What could business process mapping possibly have to do with enabling work?

Enabling work includes policy development, guidance creation, training, planning, strategy, and reporting functions, and other work which “enables” or “supports” the core business of a department. We typically think of business process mapping (BPM) as related to the core business, and not so much with the functions that support this business.

In fact, BPM and enabling work overlap in many ways. If you’re asking the question, you are definitely not alone. Indeed, you are part of a large majority of public sector workers.  By default, that makes my opinion quite unpopular and out of step with the norm.  But does that necessarily make it unfounded or irrelevant?

More and more we are transforming our work places with the objective of improving service delivery performance.  The real question lies in whether we believe we can improve service delivery performance at the end of the line without also improving the performance of the enabling functions within the broader performance chain.  If we embrace the belief that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link then we will immediately see the important role that enablers play in the achievement of the overall service delivery performance results.

The easy way … or the not so easy way

It’s easy to see how business process mapping applies to service delivery work, for example the intake and processing of applications or the response and tracking of phone calls. These activities have a few things in common, such as being highly repetitive and having high volumes of similar outputs. In other words, they are easy to document, count and track.

We certainly do just that. It seems as though everyone is documenting, counting and tracking service delivery work, even simultaneously across multiple service channels.  But who is documenting, counting and tracking the enabling work? And if we’re not, then one must presume that these functions are not as easy to document, count and track.

Not as easy … but entirely possible

That may be true, but is it possible?  Yes! Enabling work lends itself to business process mapping, particularly if a team is interested in better understanding, documenting and improving their performance.

Enabling work involves documented inputs and outputs.  And since human beings are doing the work, it typically involves habitual or repetitive tasks that develop into a routine or consistent approach to the work. Work typically flows in a logical manner: we receive inputs, do something with them or create something with them, and we deliver something to others within our team or across the organization.  There is always a critical path that can be defined.

For example:

BPM example

Possible … with leadership support

Documenting process steps (who hands-off to whom) and communicating requirements (information or other) is always possible in all work environments. The challenge lies in changing the culture around enabling work. Leaders must encourage, support and fund business process mapping as an effective means of better understanding the way we deliver enabling work.

Achieving sustainable service delivery performance results is simply not possible until everyone in the chain strengthens their own link.  Only then can we all work in an integrated and collaborative manner and achieve lasting high performance results.


Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.


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