Complex Processes and Analyses Therein
Stéphane Hamel, it seems, is a bit peeved with Eric Peterson. These are two pretty big names in web analytics — Eric as one of the fathers of web analytics, and Stéphane as both a thought leader in the space as well as the creator of one of the most practical, useful web analytics supplemental tools out there — WASP: The Web Analytics Solution Profiler plugin for Firefox. With the plugin, you visit any site, and a sidebar will tell you what web analytics solutions it looks like it’s running. It’s pretty cool.
I don’t know the full background of the current back-and-forth between these two guys, but I’m a huge fan of Stéphane, and my ears perked up when I read this observation in the post:
Business Process Analysis implies understanding & improving a collection of interrelated tasks which solve a particular issue. Nothing new here… Most businesses face complex and “hard” processes, and the way to make them “easy” is by decomposing them into smaller sub-processes until they are manageable.
For one thing, for a period of ~8 months, my job title was “Director of Business Process Analytics.” And, frankly, I was never sure what that meant. In hindsight, if I’d had these two sentences from Stéphane and if I’d replaced “Analytics” with “Analysis,” I would have seen a much clearer mapping from my label to what I was actually doing in the role.
More important, though, is the concept of “decomposition.” I find myself preaching the Decomposition Doctrine regularly. And I believe in it strongly.
As an example, when it comes to the Holy Grail of Marketing Analysis — calculating the ROI of your marketing spend — many, many B2B marketers start out looking for the correlation between leads generated and revenue. I have yet to see a case in B2B where this can be found with a sufficiently tight, sustained correlation to be meaningful. That actually makes sense. It’s like looking for a correlation between the state someone is born in and the achievement of a PhD. There’s a lot going on over time between Point A and Point Z.
In the case of B2B marketing, decomposition makes sense. Decompose the process:
- The lead-to-qualified lead sub-process
- The qualified lead to sales accepted lead sub-process
- The sales accepted lead to sales qualified lead sub-process
- The sales qualified lead to close sub-process
Each of these sub-processes have people who proceed to the next sub-process as well as people who do not — put simplistically: people who “fall out of the funnel.” But, you can further decompose — of the people who fell out, where did they fall out and why? And does that mean they are gone forever, or are there processes/subprocesses that can be used to reengage them in the future?
The key here is that, from a theoretical perspective, if you link together all of the simpler sub-processes, then you’ve got an accurate representation of the more complex master process. The problem is that this is mostly true. There are probably other sub-processes that are unknown — those pesky “corner cases” that the real world insists on throwing at us. And, each sub-process likely experiences various anomalies over time. Add those together, and you’ve got a complex process that verges on the unanalyzable.
On the other hand, if you focus on a sub-process, you can analyze what is going on, including accounting for the anomalies. “But, isn’t there a risk that you’ll be missing the forest for the trees?” you ask. Absolutely. That’s why it’s important to start with a high-level view of the whole process, with a clear picture of the components that go into it. If you simply pick a “simple sub-process” to focus on, without understanding how and where that fits into the big picture, you run the risk of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. On the other hand, if you simply try to “analyze the Titanic,” without some level of decomposition, you’re equally doomed.