From the trenches – process variants

In previous blog, you have read how to identify value streams or macro business processes for organisations which never did it before – say mapping from scratch. For process variants, I referred to  Lind and Goldkuhl’s “business process division matrix”, quite similar to the “product-market combination matrix”.

In this blog, you will read how I applied this business process division matrix in a rather complex environment, leading to more than 14 variants for one and the same process: “asset maintenance” for facilities.

Building maintenance.1

The organisation and its context

The organisation is one of Flanders’ largest cities, where many buildings are managed for very different purposes: from administrative (office) buildings, through school and university buildings, buildings for logistic and technical activities, to social housing for less well-off citizens.

Need for new information systems

Because the asset maintenance software application they were using for many years would not longer be supported by the supplier, they had to look for an alternative information system. Moreover, they recently decided to acquire new business software for financial and purchase management, which needed to be integrated with this – to acquire – asset management software.

Hence, a good understanding of their maintenance processes – which never had been mapped in the past -, and how those related to their purchase and finance processes was a must to make sure that they would choose the most appropriate software to their needs. And the different process variants were very important to determine which types of workflow needed to be supported by the software.

Complex environment

It was obvious that thinking in terms of products and markets – like you may do for a company – would not help to identify the many process variants in a local governmental organisation.

The complexity lay not only in the variety of buildings and maintenance activities for those buildings. Also the large diversity of stakeholders – what Lind and Goldkuhl call Actors or Roles – made the process map more complex than usual.

Therefore, applying the business process division matrix was helpful to deal with this complexity.

The business process division matrix

Alternatively to products and markets, this matrix uses the dimensions ”Actor relationship” and ”Product characteristics”. Thorough analysis lead to following lists:

Product characteristics

These were actually the characteristics of maintenance activities leading to the need for specific types of work orders, which determined how these work orders should be dealt with; taking also their impacts on finance and purchase processes into account.

  • Operational support : maintenance activities specific to the use – and operations in – buildings. E.g.: a light that no longer burns and has to be replaced to enable further operations.
  • Urgent interventions : work that is urgent in order to avoid even worse damage or in order to keep the building operational. E.g.: a water pipe that leaks, or a faulty heating in the middle of the winter.
  • Investments : works that are budgeted in advance and require approval. E.g. extra insulation of a building.
  • Preventive maintenance : works that are planned in advance according to a maintenance plan. E.g.: periodic maintenance of installations (like HVAC).Building maintenance.2
  • Corrective maintenance : a special form of operational support, for which an approval is required. E.g. the replacement of a boiler because it is worn-out.
  • Outsourced works : works that are outsourced because the organisation does not possess the skills or the equipment needed to execute these. E.g.: emptying of septic tanks.
  • Key management : when problems occur with protected keys, for which the security department is involved, then a specific process is needed. E.g.: when such a secure lock is damaged and must be replaced.
  • Special projects : works which are the result of a project or which are actually a project in itself. These are characterized by a particular Cost Center. E.g.: network cabling in a room where PCs must be installed in a project related PC-education room. The cost of this network cabling activity must then be allocated to the corresponding PC-education project.
  • Claims : repair works due to an unforeseeable event for which the organisation is insured. E.g. : vandalism, a flood, an accident with a vehicle, etc.

Actor relationships / Roles

It is in that aspect that the business process division matrix became helpful: instead of listing market segments or even types of actors with whom the organisation was dealing, I rather listed the roles which the organisation was playing with those. These roles were:

    • Owner of the building for own use; e.g. for its own administration.
    • Service provider: the city is owner of the building, but for public (social) housing services to its – less fortunate or elderly – citizens. E.g. nursing homes, service flats.
    • Lessor / letter of buildings, which – at least some – costs are charged to the tenant.
    • Renter (tenant) of buildings, for which some works possibly be borne by the owner (lessor).
    • The role of a “social housing provider“, where it rents a building on the one hand, but also lets it to a needy person or family.

Resulting matrix

After setting out both dimensions, we actually obtained following matrix, resulting in 14 effectively existing process variants and even many more subprocesses, from which we were able to derive the functional requirements for the new – to acquire – software:

Some solid differences between process variants

To illustrate how different process variants may be for a so called ‘same’ business process, here below you will find 2 examples of variants through their BPMN diagrams. The first example is the process for preventive maintenance (variant 8 ), while the second example is the one for claims (variant 13 of above matrix).

Example 1: Preventive maintenance (= variant 8)

Variant 8 - EN

Process description (of the Preventive maintenance diagram):

Preventive maintenance aims to prevent any defect to a technical equipment (e.g. HVAC, a machine,…). Hence, it is planned according to a maintenance plan for the respective equipment. Such a maintenance plan includes data like maintenance frequency, estimated workload, required skills, location, cost center, etc.

