Practical Process: What Should a Process Owner Know?

The Process Owner role is a lynchpin in effective process-based management.

It symbolizes and operationalizes the key concept of cross-functional management of end-to-end processes. It creates a ‘horizontal’ management view that compensates for the ‘verticality’ of traditional management that follows the organization chart. It is also the most novel, and therefore the most challenging, aspect of the introduction of process-based management.

To be successful, and thereby also help others to be successful, a Process Owner must have deep knowledge about the objectives, operation, potentials, and challenges of their process.

In this column I provide an insight into what that might look like.

Process Owner role defined

The idea of cross-functional value (i.e., products, services, and experiences) creation, accumulation, and delivery is fundamental. Value is produced through collaboration across the organization.

A business process is a collection of activities that transforms one or more inputs into one or more outputs. Many resources are involved in the management and execution of a process—materials, people, systems, infrastructure, information, technology, facilities, policies, rules, regulations—and these must also be seen to be integral to the process.

Business processes are the only way any organization can deliver value to customers and other external stakeholders. By themselves, separate functional areas of an organization—think of boxes on the organization chart—cannot deliver value to external parties.

The further conclusion we must draw from this is that every organization executes its strategic intent via its business processes.

Who manages across the organization? The organization chart says little of a practical nature about who manages cross-functional value development and delivery. This absence is filled, in part, by the Process Owner role.

I define the role as follows:

The Process Owner is accountable for responding when process performance is outside the accepted range or trending in that direction, when a change of process KPI (PKPI) or target is appropriate, or an idea should be evaluated.

I see the Process Owner role as one of strong influence, but no authority, where the key tasks are to monitor process performance and ideas for change and bring problems and opportunities to the attention of the group of functional managers executing the process. In support of this, there is an escalation path to a whole-of-organization Process Council.

Selecting a Process Owner

In theory, anyone could be the Process Owner for any process; detailed subject matter expertise is not a prerequisite. However, in practice, the role is usually filled by one of the functional managers involved in the execution of a subprocess. You don’t need subject matter expertise…but it’s easier and more credible if you have at least some specialist knowledge.

The worst Process Owner appointment to make is someone who doesn’t believe in the process idea and the role and doesn’t want to do it. This is closely followed by someone who believes but is too far down the organization chart to be effective.

The best Process Owner appointments are curious, fascinated by possibilities to do something different, keen to find and solve problems, and comfortable working in teams to defeat difficult challenges. They are keen to actively develop deep knowledge of the process operation, performance, opportunities, and challenges.

The Process Management Record

I call that collection of deep knowledge the Process Management Record. An overview is presented in Figure 1 and the key components are discussed below.

I maintain this information in a spreadsheet for the convenience of using tabs…there are many other options. The crucial point is that this is the body of knowledge with which a Process Owner should be familiar.

What-Should-Process-Owner-Know_fig1
Figure 1: Process Management Record

Figure 2 shows overview data, the sort of information required to give a quick summary of the process and its current circumstances. This may seem trivial but to know this much requires deep knowledge—this is the tip of an information iceberg.

What-Should-Process-Owner-Know_fig2
Figure 2: Process Overview

It’s Stakeholder Management 101 in Figure 3 but this is where we must start. Why does this process exist and who cares? A useful way to establish that is to identify who gets something from the process and gives something to it.

We can establish the objectives for each stakeholder, but we need a single set of objectives for the process as shown in the last column.

If it’s not possible to get consensus about the process objectives, then you are probably dealing with two processes/variants.

What-Should-Process-Owner-Know_fig3
Figure 3: Process Stakeholder Matrix

In Figure 4 we start to expose the operational details with the all-important process KPIs and their targets. Not just PKPIs and targets; that’s not enough to create a working performance management system. Where is the data coming from (Measurement Method), and not just “survey” who, how, when etc. in enough detail to make it happen? Also, we need a thorough impact analysis to establish the cost-benefit of closing the gap and the cost of not doing so.

What-Should-Process-Owner-Know_fig4
Figure 4: Process KPIs & Targets

All actions taken to impact process performance are summarized as shown in Figure 5. Only a few are shown in this example but, of course, there could be many change actions in play.

What-Should-Process-Owner-Know_fig5
Figure 5: Process Change Actions

Actions are keyed to the impacted PKPI(s) Some will be small activities, and some will be large projects; links can be added to further details such a project charter.

Again, this is a summary of much deeper knowledge about the change being made: what is being done, when it will happen, the intended consequences of the change, and any other related information.

Note that this is not a list of the things a Process Owner is meant to do, although they may appear in the “Who” column for some actions.

Deep knowledge enables excellence

For a Process Owner to be successful, they must have deep knowledge about their process. That knowledge needs to be accurate and current and accessible to all stakeholders.

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Roger Tregear

Roger Tregear

As the Principal Advisor with TregearBPM (www.tregearbpm.com), Roger Tregear delivers BPM courses and consulting assignments around the world. Roger spends his working life talking, consulting, thinking, and writing about analysis, improvement, innovation, and management of business processes. His work with clients is in organizational performance improvement and problem solving based on BPM capability development, and business process, analysis, improvement, and management. He helps small and large organizations understand the potential, and realize the practical benefits, of process-based management. Roger is the author of the book Reimagining Management. Contact Roger on +61 (0)419 220 280 or at roger@tregearbpm.com.
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