A Methodology for Improving Business Process Performance through Positive Deviance

A Methodology for Improving Business Process Performance through Positive Deviance

Mukhammad Andri Setiawan (School of ITEE, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia) and Shazia Sadiq (School of ITEE, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/jismd.2013040101
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The importance of process improvement and the role that best practice reference models play in the achievement of process improvement are both well recognized. Best practice reference models are generally created by experts who are external to the organisation. However, best practices can be implicitly derived from the work practices of actual workers within the organisation, especially when there is opportunity for variance within the work, i.e. there may be different approaches to achieve the same process goal. In this paper, the authors propose to support improvement of process performance intrinsically by utilizing the experiences and knowledge of business process users to inform and improve the current practices. The proposed methodology is inspired by the theory of positive deviance. By utilizing a multiple criteria decision making approach and Shannon’s entropy method of information theory in determining useful information from uncertain data within execution log of business process, the authors are able to define the “best” and most suitable previous practices as a recommendation that fits with the current competence/experience levels of individuals. The authors demonstrate that the proposed method is capable to generate meaningful recommendations from large data sets and effectively facilitating learning within organisation leading to process performance improvement.
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Process improvement that lead to reduced costs or increased revenues continues to be named as number one priority for organisations (Gartner, 2009). Even though process improvement is typically solicited through expert advice and best practice reference models, a valuable and often overlooked source of best practice is the experiences and knowledge of individuals who perform various activities within the business process, and can be considered domain experts in a particular aspect of the overall operations. These experiences constitute the corporate skill base and should be considered a valuable information resource for organisational learning and process improvement.

A traditional Business Process Management System (BPMS) is not generally capable to select best practice precedents since all instances follow the same process model, and thus there is hardly any variance that can reflect individual or unique approaches. However, complementary work can be found within the Business Process Management (BPM) research community that long recognized the need to provide flexible business (Aalst, 1999; Reichert, Rinderle, & Dadam, 2003; Sadiq, Sadiq, & Orlowska, 2005). It is expected that, by having a flexible business process; an organisation can rapidly adjust their business process to suit the changes in the environment and thereby capitalize on opportunities and/or save on costs. This situation creates business process variants (Lu & Sadiq, 2006), that is, the same process may have different approaches to achieve the same goals. Each variant has the same goal but by having different approaches, it may have different time needed, different task set and/or sequence and different cost, and consequently a different level of perceived success. The variants have embedded in them, the creativity and individualism of the knowledge worker, but this knowledge is generally only tacitly available.

Thus, having a flexible process is not always a solution to achieve the most efficient practice for the organisation. In fact, the more flexible the system, the more an (arguably) inexperienced user may struggle to find the best approach to address a particular case. These individuals are required to have deep knowledge of the process they are working on if they are to be successful (Schonenberg, Weber, Dongen, & Aalst, 2008). In such cases knowledge dissemination of best practices from reference models (Hutchinson & Huberman, 1993; Schonenberg et al., 2008) (Ramesh & Jarke, 2001) becomes critically important. We stipulate that knowledge of best practice from peers or expert individuals within the organisation can also have significant impact on the productivity and performance of individual (inexperienced) users (Setiawan, Sadiq, & Kirkman, 2011), provided users are able to use the knowledge to help them learn and acquire new perspectives or by forming modified or new practices.

Despite the vantage appeal of above approaches, identification and dissemination of such forms of knowledge is highly challenging. The first challenge in this regard is the identification of the so-called best past practices of process variants from the potentially large number of instance executions. This identification is fundamentally dependent on the criteria that define best. These criteria are generally many and relate to different aspects of the process. These could include criteria such as cost (e.g. dollar value of a shipment process); time (e.g. time taken for an approval process); popularity (e.g. the frequency of execution of a particular sequence of field tests in a complaints response process) and so on.

Secondly, a process may include a number of activities where not all of them have the same level of influence on the overall process performance. Identifying what activities in the process generate the greatest impact is a significant challenge as there is little knowledge on how to define relative importance of activities. At the same time, this identification is critical to process users as it allows them to direct focus and attention where it matters.

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