Sunday, January 07, 2007

BPM and Root Cause Analysis

Those of you familiar with root cause analysis – one the many tools in the Six Sigma arsenal – know about “4Ms and an E.” The four Ms, Manpower, Machine, Methods and Metrics, and the E – Environment – represent the “bones” on the “fish” when using the principal tool of root cause analysis, the “fishbone” or Ishikawa diagram.

A Traditional Fishbone or Ishikawa Diagram Used for Root Cause Analysis

Rather than be overwhelmed by the many possible sources of error, slowness, cost overruns or other problems in a process, root cause analysis helps us to home in on specific areas of concern by placing possible problems into manageable categories. Each major “bone” of the fish can then be further broken down into more specific categories until, at last, the root cause(s) of a particular problem are discovered.

The design of Perr&Knight’s BPM process context fits nicely into this model, as each of the process influences (see my post from November 7, 2006, The Big Picture for more information) map perfectly with the major bones of the “fish”:

Methods maps to Workflow
Machine maps to Systems
Metrics maps to Metrics
Manpower maps to Personnel
Environment maps to Environment

The last “bone” of the fish in the BPM model, Governance, is simply an additional source to be analyzed.

The Perr&Knight BPM Process Context Mapped to a Root Cause Diagram

To give you an idea of the power of this type of analysis, we can deal with each influence in turn:

  • Workflow issues can be a result of too many handoffs, too much rework, redundancy, excessive delays or other non-value-adding activities.
  • Systems may be outdated, non-user-friendly or not integrated.
  • Metrics may be absent entirely, conflicting, misaligned or not properly communicated.
  • Governance (i.e., policies) might be arbitrary, constraining, inflexible or archaic.
  • Personnel might suffer from a lack of proper hiring techniques, training or compensation programs.
  • Environment might impede process effectiveness and efficiency due to economic factors, market factors, workspace (physical facilities) or the organizational structure.

Naturally, these do not represent an exhaustive list of possible process issues when examining a process. However, by organizing the analysis in this manner, it’s evident that getting to the bottom of the issues most impacting a process is far more structured, and the probability of uncovering the root causes far greater.


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