In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of key principles to help design, realise, and manage processes

  • What an effective process architecture looks like in practice

  • Where to find the balance between strategy and operations

  • How to use architecture to pursue strategic organisational sustainability goals

How process architecture steers change

What does process architecture mean – and how can it drive strategic goals?

When we talk about processes, we mean the different workflows that a business uses to operate day to day. And process design shapes how those processes align with customer requirements, how they’re carried out in which order, who’s involved, and what skills, behaviours, management, and ICT support are needed.

If your business is pursuing a new strategic goal, all these process design elements and more need to be brought into line. For example, if you want to become more sustainable, all your employees need to understand what that means in the context of their daily work.

To achieve that kind of change, you need to map all the processes and decide how they can be redesigned to be more sustainable. Then you need to bridge this gap in a managed and structured way – and that’s where process architecture comes in.

A process architecture helps you to understand how your business processes should best be designed to achieve a stated strategic goal. It gives you the tools to design, realise, and manage those processes. It includes:

  • An overall vision for managing your processes, translated into usable principles for process management.
  • Design principles, governing process management, risks, support requirements, and competencies needed
  • Generic modelling principles, independent of your strategy, which set out how you will record your processes clearly
  • A model, dividing your business and work processes into primary, management, and supporting processes
  • A more detailed description of how your business and work processes look like and are managed

For example, if you want your business to become more sustainable, you might choose the following.

Process design principles:

  • Customers use digital channels to understand the status of their service.
  • Processes involving customer interaction prioritise sustainable relationships and excellent service – while processes where customers are not involved are kept lean, designed to minimise waste.
  • Achieving sustainability goals and managing risks (like security, compliance, and fraud) take precedence over efficiency.
  • Process owners steer on process goals derived from strategic objectives.

Modelling principles:

  • We use five process levels: chain, business, and work processes; process steps; and actions.
  • We define which data object is used or created at the process step level.

The process model can also reflect the strategic sustainability theme – for example by including an innovation process to develop sustainable products or techniques. Risk management aspects can include environmental risks, and processes could include how waste and by-products will be handled.

Guidelines for effective process architecture

Drawing up a good process architecture is not easy. You have to make choices about how you show the outside world what you’re trying to achieve. Besides that it has to reflect the inside world of your organisation. People have to understand how work processes are involved in end-to-end (business) processes and how they connect to each other. That is quite difficult. So to help, we have listed some guidelines about what a good process architecture looks like in practice. 

  • Your principles and models are coherent. It expresses and shows the vision of process management, the process-oriented working and thinking of the organization. 
  • You have clear definitions for business and work processes. Business processes run from customer to customer, with a trigger, and deliver an end result to a third party. Usually, they have an input, a processing stage, and an output.
  • Work processes deliver a meaningful intermediate result, and are described with a detailed model with triggers, results, process steps, actors, possibly data stores and explanation of the process steps. They’re characterised by volume, frequency, knowledge needed, and whether processing is based on cases or events.
  • In the main model, business processes show the names of any work processes they entail.
  • Relationships between work processes are not included in the main model, but shown in separate models.

Creating a process architecture is an iterative process that takes knowledge and skill. You should hone it by seeking feedback from managers and administrators who understand the relevant work processes well. You can also test how the scope and depth of work processes fit the business processes and vice versa.

Ultimately, all the relevant stakeholders will need to support your model – including business and IT managers, and senior leadership. While you can refine your model, the most effective way is to win approval by working alongside those involved from the start, so the goals and parameters are agreed.

Balancing process architecture and operations

It’s important that a process architecture has clear names and explanations for all business and work processes, because this is what creates a clear link between the strategy and the execution.

Setting up work processes in accordance with the design and modelling principles outlined in the architecture gives consistency. It gives employees carrying out the work a guideline that ensures they’re delivering the strategy.

If the first changes in the process are IT improvements, then implementation can easily take several months. But once the first steps are complete, you can use the process results as a basis for continuous improvement. This is the responsibility of the process owner.

To keep this optimisation heading in the right direction, the process owner aims to achieve process goals which are in turn derived from strategic goals. They then manage the process using the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle.

To illustrate this, let’s look at a process control example where the strategy is aiming for organisational sustainability. 

Suppose that the process architecture includes a process called “innovate”, which aims to “research, develop, and implement new functionalities that improve, renew, or supplement existing assets and processes”. You could measure the results by the number of new functionalities, or by those functions’ effectiveness in making your operation more sustainable.

If you want to measure the latter, you could formulate a critical success factor (CSF) that relates to the primary production process. For example, you might measure the reduction in waste from your regular production process. Performance indicators might include:

  • Number of kilograms of waste
  • CO2 emissions
  • Number of kilograms of printed paper

Now carrying out your operation can give you clear, relevant performance data that you can use to measure your progress. You can compare the information to the standards you’ve formulated, and use this to find and implement new process improvements. 

This way, you can work iteratively, so over time your operation becomes steadily more aligned with your sustainability goal – or any strategic goal.

Every process architecture is unique

Change is an essential part of business. And increasingly, organisations are understanding that creating a process architecture is an important step in achieving their strategic goals.

However, no two businesses are exactly alike. There are several ways to develop a process architecture, and the best approach depends on the organisation’s culture, processes, and stakeholders. You might choose a top-down, bottom-up, or middle-out approach.

Deciding which strategy is most appropriate is just one of the ways that creating a good process architecture takes judgement, knowledge, and skill. But even for an experienced architect, the development process of an architecture has its challenges – and we’d love to hear your perspective.

If you’d like to talk about your experiences with process architecture, or if you have any questions for our experts, please get in touch. In this field, there’s always something new to learn.