People who have witnessed process mining for the first time are sometimes threatened by the idea that their jobs will go away. They currently manually model and discover processes in workshops and interviews in the traditional way. So, if you can now automate that process discovery, then you don’t need the people anymore who are guiding those process discovery workshop sessions, right?
Process mining is much more than automatically constructing a process map. If you think that is all it does, then you have not understood process mining and how it works in practice.
From Human Computers to Calculators to Spreadsheets
Think back to the time before computers, when computers were actually humans (typically women) who undertook long and often tedious calculations as a team: The replacement of the human computers paved the way for the millions of programmers that we have today. Or think back to the calculator: The calculator was essentially a little computer that you could hold in your hand. Before spreadsheets were around, people had to calculate everything manually, with a calculator. But once they had access to spreadsheets, they were able to do much more than that. They were not just simply doing the same things they were doing before, but in an automated way. Instead, they could now run projections based on compound interest for 10 or 20 years in the future, which simply would not have been feasible by hand.1
The thing is that process mining allows you to look at your processes at a much more detailed level. In a workshop or interview-based setup, you typically get a good overview of the main process — the happy flow. But the big improvement potential typically lies in the 20% that do not go so well. Process mining allows you to get the complete picture and analyze the full process in much more detail. And once you have implemented a change in the process, you can simply re-run the analysis again to see how effective you improvement has actually been.
In many ways, process mining is as revolutionary for processes as spreadsheets were for numbers.
Process Mining Requires Skills
Process mining is not an automated, push-of-a-button exercise. Not at all. It requires a smart analyst who knows how to prepare the data, how to ensure data quality, and who can interpret the results — together with the business.
That’s why also the workshops with the business stakeholders are not going away. As a consultant or in-house analyst you will need their input, because they know the process much better than you do. And you want them to participate and build up ownership of whatever comes out of the project — they are the ones who have to implement the changes after all.
It is one of the most powerful aspects of the traditional workshops that people from different areas get together and realize that they have different and incomplete views of the process, and that they start building a shared understanding. Process mining can be used in exactly the same way. You can run an interactive workshop with the relevant stakeholders at the table and come out with improvement ideas in a very short time. You will just make a better use of their time: Rather than taking weeks to discover how the process works, you can focus on why things are being done the way they are done. And you can dig much deeper.
Process mining takes skills and is not an automated thing. All of you in the business of helping people to understand and improve their processes should start building those skills. Because you will deliver more value and you won’t be less busy at all.
- In fact, Dan Bricklin tells exactly such kind of a story in this Business Of Software talk. Back when he was working on VisiCalc, he came into his business school class with a case analysis that was unbelievably detailed and basically impossible to do manually. ↩