Business architects and business process professionals have traditionally focused on designing durable business processes that can stand the test of time. However, new technology disruptors, such as mobile and social, are forcing teams to rethink business and process design from an outside-in perspective. To deliver next-generation business process solutions, business architects and business process professionals will need to shift from systems thinking paradigms that emphasize process modeling to design thinking paradigms that emphasize creativity and customer experience.

To make this shift, business architects and business process professionals must embrace design thinking as a foundation for engaging with stakeholders to scope, design and deliver customer-centric business process management (BPM) programs and projects. Forrester defines design thinking as "a collection of practices that helps teams better identify with customer experiences and shift from logical problem solving to creative experimentation."

Instead of focusing on surface adoption of new customer experience methods and techniques, design thinking forces BPM teams to think about process problems from a completely different perspective. This allows teams to be more effective in their interactions with executives, line-of-business owners and stakeholders when focused on improving and optimizing for customer experience.

Although design thinking includes a broad portfolio of practices, methods and processes, Forrester has identified four essential practices to help BPM teams achieve greater success when focused on customer-centric processes and projects. Making the shift to design thinking requires BPM teams to establish practices that:

1. Design for specific interactions. Business processes usually overlook individual interaction points as an opportunity to deliver value. Process models focus on value being delivered once the process has run its course. In contrast, design thinking assumes that each interaction point—each activity in the process—represents an opportunity to deliver value to the customer.

2. Provide context for completing tasks. Understanding an individual user's past interactions, physical location, preferences and likely behaviors allows teams to design tasks for convenience and quick completion. Design thinking pushes BPM teams to identify key contextual inputs that can accelerate task completion.

3. Develop empathy for customers. In most cases, business processes are designed around the lines of business and systems they touch. However, to design more customer-centric processes, BPM teams must put themselves in the shoes of the customer or worker using the process. In many cases, this means imagining a day in the life of a customer or worker and how he or she might typically interact with the process.

4. Apply abductive reasoning skills. At an almost subconscious level, business process professionals use deductive reasoning to quickly weigh and rule out different options for solving a process problem. However, when faced with complex problems, design teams sometimes use a little-known technique called abductive reasoning to brainstorm possible solutions and do creative experimentation. How? One wealth management executive we interviewed pushed his team to use abductive reasoning to brainstorm on how they would need to evolve their operations to compete if Apple entered the wealth management business. Although this approach moved managers out of their comfort zones, it allowed them to brainstorm on possible solutions unencumbered by past data and deductive analysis.

Establishing key design thinking practices is just the beginning. Adopting the thinking alone will only take you so far. To apply these practices, teams must build new skills, infuse key design practices with existing process improvement practices and re-evaluate how existing BPM software supports this new paradigm. Taking the leap from design thinking to design doing means BPM teams need to:
  • Optimize the experience, not the process model. BPM teams need to begin thinking about screen design in the same way they used to think about high-level business processes. This also means capturing user stories that connect back to emotional drivers for how a user feels when completing a given task or process. Customer journey maps can be used to better understand context and develop empathy, in addition to zeroing in on key process activities and interaction points that need to be optimized for convenience.

  • Tap basic guide-rails for experience design from BPM and dynamic content management. Traditionally, BPM suites vendors have offered very little support for designing interactive experiences. Most vendors provide simple form design tools, with limited support for creating sophisticated screen flows and bringing in contextual information to guide user interactions. However, given the shift in focus for BPM programs, leading vendors, such as Appian, K2, Pegasystems and IBM, are beginning to provide better functionality that connects experience design and process design.

  • Add a layer of design skills across all process roles. Many teams falsely believe that bringing on a user interface designer for the BPM program is all they need to do to embed new design skills. However, the reality is that successful teams see experience design as a responsibility across all essential BPM roles, including the vice president or director, business and process architect and process developers. Teams should evaluate and update their BPM skills development roadmaps to increase competency for methods, such as customer journey mapping, capturing user stories and prototyping.