What is Process ownership?
Process Ownership means that someone – the so-called Process Owner – takes responsibility for properly managing (a) business process(es), with the aim of optimal business process performance; in order to help realising the (higher) goals of the entire organisation even more effectively and efficiently.
Why Process ownership?
As a result of the decades-old Taylorism or “scientific management”, most of our western organisations are still mainly functionally organised – also called vertical organisations.
It is a well-known phenomenon that this often leads to so-called vertical or functional silos, as a result of which the workflows (i.e. business processes) do not – or cannot – run as smoothly and efficiently as desired.
Hence the importance of someone who ensures to monitor, evaluate and improve the cross-functional performance of a business process as a whole.
The role(s) of a Process owner
A process owner must have – and maintain – the focus on effectively improving and controlling a business process. Among other things, by stimulating collaboration across departments or any organisational boundaries.
And this, both during projects – such as e.g. automation and digitization projects or programs – as well as for continuous improvement of processes, i.e. after or between such projects or programs.
Capabilities of a Process owner
A good process owner should have the following skills:
Advocate of process thinking and process-oriented working
All process actors (or process stakeholders in general) need to be reminded of the need to act and think in terms of processes when they seem to forget it. The process owner also regularly emphasizes the benefits of process-oriented work, such as productivity (effectiveness and efficiency), quality, timeliness, etc..
Align process(es) with the strategy and goals of the organisation
Business processes are a means to realise and achieve the goals of the organisation and thus to execute the strategy. Therefore, process goals and objectives must align with the higher goals of the organisation. That is why business processes should be aligned with the strategy.
(help) Focusing on process goal(s) and indicators
The process owner must be able – in consensus with all process stakeholders – to define the process goals and process indicator values. S/he must also be able to motivate these people to achieve these targeted goals and indicators.
Identifying quality criteria for the process output(s)
To guarantee the satisfaction of process customers – and all customers in general (customers of, but also within the organization) – s/he must identify the quality criteria that the process output(s) must meet.
S/he must also clearly communicate these criteria to all process actors with whom s/he will determine which activities of the process can influence these quality criteria and how the activities of the process impact the quality of the output(s).
Communication with colleagues Process owners
The above ‘capability’ can only be properly realised when the process owner has a good understanding of the downward process(es), including the why of the quality criteria.
The mirror image also applies to upstream processes: the process owner benefits from clearly communicating the quality criteria for inputs from upstream processes. And to motivate – and possibly help – his/her colleagues process owner of the upward process(es) to meet the necessary criteria.
Coordination with functional responsible persons
Certainly as long as the organisation is not yet 100% process-driven (but rather functionally organised), the process owner must coordinate with the team or department managers, so that the people working for his/her process are and remain motivated. As explained further in the section “Challenge(s) of the process owner” below, this is not always that easy.
Follow-up of the process performance
The process owner regularly evaluates the smooth running of his/her process(es). Both in terms of productivity and efficiency and in terms of quality and timeliness. Ideally, s/he keeps a “complaints” or “improvement opportunities” list as a basis for the evaluation sessions (see next point). S/he then goes over this list on a regular basis with the process actors to jointly examine which improvements are possible. Ideally by means of root-cause analyses.
Organising and facilitating “continuous (process) improvement” sessions
To apply continuous improvement to business processes, a process owner should organise and facilitate regular (“Kaizen”) sessions where process actors – or more general stakeholders – suggest improvement opportunities. Among others, improvements with regards to:
- Time (throughput times, task execution times, wait times, etc.)
- Non-conformities with regard to the proposed quality criteria
- Performance with regard to the defined process indicators
Ideally in a Socratic way, whereby the process actors themselves gain insight.
Respecting the process governance and stimulating people to do so
When the organisation has the ambition to become process-driven as a whole and aims to increase its process maturity, then a (minimal) process governance is necessary. Process owners should of course be involved in this. They should therefore implement the guidelines specific to this governance (or have them implemented) by, among other things, indicating their importance to ‘their’ process actors. This includes the application of RA(S)CI as well, which is explained in more detail in the last paragraph.
