3 key challenges to effective BPM

Nothing truly worthwhile is ever without challenges and business process initiatives are no different. My daily work brings me into frequent contact with a wide range of organizations that are considering a BPM initiative or have one or more underway. From this first-hand view I’ve come up with my short list of the three biggest challenges that I see on a regular basis.

1. Who owns it?

This question encompasses two problems, 1) not having a central owner to a BPM initiative, and, 2) having many peer owners of a BPM initiative. Without central authority to create awareness, decide on scope, standards, skills, technology and where to start, initiatives move forward very slowly.

In the multi-owner environment, gaining sign offs becomes a tedious exercise that saps energy from the initiative. The remedy is to have a single executive with signature authority as the leader. Stakeholders can be numerous as necessary but there needs to be a centralized owner for budget, resources and time lines. This executive ownership is also critical for breaking through the human barrier…what Forrester describes as cultural resistance.

Secondly, ownership decides the perspective that will be the final arbiter of what shape the initiative will take. An operations person would see the World very differently from an IT person. Deciding which group should own an initiative depends on who benefits from the initiative’s efforts. The default should be that IT owns anything involving systems architecture and the business owns anything that involves the the work people perform. There are circumstances that override the default, but they should be carefully scrutinized.

2. Where to begin?

With ownership resolved, the next greatest challenge is generally where to begin. We see situations where there are many, widely varying scraps of process capture as well as situations where business process is in people’s heads and on Post-it notes. In either situation, finding the right starting point that doesn’t ignore the collective knowledge (in people’s heads or fragmented documents) is the key. It may look like a mess, but it is working to some degree, and attempts to change the wiring may cause the business to stumble.

Success is all about making things work better and not worse. Choosing one of the standard frameworks is a simple way to move forward (or create a custom version) that provides a clear scope for the work to be done, and then data can be added to the framework from interviews and workshops or by collecting the distributed information and finding its proper home within the hierarchy. A good framework allows the initiative to begin at the top, bottom or middle levels depending on available information and priorities.

3. What technology is appropriate?

Just as BPM initiatives need centralized leadership, they also require centralized storage of data. Putting information into documents that reside on PC’s throughout the organization doesn’t provide version control or collaboration. The most effective way to store data is in a place that allows everyone to work from the same source.

In choosing a method for capture and display, the tools need to match the audience. If the focus is highly technical, like with systems architecture, a complex tool may be needed to fully capture the context, but in the more likely case that the focus is on how humans and systems perform work, solutions that are readily deployed to and understood by the end user audience are needed. The more colors, shapes and lines, the less intuitive it becomes. Things that aren’t understood are ignored.

The term ‘dust off’ is commonly used to describe the act of going back to the last time business process information was captured so that it can be updated or used in a new initiative. This isn’t necessary with today’s software that allows for governance of process content. That governance means ownership, change management and communication. These three concepts allow the data to be kept ‘alive’ and constantly updated. Any initiative that puts information on a shelf (or hard drive) misses this point.

Experience shows me that resolving these three challenges is a significant part of finding success in BPM. Sure, there are plenty of other challenges that can derail or slow an effort, but these three are the top of my list.

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Chris Taylor joined Nimbus in 2009 as VP Consulting Americas, and leads a team of business process improvement consultants who serve major corporations across the world. Chris’s clients include Nestlé, Cisco, Northrop Grumman, ThyssenKrupp and many others, who use Business Process Management (BPM) tools and techniques to drive process standardisation, improvement, quality and compliance initiatives. His insight to what makes BPM a sustainable success for so many client organisations makes him a valuable industry commentator. Before joining Nimbus, Chris held senior consulting and leadership roles focused on business transformation with ILOG (now IBM), Perot Systems and Accenture. In his early career, Chris managed aircrew and flight operations while flying for the US Navy. He is an avid skier, hiker and sailor and spends most of his off time exploring the mountains and coasts near his home in Southern California and the rest of the world.