This maintenance plan is drawn up by the Works Service Desk, in consultation with the Head of the Technical Department. Whenever needed, this plan may be reviewed and updated.

Based on this maintenance plan, the system must automatically generate Work Orders (WOs). In contrary with other types of WOs, these do not need to be approved, as they are planned and thus budgeted upfront. However, these WOs must be checked by the Head of technical department, to make sure they are booked on the right cost center. At the same time, the Head of technical department looks for the (human, material) resources needed. For material resources, 3 cases may occur:

  1. The material needed is supposed to be in stock and is in stock. In this case, it is being reserved, until the warehouseman has made it ready to be picked up by the technician who will execute the maintenance.
  2. The material needed is supposed to be in stock but is currently not in stock (temporarily out of stock). In which case the material has to be ordered. Depending on the subject to be maintained and the known delivery terms of the material, the Head of technical department may either already plan the execution of the work, or wait until the required material has arrived, or plans according to the promised delivery date (when reliable).
  3. The required material is not a stock item, and thus has to be ordered anyway. The Head of technical department can only plan the work based on the delivery date of the material.

On the planned date, the technician executes the work, while registering the time spent and the material used. The WO can then be ‘technically closed’. The administrative closing of the WO can only be done after booking of the real (actual) hours spent and the really used materials.

Example 2: Claims as a building owner (= variant 13)

Variant 13 - EN

Process description (of the Claims diagram):

Claims are works due to either a natural disaster, or vandalism, or burglary, or any similar damage that is covered by an insurance policy.

The requester – usually the one who observes the damage first -, can register this through a Work Request (WR). But when there is any urgency for repair, s/he will report this by phone or through e-mail; certainly when the person is for instance a renter who does not have access to the asset management application.

In most cases, the head of technical department will assess the damage on the spot. Following the assessment, several scenario’s – even a combination of these – may take place:

  • an urgent measure / intervention needs to be taken to avoid even worse damage (e.g. temporarily closing a broken window with wood to avoid – other – thefts). In this case, process variant 6 (= urgent works) has to be followed.
  • work has to be executed by own technicians. The work will then be executed according to process variant 1 (= operational works in an own building)
  • the repair has to be executed by a third party, which leads the flow to process variant 10 (= outsourced works)

Typical and of course very important for claims, is that the insurance manager (somebody of the city staff) must be informed of the diagnosis. Based on this diagnosis, s/he will find out whether the damage is covered by an insurance policy; in which case, s/he will contact the insurance company that will determine whether or not to send an expert.

After repair of the damage, the real (actual) costs are calculated and then claimed to the insurance company that possibly may recover it from the liable person(s) who caused the damage; when known and at least exist.

Conclusion

Though an asset management – or maintenance – process for facilities may seem to be ‘just one process’ in the value chain of an organisation, it may consist of many process variants. For an efficient – automated – process execution, it is key to identify all these variants. And the use of the business process division matrix, like illustrated in above case, has proved to be a very useful approach.

How did you manage to identify many variants of a “same” (macro) business process? Please share your experience through below “Comments” box and get an e-book on value stream mapping (more than 140 pages) for free.

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  • Alexander SAMARIN

    Very good! Just a few comments:

    1) Consider process patterns – see http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.ch/2011/06/practical-process-patterns-dip.html
    2) RE “process for facilities may seem to be ‘just one process’ in the value chain of an organisation, ” – it is a system of processes – see http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.ch/2014/03/enterprise-as-system-of-processes.html
    3) I would consider also “adaptive” and “perfective” maintenance (they are improvements not corrections as “corrective” and “preventive”)

    Thanks,
    AS

    • https://www.effic.be Jean Vercruysse

      Hi Alexander,
      Many thanks for your contribution. To your comments 1) and 2), I want to answer as follows: you most probably noticed that the BPMN diagrams contained (actually only) sub-processes, thus at the ‘highest’ abstraction level.
      So, these just illustrate the main difference in ‘patterns’ rather than the details between the variants. The fact that these are ‘only’ macro processes implicitly means that they are “systems of processes” on their own; unless our visions / opinions on “systems of processes” are different…
      Regarding comment 3), you are totally right; these variants were not yet requirements at that time (some years ago), and I totally agree with the fact that other types like adaptive and perfective maintenance – including predictive maintenance – will become the norm, a.o. thanks to IoT (internet of things) and AI (artificial intelligence).
      Thanks again for your comments.