Project management books abound, but you will not find one that addresses how to project manage a business process improvement (BPI) project. This article focuses on closing that gap.
In one sense, a BPI project is the same as any other project – you create a project plan to help keep you on track just as you always do to guarantee a successful implementation of a new or improved business process. The content though is different and it helps to define the project management phases around the 10 steps to BPI. The 10 steps, outlined here, create the bulk of the work breakdown structure (WBS) activities.
- Create the process inventory: identifying and prioritizing the process list
- Establish the process foundation: identifying the scope and process boundaries
- Draw the process map: flowcharting and documenting the business process
- Estimate process time and cost: estimating the process and cycle times, and calculating the process costs
- Validate the process map and time estimates: gaining buy-in to the process activities and the time required for each step
- Apply improvement techniques: improving the business process by using a series of techniques like eliminating bureaucracy
- Create internal controls, tools, and metrics: error-proofing the process by identifying where a mistake can occur and how to avoid it, creating tools to help automate a step in the process and simplify an employee’s job, and developing metrics so that you understand if the business process delivers what customers want from the process
- Test and rework: creating the test plan to validate that the process and tools work as expected and adapting them as required
- Implement change: generating an impact analysis to highlight the changes that have to occur; a communication plan to let the appropriate customers, clients, and employees become aware of the change; and a training plan to make sure that employees understand the new process
- Develop continuous improvement plan: deciding how often to revisit customer needs, internal controls, metrics, or other foundational information
When creating a project plan, three phases that work well for a BPI project includes:
- The Design phase: This phase focuses on the definition and improvement of the business process and it includes steps 1 through 6 and part of step 7.
- The Development phase: In this phase, the main focus is on creating the tools (part of step 7) and conducting the testing on the process and tools (step 8). In this part of the project plan, list any tools identified during the design phase and estimate how long you think it will take to create them. If a report, for example, is identified as an activity, you have to include sub tasks like defining the report specifications, gaining agreement on the report design, and developing the report. While the design phase remains somewhat static from project to project, the development phase varies widely and estimating the time becomes more difficult because you do not know ahead of time what tools the project team may identify during the first phase.
- The Implementation phase: This phase includes rolling out the new process to the organization (step 9), and identifying how to accomplish continuous improvement (step 10).
Like with any other project plan, you can use the concept of tracks within each of the phases to further organize the work. The implementation phase, for example, could include a change management track that lists the changes that have to occur in order for the new process to work; a communication track that outlines the communication strategy you will use, to let the appropriate employees know about the process changes; and a training track that defines how to train affected employees.
In addition to including the 10 steps in the project plan, also include other normal project tasks like team formation, budget definition, sponsor or management communication, and creating an executive summary.
Managing a BPI project requires you to be more active than a conventional project manager on a large project. In a normal project, the project manager’s main responsibility is to orchestrate the work. In BPI, the project manager:
- Is also the leader, or facilitator, of the work and you are the person who leads the project team through each of the 10 steps.
- Owns responsibility for the administrative tasks like translating the hand-drawn process map into a tool such as Microsoft Visio and creating the process documentation.
- Manages the team dynamics, anticipates problems, and diffuses team member concerns when a proposed process change may impact their job.
You can use project software, like Microsoft Office Project, to create the project plan, or for simple BPI efforts, you can simply use a spreadsheet. Include the same information in the spreadsheet that you would include in a software application, including the task name, duration, start/finish dates, predecessors, and resource names. Of course one downside to using a spreadsheet is that you have to calculate the duration for each task and its associated start/finish dates. Another downside is the inability to use a Gantt chart to show planned vs. actual timelines as the project progresses, and the Gantt chart is a good tool to use, to show progress in a graphical way. However, for simple BPI projects, a spreadsheet works fine.
The best part about creating a project plan for a BPI project is that you can use the framework over and over again because of the similarity of BPI projects. While you will have to adjust the time estimates depending on the complexity of the business process chosen, the activities and tasks remain the same.
Copyright 2012 Susan Page