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BPM Done Right: 15 Ways To Succeed Where Others Have Failed

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Business Process Management [January 2009]
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1. Plan for change. Planning is critical in any project, but in BPM, planning and project management require a much more flexible approach. You should clearly understand your requirements at the start of each incremental project, and plan for requirements to change and evolve as you implement and improve.

It is also critical that the technologies you adopt allow for change, as opposed to being "hard-wired" into the solution. Consider the role of business rules in the process infrastructure; consider who, how and when changes to the process model can be made and evaluate the capabilities around rapid UI/application development. All of these capabilities are central to an agile infrastructure but the plan should guide how they are utilized. You want the "picks and shovels" in the hands of the people with the right knowledge, who are able to initiate change in a timeframe that makes sense.

2. Foster a culture of "thinking differently." BPM is different. It’s going to require you to think differently in how you approach its implementation, how you foster and reward opportunities for improvement and how you sustain the advantage through continuous improvement and innovation.

New ideas should start to surface from across the organization—specifically from people involved in the process. But getting employees to come forward with ideas, change their behaviors and think about the world differently is not easy. Only when people feel incentivized and comfortable initiating change will they stand up and be counted.

3. Don’t make BPM an excuse for a headcount reduction. Making headcount savings the key objective of your BPM initiative is a sure-fire way to guarantee failure at the outset. The goal is making the staff work smarter, faster, more consistently and with more focus on value creation.

No matter how ambitious your process automation goals, your people are the key to making processes work. Your people are the ones that ultimately deliver customer satisfaction and create value in your business. If process improvement initiatives lead your people to engineering themselves or others out of jobs, retrain and relocate them. More importantly, make it clear that is the goal.

4. Focus on your customer. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of the process and forget the goal—customer value. One of the major goals of BPM is to see your business the way your customers do—as a series of interrelated processes that translate an order into a delivered good or service. Your customers don’t care how things get done; they just care that they get exceptional service and receive what they ordered at the lowest price you can offer and in the expected timeframe.

Some things to consider:

  • Does my BPM solution allow me to prevent a significant number of errors in the processing of customer orders?
  • Am I using a business activity monitoring (BAM) solution in a way that enables me to see problems before my customers do and take corrective action? This requires instance level monitoring and root cause analysis as well as ensuring you have the right key performance indicators (KPIs) specified.
  • Should I expose my metrics and monitoring capabilities to my partners and customers? Processes are a key part of your competitive differentiation and you’re proud of the way they run, so use them to win new business and develop great partnerships

5. Focus on your process workers. Investing in the plumbing of BPM is critical, but don’t over-fund the infrastructure at the expense of users. BPM technology incorporates new capabilities to build intuitive user interfaces that tailor application interactions to particular tasks and shield users from the complexity of the underlying systems. Treat users like customers—always consider how you can make them more productive and the technology more invisible so that their day-to-day tasks are focused on adding value.

6. Align roles, responsibilities and remuneration. One of the keys to success with BPM is making sure people are incentivized to make that change. Put new remuneration plans in place and train people to be successful.

You’ll need to set up a new, cross-functional organizational structure to drive and sustain your BPM initiative.

Be creative when you look to acquire new skills. Your current staff probably already has the skills necessary to be successful. They won’t have the right job titles, but they’ll have the right understanding of your business, the people, processes and technology. Don’t be afraid to look to vendors and service providers for help, especially in the short term as you gear up. But for some roles, where important business knowledge will be required, consider longer-term staff.

One way to make these new teams work well together and share knowledge is to set up a "process center of excellence" where stakeholders plan together, meet regularly and perform tasks collaboratively.

7. Recognize and address BPM’s politics. As with most organizational and management initiatives, politics are going to be a fact of BPM life. Friction may be created as you move from an organizational structure where power is based on functional ownership to one where new people have power across functions. Companies that succeed with BPM are usually companies that have addressed these issues head-on and found effective ways of managing the cultural and organizational impacts. Early in the process make sure you identify:

  • the "change agents" (who's going to get this done): 
  • the "influencers" (who has a respected voice);
  • the "barriers" (those who are threatened by change); and
  • the "end users" (who is going to have to live with the end result).

8. Secure executive sponsorship. It’s an unavoidable fact of life that people with powerful friends get further, faster. But to win friends, you have to impress.

The good news is that BPM naturally aligns to strategic business initiatives. So the first thing to do is find a real strategic business pain that your project will help alleviate. Then find the individual(s) closest to the boardroom whose responsibility it is to make that pain go away. Finally, get them excited about what BPM can do for them. A good BPM solution and a strong vendor should be able to help you build a demo that highlights your use case and your data, delivers real insight into how problems can be solved and clearly shows how end solutions will impact the process owner and executive.

9. Choose the right project. There are going to be trade-offs between risk, return, learning-by-doing and appetite for change. You should focus on the project that satisfies the right trade-off for your business. Be sure your first project isn’t so high profile that you risk doing too much, too soon, before you have learned how best to implement BPM in your environment. But if the need is great enough and the skills and support are there, then a significant initial project may be the right place to start. Too small a project and you risk not having a real business case, proving real ROI or uncovering the real issues that are going to determine your long-term success.

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