The soft shoe shuffle

A blank look from the Head of Finance as I ask – “We’ll need to have some representation from the business to sign off the As Is, Interim State and To Be process maps”. 
“OK, will that show how we can use this new system that you change guys keep talking about?” he retorts with a grin. 
Me, trying to remaining resolutely positive, “kind of……. They are meant to be primarily conceptual and will of course be iterative”.
Imagine the people that have been in this situation in meeting rooms all over the country. Banks, government departments, retailers have all created a cottage industry in documentation to represent improvements to an operation. Process maps are only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of man hour’s effort and reams of paper utilised to create a variety of requirements, communication, testing and other documents. 
On the face of it, this is understandable. Technology and Change teams are rightly keen to ensure that people (read “the business”) understand how their future operation will work and have their chance to influence its design.  However well intentioned, these practices often result in a wedge between “the users” – people who will benefit from the new system or process and those who are designing it – the business analysts, developers, architects and process consultants. This wedge drives increased cost but also time, inflexibility and uncertainty. More importantly it is also becoming increasingly unnecessary…

Make Apps, Not Maps

Innovative organisations are blurring the distinction between designer and user, utilising new wave software to allow operational team members to design applications themselves, leaving developers and other technical roles to coach, provide support and tweak. Organisations that take the plunge and empower their users to be designers are starting to see dramatic improvements in delivery speed, user engagements and support costs. While implementation strategies vary, there are some consistent themes that occur again and again in success stories. 
Don’t leave the DIY for the weekend – A new breed of software supplied by process mapping and management (BPM) vendors enables operational users to easily design and create process applications.  This provides capability for a user to design how their business process will run across a variety of devices (tablet, mobile, pc) all from a graphical interface. Users can be easily trained to design, test and utilise these applications with minimum technical support. This capability is reinforced by a new generation of workers becoming increasingly comfortable with the basics of software development and are happy to take action to ensure their expectation of configurability and constant upgrades match what they are used to outside of an office environment. 
Small is beautiful – Of course, users’ designing their own software isn’t suitable for every business situation (yet) but it is great for rapidly plugging operational gaps. Starting small allows the new breed of users/designers to cut their teeth on small, easily testable processes before looking for meatier areas of the business.
Fail fast, learn quickly – Once users are empowered to design a system that they see as being fit for purpose (with developers being on hand to provide training and advice) they are encouraged to use it. Right away. If improvements are required – users will spot them and be able to make the changes themselves. 
Leave the map at home – A focus on the working software and business processes (the output) rather than documentation (just the inputs). Encouraging ways of working where real consideration is given to what needs to be documented combined to a healthy level of internal challenge are extremely useful.
Ultimately, while all of the above practices are empowering for users, they are all of little use without some way to implement within an organisation. Appropriate (although light touch) delivery and governance models are vital to ensure control, stability and appropriate collaboration. They ensure that users get both the support and freedom they need to design their own operation.   
So in conclusion, while I’m delighted that more and more organisations have the foresight and boldness to deliver change in a different way, I hope that In the not too distant future, everyone – not just the lucky few – will be creating apps not maps.