of the BPX is to be the ‘glue’ between the business and certain technologies, albeit innovative and state-of-the-art. 

        It will be useful to have an education curriculum has currently that will do exactly what you suggested:  separate those who are BPXs from those who aren’t!!

        cheers,
        Helen

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