Mastering Your Organisation’s Processes by John O’Connell, Jon Pyke and Roger Whitehead

This book is sub-titled “A Plain Guide to Business Process Management” and is aimed at senior non-technical managers within an organisation who are planning to introduce a system to automate and manage their business processes. Although the subtitle is correct – it is plain-speaking – it is not “plain-thinking”, as the topics covered are challenging and wide-ranging; for example, the management of divergent viewpoints and the consideration of differing organisational models and cultural forces.

The book starts with the assumption that the reader has no experience of process management, nor indeed any experience of formal process thinking. This is admirably remedied by the excellent opening chapter that concentrates on teaching how to think about processes and systems. The examples used are idiosyncratic but instructive, giving useful advice even to experienced practitioners on the appreciation of divergent stakeholder viewpoints.

The authors give useful advice on when to not to start a BPM initiative and the corporate warning signals as to when such an initiative would yield benefits, namely:

  • Every customer enquiry leads to multiple phone calls.
  • Training classes focus on three-letter acronyms.
  • Staff are over-reliant on procedure manuals.
  • Pens and paper are the most prevalent data capture method.
  • More experienced workers in can perform routine tasks much faster than those less experienced.
  • Induction periods last longer than the average tenure.
  • Work is un-evenly distributed.
  • Long queues at the photocopier.
  • Folders and filing cabinets are commonplace.
  • Small, remote offices process policies faster than flagship branches.

Importantly, the authors emphasise the importance of looking outside corporate boundaries and including in the exercise the management of a company’s supply-chain. They nicely summarise both buying and selling activities in using the following sequence of activities:

  • Prelude
  • Contract
  • Fulfilment
  • Payment
  • Aftermath.

The authors then give a useful primer on modelling the supply-chain process, based on the simple buy/sell model that is core of all commercial transactions.

One of the longest chapters of the book in entitled “Organisations, People and Systems” and deals with the most important and, often, the most-overlooked part of business process automation – the people within an organisation. This chapter is the most erudite and thought provoking within the book, drawing on ideas (including quantum mechanics!) that led to modern organisational theory. By describing the organisational structure of a fictional company, the authors pinpoint areas that are most suitable for BPM initiatives. They make the valid point that some tenets of organisational theory are very long-lived (decades or even centuries old) while some technological theories have a shelf-life of months.

Many readers will head straight for the chapter that describes the return on investment provided by BPM implementations. The authors do this by firstly giving a specimen investment action guide (“reduced stock-holdings”), then providing a list of motives (“reduced exposure to risk”) – noting that a motive based entirely on cost savings is not feasible. Lastly, they give a justification method, (“run pilot project”).

The authors also provide useful advice on how to write a BPM business case and importantly, how to integrate this into an overall corporate strategy. They show how a systems’ architecture document dovetails into a BPM business case. They also show how to make change happen by listing the possible levels of intervention, starting at the top-most level (challenging assumptions of the current process) through to the lowest level (which performance measures are used). Intervention at a low level is unlikely to be effective if the higher-level measures are unchallenged. The hierarchical list presented will prove a useful checklist to ensure that BPM programmes are addressing the issues at the appropriate level.

Interestingly, the authors make a strong case for implementing a BPM project using an agile approach, in order to ensure that rapid feedback is supplied to the end-users, who decide when the software is good enough to deploy. This aligns well with Agilier’s “Timeboxed Lean” approach.


This is an excellent and thought-provoking book. There are copious case studies and even a chapter on how to go about choosing a BPM product.

The book is much more than simply how to automate your business processes. It also presents all the surrounding factors that need to be understood before a successful BPM implementation can take place. It is aimed at non-technical managers who are faced with a major technical decision. Even if you are not immediately planning to automate your business processes, this book will help you co-ordinate your thoughts as to the current state of your business.

Further Reading

Paul Harmon’s “Business Process Change” – probably the best book to describe the overlap between business processes and IT systems.

Jim Collins’ books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last”. These books describe the organisational and cultural characteristics of those companies that grow into, and remain, great companies.