The challenge(s) of the process owner
The main challenge for the process owner is when the organisation is in a transition phase from a purely vertical to a 100% process-driven organisation. So far in most organisations.
Particularly when the authority (or call it “power”) of department heads is such that the process owner has to do the impossible to accomplish his/her tasks or take on responsibilities.
This is a similar difficulty as in “matrix organisations”, where (operational) people don’t know too well what to report to whom, and whose guidelines to follow. Especially when these would not be coherent.
That is why a delicate balance between powers and responsibilities is very important. When it comes to “power relations”, the importance of the support and commitment from senior management is all the more important. The transition from a (rather) vertical to a (rather) horizontal organisation will be very difficult without this top-level commitment.
Process owner: a role or a position?
Role or position?
Unless the organisation were to work completely “horizontal” – but this often still seems like an utopia – process owner is not a full-time position but rather a role that is combined with other roles. In case the process owner would be assigned many processes and would rather have a function of “process manager”, similar to that of a quality manager or an “operational excellence” manager, then Process Owner could be a position. The latter has both
- with Process Owner being a position, then the need for “process governance” is somewhat less, assuming that s/he then uses the same methodologies for all processes.
- such a “manager” may have more “weight in the scale” (even if this is only a perception), which may help overcome some of the challenges mentioned earlier.
as well as drawbacks:
You cannot expect a process owner to know the processes in depth as deeply when s/he has to manage ten(s) of processes.
Which other role(s) can be combined with it?
In some hybrid (vertical/horizontal) organisations, a functional manager is referred to as the process owner. Logically, the manager who has the “largest share” in the process is then chosen. This can work fine, as long as that manager doesn’t “misuse” his/her authority as a manager when s/he exercises the process owner role.
Key Skills of a Process Owner
- Good leadership qualities
- Possessing a far-reaching form of process thinking (almost a passion).
- Interested in – or developing – for process-oriented technologies, such as process mining, RPA (Robotic Process Automation), etc.
- Having empathy for the process actors and other stakeholders.
- Analytical thinking, but still being able to oversee the whole – the process and its broad context. Systems thinking, let say.
- To have mastered the principles of process architecture
- Being able to interpret process diagrams (e.g. in BPMN), including business rules and decision tables, very fluently.
- Ideally, the capability to create process diagrams yourself, or at least update existing ones, as well as adapt business rules.
- Being a very good communicator
- Being customer-driven and having a sense for quality
- Knowing the process content is welcome, but is not an absolute necessity; that knowledge may be acquired over time anyway through managing the process.
Use of RA(S)CI as a ‘tool’ for the process owner
This acronym stands for Responsible, Accountable, Supported, Consulted and Informed. More information about this can be found on this webpage.
The RA(S)CI assignment matrix can be applied at 2 levels: at process level, but also at task level (a task or activity is one of the – sometimes many – steps of the process).
RASCI at Process Level
At this level, the process owner can be the “Responsible” or the “Accountable” of the process, depending on the choice within the organisation. RASCI can certainly help him/her to determine (and remember) who is best supported, consulted and informed at what time. And vice versa: it is also important that s/he makes clear to colleagues and other process owners when s/he wants to be supported, consulted or informed.
RASCI at Job level
It is the process owner who – of course in consultation with the process actors – determines who takes on which of these 5 roles for each task (process step).
- The R(esponsible) is by definition assigned to the person who is supposed to perform the task. This can actually be derived from the (swim) lane where the task is located in a BPMN diagram.
- In a vertical organisation, the A(ccountable) is usually assigned to the functional manager of the executor (ie R). In a – mainly – horizontal or process-driven organisation this can best be the process owner.
- For the other 3 (S, C and I) there is no general rule and this is task dependent. Note that these 3 roles are not always necessary (read ‘not for every task’).
In some architecture applications you can enter and thus determine these 5 RASCI roles for each task.
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