Saturday, March 19, 2016

Towards human centered process design

We spent a considerable part of our energy and life-time at work. That makes it painful to see the typical statistics on employee engagement. Some organizations even talk about a worldwide employee engagement crisis . And I think change is needed. As BPM/Lean consultants I think we should research this, and perhaps also discover that we are part of the problem.

A simple question you might want to ask yourself: when you design processes, and would need to pick the key 2 or 3 goals you or the organization wants to reach, which ones would win from the following list:
- Cost reduction
- Value for the customer
- Employee motivation
- Quality improvemen
- Improved Customer Experience
- Efficiency
- Employee engagement
- Agility
- Reach strategy alignment
- Increase Employee happiness
- Reduced cycle time

And? I bet that most people picked cost, efficiency, cycletime, perhaps quality, and perhaps customer experience. The reasons? I don't know, but my assumption is that we never really developed the vocabulary and methods on designing processes for employees. And that's maybe also because our BPM-assignments never included employee experience. Sure, as any Lean expert will tell you: the employees ARE the process, so you need to involve them, empower them and support them to create a improvement culture. But that's just one part of employee engagement.

We live in a time where using design thinking, human centered design we learn more and more how to engage people with products and services. We learn about behavioral economics to influence behavior. And we research how to help people thrive with findings from positive psychology.
And how much of these methods and findings have entered the field of BPM? Lean? My assumption, based on keeping on track on most literature and websites is: surprisingly little.

My key question is this: is it possible, and if yes, in what way can we, process designers, help create working contexts that are desirable for employees, that engage, perhaps motivate or even increase happiness?

I think this question is very relevant. Mainly because I think it is a waste of precious lifetime to work in disengaging work contexts. It kills spirit and creates waves of negativity in our societies. And of course there are business stakes as well: low retention, not to speak of the consequences on customer experience and thus, profit.

That's why I have decided to start a research project into 'Human centered process design', focused on finding ways to help design processes and work environments that help people thrive. Tips and help very welcome! I assume (as always standing on the shoulders of giants) that must be current and earlier researchers on this question. My hope: to contribute to BPM & Lean with new vocabulary, inspiration and methods to help our world forward.


theo said...

Hi Roeland,

Interesting research field, in a short survey on the subject I read that The Engagement Crisis is also significant under IT professionals.(Flow out of business towards the clouds)

If the employees ARE the process, what is cause that we forget it during our design thinking process. I think that out of 100 business managers max 2 % see a correlation between employee happiness and BPM or design thinking and max a o,5 % implements it.


Bas said...

Very interesting, Roeland.

It reminds me of story I heard at a client recently. An old application was no longer supported by the vendor and had to be replaced because the old system would not be compliant with new legislation.

My contact, a business analyst, told me about his difficulties with getting the users of this system to think about the work they were doing in conceptual terms. They could only describe their work in system-terms: we fill in this form, click here, click here, etc. When asked for a description of their work, they sent the application's user manual.

Not surprisingly, my contact expected quite some resistance to the new system, especially from the 'super users' who derived social standing from their knowledge of the old system.

I think we all had experiences like these. But it got me thinking on how to prevent these situations in the first place. I believe it is a waste of human potential when people are trained only to push buttons. Those narrow skills tied to a specific application turn out to have little value in the wider job market (and hence the resistance from the super users).

Maybe we could design more inherently meaningful processes, to reduce the reliance on the system for providing meaning.

Maybe we should value user interfaces more, keep them consistent between upgraded systems, and standardize them across organizations to promote the transferability of skills.