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Process-based ECM decision making

February 28, 2010

In my work with clients, I’ve found that many issues and challenges related to ECM initiatives can be overcome by using the results of business process analysis (BPA) to drive decision-making. In this post, after a brief overview of the particular flavor of BPA I use, I share how BPA can contribute to two typical ECM initiatives: content migration and taxonomy.

The particular approach to BPA I use is far from a comprehensive, Six Sigma type undertaking, because the goal is not to fix the process under consideration (that’s business process redesign – BPR) but to gain an understanding of the process in order to use it as the foundation for making key decisions related to the ECM initiative.

Given that goal, BPA is a fairly straightforward exercise that can be accomplished rapidly. The process goes something like this:

  1. Select representatives from across the department who understand the work done there from a high level. We don’t need a “click here, click there” level of detail, just an awareness of the big buckets the departmental work falls into.
  2. Hold a one-hour working session with the representatives to whiteboard the business activities of the department. I usually begin by putting a box at the top of the whiteboard with the name of the department in it and ask folks to list out what categories would fall directly below it.
  3. Once we have that list, we do the same thing for each item on the list: write it at the top of the board and ask what categories would fall directly below it.
  4. Once we have that list, I write the whole structure on the board, and we spend the rest of the time making sure it’s accurate – no gaps, no further roll ups needed, etc.

Once you’ve done this for all the departments involved, you have everything you need to begin using BPA to drive decision making for the ECM initiative.

Content migration

A typical scenario is replacing departmental shared drives with a more robust system. Most often, the most difficult challenge isn’t the user requirements for functionality of the new system, but what to do with the mountains of content currently on shared drives. In most cases, the effort it would take each department to move all their content properly (i.e., with an improved organizational structure, with robust metadata, and without duplicate files) is more than they could handle.

In this situation, the results of the BPA are an effective way to begin the work of planning the migration. First, working with the departmental stakeholders and representatives from legal, records management (RM), and IT, we take the list of processes generated by the BPA sessions and categorize them as follows:

  • Highest value – in terms of revenue generation, whether directly or in support of other revenue generating activities
  • Highest risk – in terms of litigation, compliance, operations, etc.
  • Most document intensive – in terms of how many unstructured documents (i.e., those likely to be stored on a shared drive) are generated or used as part of the process

We then make a matrix to determine how many of the lists each process appears in, something like the following: 

Content Migration Matrix

This matrix becomes the starting point for ranking what documents should be migrated, i.e., those that appear in all three lists come before those that appear in two, and so on.

Now, the answer isn’t as simple as ranking a matrix, which is why it’s important to have legal, RM, and IT in the mix. Their perspectives are a necessary counterbalance to the business-focus of the matrix:

  • Legal holds – what content on the drive(s) is subject to litigation in flight?
  • Retention schedules – what’s the retention/disposition profile of the content on the
  • Usage – what percentage of the content has been touched in the last month, six months, one year, three years, five years, etc.?

By comparing the content that would be moved based on the matrix alone with these three data points, the way toward a workable migration plan emerges, one that meets the diverse needs of the business and the larger organization.


Without getting into the detailed ins and outs of a taxonomy project, it’s safe to say that one of the biggest challenges is the sheer number of documents in scope for a taxonomy project even for a single department. It can easily turn the project into a bridge painting exercise: in the months (or years) it takes to properly classify every document, new documents have been introduced and old ones have changed or been eliminated, pushing off the completion date further and further. On top of this, the very prospect of having to unearth every document in use and spending time classifying it can make the project seem like drudgery to stakeholders and dampen enthusiasm for the efforts.

As with content migration, BPA can help in this situation as well by giving the project team a way to determine what documents should be in scope. The BPA is completed as normal, resulting in a list of the core business processes and sub-processes  that make up the work of the departments taking part in the taxonomy initiative. Once the BPA is complete, the project team simply adds an additional step: for each process and sub-process uncovered during the BPA, the project team lists out the documents involved as input or output of (or manipulated during) each step. For example,  if the first step in the “Ad Hoc Reporting” process is “Request Report”, the documents involved might be: informal report request, report request form, report request scoping document, etc.

Once the document list is complete for all processes and sub-processes, the list becomes the in scope documents for the taxonomy project. Documents not on this list can still be considered if there are important LOB or corporate reasons for doing so, or they can be left for a future phase of taxonomy work once the core documents uncovered in the BPA sessions are categorized.

The final word

No matter what ECM initiative you might use BPA to help with, there is one benefit your clients will definitely reap: a better understanding of their enterprise business processes. On every project where I use BPA, I hear the same things from project team members: “I never knew what the folks in that department did before, because I mostly work with these other groups”, “I didn’t realize how similar the work done in these two geo locations were—hadn’t ever thought of comparing them side by side”, “I feel like I have a more complete view of what we do as a company…I wish I could have heard all this when I first got hired,” and so on. It also allows you as a practitioner to make sure the assumptions you make about what a given function does at a client based on previous experience are accurate and to address any gaps early on, before they negatively impact the project.

If any of you out there have had experience using BPA (or something like it) to contribute to the success of ECM (or other kinds of) initiatives, let me know—I’d love to hear about it.

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