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Go to www.encompassknowledge.com to learn more

I've used this product in my consulting assignments -- it's simply amazing in terms of what it can tell you about people interactions as they relate to business processes.

There are lots of tools available for people who work on business processes: you can draw process charts, you can define process properties and simulate the operation of the process, you can manage the whole process and the associated documentation, you can identify critical process areas that need to be addressed, ... there are a wealth of tools available.

What these tools all fail to address, however, is the effect that people have on the process itself. If you've done any process work (and I've been working on business process renovation projects since 1981), you've seen situations where everything looks perfect: the diagrams are finalized and approved; there are documented procedures for all the details that are required; management has bought off on the changes; and it just doesn't work. What you may be missing is the "people factor."

Almost every book or article that has been written about business process work or change implementation identifies "people" as one of the most important factors that need to be considered. Yet, there is precious little information about how to make this happen. And there is almost nothing available about how to quantitatively measure the effect of people on a process.

That's no longer the case; in fact it hasn't been the case for quite some time, but the product has been in stealth mode, used by only a handful of consultants to create real, positive impact on organizations. The product is EnCompass, the brainchild of Dr. Michael M. Mann, architect of the product and founder of EnCompass Knowledge Systems, Inc. The product has undergone almost 15 years of refinement and maturation, culminating in a web-based product that can not only measure the impact of people on your processes, but can also define several standard measures which can be reviewed in an on-going, "management dashboard" format.

The concept is simple; the results are stunning. Dr. Mann's work is loosely based on the concept of social networks, extended to apply directly to business issues in a meaningful fashion. The premise is that -- in situations where you are dealing with knowledge workers, as apposed to clerical/administrative work -- how people view their interactions with other people involved in the process can materially effect the process operation and results. In simple terms, if you and I work together in a process and I view you as critically important to my success in the process but you don't share that view, it will impact our ability to work together and, thus, our ability to achieve success in the process. This is particularly true in situations where sharing information, collaborating, or achieving consensus are important (e.g., product management, for one example).

The product/methodology operate in the following fashion:

A set of issues are identified that define the business area under investigation. These issues can relate to specific business functions required to perform the work, or questions of strategy and implementation. The issues are specific to the company and business situation being developed and are developed in cooperation with the players involved in the business area.

The set of players involved are identified so that all relevant input can be collected. There is usually a small group of 'obvious' players who are involved; they identify other people that should be added to the group, and the players so added are queried to add other players in an ever-widening circle of individuals.

The data collection instrument (DCI) is developed (it used to be done on paper; now it's on the web) showing each of the identified issues and each of the players. Each player is then asked to rank their interaction with each other player on each issue as to the importance of their interaction with that player regarding that issue.

The EnCompass tool then collects all the input and links them into an "influence network" oriented around the business issues that were identified. The linkages can then be displayed and analysed.

The key analysis approach is to match corresponding links -- one player pair at a time -- and determine if the players have the same view as to their mutual importance in achieving a successful outcome for this issue. If they "match" (i.e., each player attaches the same importance to their relationship with respect to this issue), then it is called a "confirmed link". If they do not "match" (i.e., one player deems the relationship important while the other player deems the relationship unimportant), then it is called an "unconfirmed link" and requires further research. A key fact of "unconfirmed links" is that the two people have widely differing views of what it means to work together on the issue and will thus wind up not supporting each other in important ways.

While the process can seem a little dizzying (so many people, so many issues, so many links), this is just what computers are good for, and EnCompass has a unique, visual mode for displaying and analysing the results. Being able to quickly display the unconfirmed links allows you to pinpoint the people and places where the process is breaking down. Armed with that knowledge, it becomes much easier to begin addressing the real problem (the root cause, not the symptom) and make real progress in finding solutions that will work.

For small groups (say 4-7 people), there is also a manual approach that can achieve similar results. This approach is outlined in the presentation recently given by Dr. Mann and myself.

Dr. Mann and I have both seen situations where the hidden became obvious, and the obvious became unavoidable. I can honestly say that the results are stunning -- the problem becomes crystal clear through the interaction views provided by the product.

Recently, Dr. Mann has developed a series of metrics (patent pending) that allow an organization to continuously monitor selected business issues through a set of normalized measures.

More information is available by viewing the slides of our presentation (given at the Institute of Management Consultants Western Confab, 10/27/2002).

Check out the EnCompass Knowledge Systems website (above), or view the presentation (2.5 Megabyte PDF file) that Mike Mann (the product's architect) and I gave at the IMC Confab in Reno, October 27, 2002.



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