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Blogs > MWD Advisors

Combine tools with workshops to drive process discovery
Neil Ward-Dutton By: Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director, MWD Advisors
Published: 1st June 2012
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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Unfortunately I can’t attend the Process Mining Camp in Eindhoven next Tuesday, but if I did go, here’s one thing I’d love to explore with the participants: how do they advocate using the technology in the context of a broader initiative?

Some of the commentary I’ve seen seems to suggest that process mining / automated process discovery tools can replace the sometimes vexing and exhausting business of running process discovery workshops.

I really hope that nobody tries this in practice, even though it might be tempting. After all, the technology is getting better and better – and tools like Disco now present pretty easy-to-use interfaces wrapped around sophisticated drill-down analytical capabilities. Someone with reasonable logical/analytical skills and a modicum of training can take the output of a set of prepared system logs, and quickly start to understand parts of how work *actually* flows around an organisation; who’s doing the work; and which areas of work processes or teams are causing performance challenges.

There are two reasons why – even though it might be tempting – it would be really risky to sideline tiring, frustrating, time-consuming process discovery workshops in favour of sitting down in front of a cosy keyboard.

The first reason is that no matter how good such a tool is, it can only help you analyse the shadows that real-world business processes cast onto automated systems as people use systems to complete tasks. They can’t tell you anything about conversations between Bob and Jo over the cubicle partition that help deal with an exception, for example.

But I think the second reason is at least important, and it’s this: the value of process discovery workshops is only partly about process discovery! In actuality, when BPM projects work really well, it’s often because early on in these projects groups of front-line workers, technologists, managers and others sit down together to try and thrash out what exactly the ‘big picture’ of their work looks like. The tangible outcome is hopefully an agreed view of how work gets done, which bits are important and why; but the intangible outcome is that these people have all started to buy into the process of change, and are primed to act as ‘change champions’ as the project proceeds.

My take is that tools can be a major accelerator for process discovery work, because they can provide objective evidence about elements of the work and how it’s performed; this creates a shortcut through some of the back-and-forth that invariably occurs as people try and express themselves in the right way and share information at the right level of detail. But tools and workshops complement each other and should be used together.

Tools must not be a replacement for grumpy arguments, too much bad coffee, not enough ventilation and marker-stained fingers!

Do you agree? Are there situations where you think tools might be especially useful, or alternatively a bad fit? I’d love to hear what you think!

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