Many of the companies that embark on the digitization of their processes and operations through the discipline of BPM are considerably large. And here is a recurring question from their internal managers and leaders: “How do I make things happen in a large company?”, “How do I get people to agree on a process definition?”, “How do I get it into production in the short term?”, and one of the most important: “How do I get people to adopt and use the new digital processes and tools?” This article – influenced by the book Inspired (Marty Cagan, 2008) – proposes 10 concrete tips to be successful in the digitization of processes in large companies.
Before starting with the concrete concepts, it is good to specify two important aspects. The first one is that big companies are very adverse to risk. This is not a criticism, nor a weakness. It is a consequence of the fact that large companies have much more to lose than a small company if they embark on a digitization initiative and it fails. Furthermore, the cultural change is much more complex and painful than in a small company. For these reasons, it is important to know that the large company will put in place different mechanisms, some intentional and others not, to protect everything they have achieved so far, and these instruments can be a brake on digitization initiatives.
The second key point is that large companies usually have matrix management and shared resources. This means that the key roles in defining cross-cutting processes (affecting different areas or departments) can be both different people and shared resources that exchange roles. As an example, QA, Marketing, Administration, will participate in different processes, perhaps playing different roles. This organizational design is also not by chance, or particularly agile or effective, but it is especially effective in reducing costs. The process digitization project must consider these characteristics and the different roles of key people.
With these elements in mind, now let’s focus on the 10 concrete tips to succeed in digitizing processes in large companies.
1- Building relationships, before you need them
Ambassadorship is key to building relationships with key people. But even more important, is to do so before you need them. It will depend on the processes to be automated of course, but you will certainly need support (at least) from the leaders of Information Technology, Human Resources, and Operations. Of course, the support of the top management is key, and even if they do not have direct participation, they must be informed of the advances and also of the problems.
2- Understanding the decision-making mechanism
In addition to identifying and building relationships with key people, it is critical to understand how decisions are made in the company. Besides formal hierarchies, there are often non-formal paths that must be followed for any important decision. For example, there may be a key person, whose consent must always be obtained. In particular, when it comes to the digitization of processes in large companies, where uncertainty is great, these informal consultation paths are often very important. Once these decision paths have been identified, it must be determined which elements are most effective for the desired decisions to be made. Does the decision maker prefer to watch a demo? Talk in a meeting? Read the specification of the processes?
3- Get the ball rolling
Despite having hundreds or thousands of employees, it is sometimes difficult in large companies to get things done. This is because each person has already been assigned many tasks, with Key Performance Indicators associated with those tasks. Therefore, it is difficult for them to take on additional tasks, such as those typically required in a process of transformation and digitization of processes. The team in charge of the automation and digitization of processes must have a pragmatic and action-oriented attitude. You may not be able to wait for Human Resources to draft a formal communication, and you must directly meet with people and tell them about the new process. You may not be able to wait for the QA department to finish all the necessary testing on the process, and you must directly do the testing necessary to release a prototype to show to stakeholders. And so on and so forth. The team must be willing to do whatever is necessary to move the project forward.
4- Apologize instead of permission.
Considering the previous point, and the risk aversion of large companies, it is clear that it will be easier to do and ask for an apology, than to ask permission to do something. If you have an idea of how a digitized process will work best, then make a prototype and show it to the managers. Asking permission to do so could take weeks and require approval from several areas. However, it will be much easier to convince those same areas if they can see the process working and solving some of their current pain. Continuing with this example, of course a low-code BPM tool will be key, allowing the construction of a prototype in a short time and without requiring coding.
5- Build consensus before meetings
When important decisions about the digitization project are to be made in a meeting, it is important to build consensus with the relevant people before the meeting. Or at least, reduce the opposition, showing with sincerity the benefits and results expected from the decision. Once a person takes a position on an issue, it is more difficult to change it, and more difficult if that position was made public in the company. Then, it would be important that before the meeting the consensus has been built, or at least, taking a position less radical, which in the future will make it easier to change it.
6- Choose your battles
Making things happen is key to advancing the digitization of processes… and that will cause conflicts. It is important to choose which of these conflicts are worth, and eventually escalating, and which are not. Digital transformation processes are a long-term bet. They involve many areas, people, processes. And there will be many battles. Really effective people in organizations are those who have many more good relationships than bad ones. If there is a battle to be fought, make sure it is clear that the interests of the company align with your cause. That way you’ll get the support you need. And of course, share the victory with all who supported you.
7- Use your time efficiently
Process modeling meetings between different areas or departments can be endless. The definition of “as-is” models is mixed with “to-be”. In other words, people naturally try to improve the way they work and the processes they participate in. It must be clear at the beginning of the project whether the digitization will also include the re-engineering of the processes (“to-be”), or will only try to improve the processes as they work now (“as-is”) leaving their improvement for a later stage.
There is a lot of literature on this subject, we will not go into detail here on what is better. Just to say that digital technologies provide so many different benefits and features, that in many scenarios it is reasonable to think directly about the desired model (“to-be”).
In any case, the important thing is to guide those meetings towards the desired end, avoiding deviation to details or irrelevant cases.
8- Avoid “chakras”. Share the information.
Communication is always difficult, but it is absolutely vital during the digitization of processes in large companies, where fears and risks are added. It is fundamental to keep all the interested parties informed about the advances, requirements and also problems. This will promote an environment of trust and honesty about the project and its challenges. From there, colleagues will be encouraged to share relevant information as well. This synergy allows us to anticipate potential problems, and make better decisions for the company.
9- Take advantage of the management
A business process generally encompasses several areas within a company. Each of these areas will have a Manager. It is essential to be able to rely on these managers to ensure that each area contributes its knowledge to the modeling of processes, and then to test and give feedback. And finally, so that they adopt and use it. Please consider that a technological change always entails stress in people. In these scenarios it is very important that each manager is involved in the project and above all, that you explicitly ask for their help to achieve the adoption of the processes. In addition, good managers are able to build bridges to other areas of the organization, and obtain the essential support for the success of the digitization initiative in any large organization.
In a digitization project, evangelization must be continuous. You must continually explain the vision and strategy, demonstrate the prototypes of the automated processes and how they solve current pains, seek and above all take into account people’s feedback. This internal sales job is key. Everyone involved, at all levels, must understand why it is essential to follow the path of process digitalization in large companies.
Digitizing processes in large companies is complex. In this article we have seen concrete instruments to maximize the success chance. The technological tools are complemented by the methodologies. But all this is useless without an adequate attitude of the digital process transformation team leader and his team of transformers. They are agents of change, absolutely necessary for the success of this type of initiative.