I have been in “learning mode” in recent months. Over the course of numerous meetings and strategy sessions, I have spoken with team leaders and executives across my company to secure approvals and obtain executive buy-in. Those were important steps in moving forward with implementing our BPM and workflow solution. Those conversations have enlightened me about critical changes that need to take place in order to make our company more efficient— and I feel validated that many of these issues can be solved by deploying workflows and applying best practices.

An important takeaway from all of this work has been to help me build requirements for the kind of solution we need. At our size (we are currently at 4,400 employees, but growing monthly), with our geographic distribution (we have offices in five countries, and do business through partners in 16 different countries), and based on our organizational structure, I realize that we have to be specific in the solution we choose. It needs to address issues that are particular to our company.

Now, I realize that every group in the company thinks its concerns and priorities are special. Some can trot out pages of requirements, while others think along the lines of, “Just give me something to speed up the approval process.” Irrespective of what they need, I was struck by how well they could all articulate their needs. Clearly, some things have been missing and a solution is sorely needed.

My exploratory phase was based on a parallel line of questioning to business owners within my company. I needed specific information such as: 1) What process elements do you need to be more successful in your job right now, and 2) If technology could change how you do your job, what would that technology look like? The answers were surprisingly consistent across different groups in the organization, and everyone I talked to was focused on outcomes. It was obvious that my colleagues are wanting to see improvements occur as soon as possible, but they are also willing to be patient while they build a foundation that delivers success longer-term.

As a result of feedback from colleagues, I will be looking at a solution based on process automation and workflow, but one that also addresses some of the more intricate elements of “getting stuff done.” I expected to review piles of whitepapers and watch endless hours of product pitches before arriving at even a few potential solutions. I was surprised, however, to learn that most BPM and workflow solutions do only a limited number of things. They say they do them really well —but they don’t appear to have a lot of flexibility in their capabilities. So, I have a couple sales calls lined up with interesting vendors, and these are the things I am going to press them on. I know that once I find a solution that can address those specific things I will have what my organization wants and will get on board with:

A tool for businesspeople
We have a fantastic group of developers in our IT organization, and I am impressed with the work they do. But they are busy, their request queue is far too long, and many of the items on their list require way too much communication with the business owners. I would rather have our IT team focused on addressing business-critical issues anyway, rather than making changes, for example, to drop-down menus on internal forms.

My experience tells me that if we, as business owners, could change and update our forms and processes ourselves, our company could save a significant amount of time (and money!). In fact, it seems that as processes get further away from users, the quality and capabilities of the solution are often less-than-exemplary. We want to avoid outdated hierarchies of responsibility. The reality is that our business should not have to wait for IT to fix our processes. For one thing, this creates a huge game of organizational “telephone” where requirements are created and a team organized. Unfortunately by the time the developers start working on a solution, the original needs are often misunderstood. Even if requirements are met to the letter, there’s a nuance to knowing what you want, and the business owners are the ones best equipped to spell that out.

We are seeking a users’ tool so that we can demonstrate greater time-to-value from our processes and business operations.

The ability to see beyond a “to do” list
Especially in today’s fast-paced business environment, time is a critical element to an organization’s processes. The ability to anticipate activities and deliverables provides a unique and competitive advantage. This means changing from a “wait and see” environment to one where predicted outcomes can result in better planning and more realistic expectations.

The best way to make educated predictions as to what will become of our resources, processes and activities is through intelligence derived from our very own processes. Probably the best intellectual property in our organization is contained within the data and decisions that form the basis for the business processes we operate very day. Analysis of that data can help keep projects moving forward, as well as to suggest when adjustments need to be made due to timelines and milestones not being met. A tool that delivers this will help us be more nimble and adaptable.

Timeframes to keep the organization on-task
Our business goals change from quarter to quarter, and we need to complete projects and deliver results based on these timeframes. I have been surprised to learn that many business process tools emphasize the process as if it existed in a vacuum. Those of us on the front lines know all too well that the results of these processes are what allow us to be successful— or show that we have failed.

The processes we operate need time-based goals and milestones that can be tracked and managed. Irrespective of how long something takes our feeling is, that at some point, deadlines, timelines and accomplishments rule the day (more than the processes themselves.) The work that people do needs to be understood in terms of how long it will take; a timeframe can be used to set expectations. Just ask anyone who’s had to deliver something by the end of the quarter and they’ll gladly validate the fact that, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Time is money.”

I have planned calls this week with different vendors. I expect to get the hard sell from at least one of them, and that’s alright. They have a product to sell, and I have a need. But I will be looking for a vendor who will listen to my needs, seek to understand my situation, and help me identify a solution that enables me to create a solid foundation on which I can grow my business.