Blog

How Knowledge Management Can Improve Your Business Process

In today’s rapidly advancing global market, effective Business Process Management (BPM) is essential for organizations as they navigate constant change and work to preserve their competitive advantages and evolve as an organization to meet new internal requirements and constraints. 

At EK we recognize that knowledge and people are critical resources in any business process and that process-related information should be captured, managed, and enhanced systematically in order to best contribute to the improvement and continuous development of any organization. When organizations fail to capture process-related knowledge or consider the perspective of end-users, the probability for process deferment is increased. 

Recently, I visited a client, to facilitate a Business Process Management (BPM) and Knowledge Management (KM) Workshop designed to:

  • Teach participants about the foundations of BPM and KM;
  • Showcase the alignment of KM and BPM; and
  • Provide proven practices and approaches for how to use KM to reengineer business processes so that they are better representative of end-users and aligned with the organization’s strategic goals.

In the remainder of this blog, I will share three key considerations we challenged the organization to remember as they embark on reengineering a significant portion of their business processes. 

Knowledge Management: Incorporating People and Culture

Gartner defines Business Process Management (BPM) as: “a discipline that improves enterprise performance by driving operational excellence and business agility.” While this is a fine definition, it lacks acknowledgement of an organization’s greatest resource – their people. Too often I have found that organizations create and implement business processes that suffer because:

  • There are too many assumptions about users;
  • The complexity is unnecessarily excessive, typically as a result of strict governance and/or rigid hierarchy; 
  • There is no vision or “why” for the process; and 
  • There are insufficient communications and training for end-users and other stakeholders. 

To avoid process deferment and instead address the hiccups called out above, process engineers should leverage a “KM Mindset.” At EK, we define Knowledge Management as the people, processes, content, culture, and enabling technologies necessary to capture, manage, share, and find an organization’s knowledge. So when I say “KM Mindset” I am referring to a thought process that considers people, processes, content, culture, and technology equally. During our time on-site with the client, we encountered a great example of this type of thought process, seen below: 

At the organization, an individual created a business process for streamlining content creation. One of the tasks within his business process was to have content creators manually enter pertinent metadata. Utilizing a “KM Mindset”, the individual realized that a portion of the organization’s content creators struggled with determining the correct metadata and/or simply viewed applying metadata as a time-intensive “extra step.” Therefore, instead of requiring content creators to apply metadata within the document properties, he designed the process to leverage a prepared content type that contained a table with quick parts to make reporting metadata seem as natural as typingthe  content. 

Thus by leveraging a “KM Mindset”, this individual’s solution did not only aimed to deliver “operational excellence and business agility.” Rather, it thoughtfully considered and incorporated the unique aspects of the organization’s people (current skill sets/preferences), culture (time-pressed organization), content (content types that enable efficiency), and technology (leverage what the organization already had) to generate a process that would actually help to streamline the content creation process in a manner that was easy for end-users. 

Design Thinking: Remembering the End-User

At EK we define Design Thinking as a human-centered approach to problem solving that brings together the needs of people, technology, and business to solve complex problems with innovative solutions. The approach consists of five phases: Empathize, Defne, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Each phase challenges designers to think beyond themselves in order to best assure they are working towards a solution that is representative of the end-user’s goals, motivations, frustrations, and needs. Below is a graphic we use to help our clients better understand how to leverage the Design Thinking process when creating business processes. It is important to note that each phase is accompanied with a question or consideration, as the intention is not to pigeon hole the business process designer, rather help effectively apply the design thinking method during the Design Phase of BPM. 

Design Thinking Framework to utilize when creating a business process

While at the client site we participated in a business process that did not prioritize the end-user – the process for obtaining a visitor’s badge. While we understood the need to prioritize security over ease due to the sensitive nature of the organization’s work, the process became arduous as we visited multiple offices with varying instruction and conflicting guidelines. This frustrated us and our sponsor, a KM professional, leading us to jokingly ask: “Did the engineers ever prototype or test this process from the perspective of the end-user?” Ultimately successful in our process, both ourselves and the client felt that more a streamlined process could be implemented to save both groups valuable time in the future.

Therefore by taking a design thinking approach while also channeling a “KM Mindset”, business process engineers can improve the likelihood of delivering processes that easily translate to increased efficiency and optimization, as a direct result of end-user awareness and alignment. 

Agile Methodologies: Utilizing Prioritization to Maintain Focus

“But how do you not boil the ocean?” Our clients frequently ask us this question, especially when we challenge them to adopt a “KM Mindset” and take a Design Thinking approach to creating their business processes. This is because when individuals begin to create personas and draft user-stories, a large amount of new ideas and unanswered questions typically surface, which can be easily overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage our clients to utilize a variety of agile prioritization methods to help them extract (or validate their hypothesized) core challenges or pain-points that they will address in their new or re-engineered business process. 

While there are various methods and techniques for prioritizing, I have included a few of my favorites below as well as insights on how to best use them: 

  • MoSCoW Method: A tried and true prioritization method that can help individuals think through what is critical to the business process versus what can be considered for future optimization. 
    • Must Have: Critical to the solution / end-user(s). If not included, the business process is considered a failure.
    • Should Have: Important, but not crucial for the business process. Considered top “nice-to-haves.”
    • Could Have: Desirable, but not necessary for the business process. Considered low “nice-to-haves.”
    • Won’t: Least critical or perhaps  unaligned with the business process’ goals and overarching strategy.
  • Dot Voting: A simple, hands-on prioritization method that allows a group of individuals to quickly visualize what the group considers to be top priorities via the placement of dots. Sometimes, I take this method a step further by requiring certain members of a group to think from the perspective of a specific persona or user-group. This helps to ensure the team does not revert and prioritize based on their own wants, needs, or frustrations. 

Conclusion

Whether your organization is in the process of reengineering existing processes to meet new demands and constraints or setting forth to bring uniformity to your organization via processes,  we believe the alignment of KM and BPM is necessary in order for any organization to be able to adapt faster and more accurately in the face of changing requirements and framework conditions. Interested in our BPM & KM Workshop? Reach out for more information. 

EK Team EK Team A services firm that integrates Knowledge Management, Information Management, Information Technology, and Agile Approaches to deliver comprehensive solutions. Our mission is to form true partnerships with our clients, listening and collaborating to create tailored, practical, and results-oriented solutions that enable them to thrive and adapt to changing needs. More from EK Team »