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  • Writer's pictureTony Roupell

Process Cancer! Is it real? Are we Infected? 6 Tips to help you fight back.

Updated: May 5, 2019

Yes, process cancer is real!

Process happens in in every organisation, every day. It’s unavoidable. We need business processes to keep the doors open and the business functioning. Process (the way your organisation works) becomes en-grained in the culture of your business.

The question is whether you are reaping the rewards of effective process transformation or whether process has become a burden and is slowly suffocating your business and leading to unacceptable business risk?

Have you ever heard the following statements in your organisation?

  • We operate in the dark ages around here.

  • I cannot believe it takes so long to complete a simple task.

  • I wish we could cut through the red tape.

  • We have no visibility of the process. I need to chase people all the time.

  • Print, sign and scan this.

Imagine the risk associated with a Board of Directors making a critical business decision based on inaccurate business data, not being informed of a critical security or data breach or missing a business opportunity that could cost the organisation thousands, millions or billions because of slow process, lack of visibility or poor decision support.

What is Process Cancer and is my business affected?

Process cancer is the debilitating effect of ad hoc processes or process variations that become engrained in the culture of the business. As service demand grows in a thriving business, operational performance declines and employees disengage. Employees feel like they are running through mud and customer service levels decline. Everyday processes become tedious. As these processes are part of the culture of doing business they are accepted as normal, the costs of which are associated with the cost of doing business.

Process variation occurs when an organisation agrees to do the same thing different ways. This impacts the ability to streamline resulting in inefficacy and lower quality of service.

Repetitive, avoidable tasks suck up energy.


If you are frustrated, hacked off, fed-up, annoyed or can relate to any of these symptoms then your organisation is infected:

  • Manual unstructured process - getting the job done by any means possible e.g. emails going backwards and forwards, Excel spreadsheets to manage anything and everything.

  • Mountains of paper everywhere.

  • Capturing and re-capturing data into systems.

  • Manually updating the status of an activity in a list or spreadsheet.

  • Scrambling to find the correct data to report on or spending hours correlating information to make sense of it all.

  • Staff turnover resulting from fed-up and frustrated employees resulting in lost knowledge an over complicated process as people look for workarounds.

  • Spending hours re-training new employees on the manual process or variations thereof or feeling lost and out of depth for weeks on end as new employee.

  • Printing, scanning, signing actual paper.

The Causes

Understanding the cause of Process Cancer is the first step to recovery.

Operational Pressure:

We have all done it and continue to do it every day. You’re under pressure to deliver so you take the shortest route possible (Process Variation) to meet operational requirements without thinking about the long term impact. For example, you send out a group email and ask for quick feedback on a document or input to a document. The result is a cascading effect of information gathering throughout the business, each step wasting time and resources.

It’s in our human nature to take the easiest process route possible. Because the process worked the first time and you delivered on your promise you do it again next month.

The result is an inefficient process that has become the way of doing business and is accepted as the standard business approach without being questioned. Your business is now infected and you don’t even know it. Keeping the process functioning simply requires more human effort.

Siloed Operations:

Each Business Unit, Department, Executive or General Manager brings their own unique processes, resources, business applications and operates independently of the rest of the business. The net result is often a duplication of effort, multiple resources performing the same function and expenditure on individual business applications with overlapping functions.

Disparate Data or No data:

Data is everything to running an efficient business. When business data is trapped in emails, electronic documents and on paper it’s impossible to report on it with any level or accuracy.

The result is:

  • A lack of transparency across the business which is essential to improving the operating efficiencies and identifying problem areas.

  • Increased business decision risk.

  • A governance nightmare.

  • A workforce that is overburdened and inefficient.

Misaligned Strategy:

An IT strategy that results in business data being trapped in systems where it cannot be retrieved or reported on is just as debilitating as having no data at all. Organisations often fall into the trap of trying to leverage existing workflow capability embedded in line of business systems to solve the workflow needs of the entire organisation.

This approach is doomed to fail at some point for a number of reasons:

  • The workflow capability within line of business systems (e.g. ERP, CRM, EDRMS) is designed to function optimally with the data within the respective system and it not designed to span the workflow needs of the entire organisation. This approach often results on failed IT projects that do not address the needs of the business.

  • Forms implies data. Data is the lifeblood of doing efficient business. Leveraging the forms capability within a line of business system often results in the data being stored in a data repository that is inaccessible, difficult to manage and impossible to report on. Creating and maintaining forms in this scenario and be over complicated costing time and money.


It’s too hard to change the way you work so you do nothing. This can lead to high frustration levels and staff turnover, compound by re-training.

The Treatment Plan

The good news is that there is a cure. The reality is that if solving the problem of process inefficiency was easy we would have all done it by now and moved on. The good news is that many organisations are getting it right, reaping the benefits and leaving the competition behind.

If you are wondering about where to start, here are by top six tips.

  1. Acknowledge at all levels of the organisation that there is a problem.

  2. Get expert advice. Process Transformation is not your core business, nor should it be. You would not attempt to service your own car if you know nothing about cars so don’t try and fix your own processes. Experts can help you get started and set you up for long term success. The last thing you need is a failed attempt.

  3. Don’t waste time and money documenting the details of all your processes as the processes will change when they are transformed, but you can go ahead and make a list and classify your processes to help get the discovery processes started.

  4. Embed a culture of continuous process review at all levels of the organisation, especially at management and executive levels. The best way to achieve this is through visible results.

  5. Change management is inevitable during this process. Manage it well, and understand the beast upfront.

  6. The process(es) you choose to transform first are incredibly important. I have seen too many projects that have stalled because the first process that was attempted was either too complex, not understood well enough or offered no visible value to the management and executive team. Ask your trusted adviser for help and guidance.


Process happens whether we manage it or not. Process Transformation matters and aligns directly to the any digital transformation efforts.

Process is the way people work across teams and systems. Workflow is the way I interact with a system and work within a team. Understanding which is which and how to address each challenge is important to your success.

Tony Roupell

All things related to BPM, Workflow, Forms and Digital

About the Author

I fundamentally believe that organisations need to change their approach to Business Process Transformation and am therefore passionate about changing the conversation to provide predictable outcomes.

I have 18 years of experience helping organisations address process inefficiency. I would love to hear your story.

You can contact me at

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