The “M” is Missing in BPM

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Business Process Management (BPM) has made a significant contribution to improving the performance of some business processes, yet the “management” part of BPM has not lived up to its full potential. Way back in 2003, I defined BPM as the disciplined definition, improvement and management of a company’s end-to-end business processes. The key aspects of this definition relate to “end-to-end” processes and the “troika” or triumvirate” (e.g. not just one – but all three) of definition, improvement and management. In this broader context, the M is frequently missing from BPM.

Why is the M missing from BPM? In a nutshell, BPM has not yet lived up to the promise of obliterating the IT-Business divide. It has not fulfilled the promise of delivering models that automatically convert to executable code and improve process performance in such a way that the business can take control of refinements to their business processes and thereby dramatically reduce the time from strategy to execution. Nor has it been effective at deeply embedding a customer focused, process view of the business to supplement the traditional functional paradigm and thereby fuel a more robust, adaptive framework for performance improvement. Many examples of success in deploying BPM involve the automation or improvement of small processes within functional boundaries. However, it is relatively uncommon that a company applies BPM to multiple end-to-end processes, and very rarely to the full set of value creating end-to-end business processes.

What are some of the reasons that the M is missing in BPM? First, there has been a tendency to put methods before results. Next, there has been more fragmentation instead of integration. Then, some don’t seem to get the fundamental concept of process orientation and the importance of process ownership and others don’t seem able to sell it.

First, both BPM vendors and process improvement professionals have put methods before results. It is reminiscent of what marketing professor Ted Levitt used to tell his students decades ago, “People don't want quarter-inch drills--they want quarter-inch holes.” Senior executives don’t want drills – they want holes. Senior executives don’t want BPM – they want improved business results.

Next, business process management suites (BPMS) promise to offer a broad range of functionality including modeling, document management, business analytics, business rules and the means for improved collaboration. In theory, this should lead to integration. In practice, there has been greater fragmentation, as areas of expertise in business rules, analytics, and change management have evolved with each area becoming increasingly evangelical as to the uniqueness of their own area. The result is fragmentation and duplication of effort, instead of greater integration and collaboration across practice areas.

Then, the big picture of process management is missing. Maybe some don’t get it. Or, some can’t sell it. The fact is that in most organizations, plans budgets, and even reward systems continue to be set along departmental lines. The concept of value creating end-to-end processes, where the process view is an overlay on the functional view to emphasize value creation for customers is not broadly practiced. The small scale, functionally dominated way in which process ownership has been implemented is just one indicator that the big picture view of process orientation is missing. The impact of all of this is that BPM is project driven instead of performance driven.
Here are a few tactics to consider if you want to put the M back into BPM. First, clearly communicate that BPM is simply the means – not the end – in performance improvement. Next, emphasize integration – not fragmentation. Then, build it to last.

To communicate BPM as the way to improve performance, use simple, visually compelling models of end-to-end business processes to drive dialogue around the gap between current and desired performance. The key here is to ask – not tell. It’s the dialogue around the benefits of cross functional collaboration that creates excitement on using BPM to tear down both functional and data silos. Of course, this requires expert facilitation skills – and a degree of detachment and objectivity that outsiders can often better bring to the table than internal process improvement professionals. The barometer of success is the degree of clarity on a compelling case for change to achieve clearly defined goals and the extent to which there is shared understanding of how BPM can be the means to achieve these goals – not the end. 

To emphasize integration – as opposed to fragmentation, start by measuring what matters to customers – and integrate performance measurement with simple, high impact models of end-to-end business processes. Then, take advantage of the dialogue to ask about the impact of current policies, and non-value added handoffs. Illustrate how BPM features such as document management, business analytics, business rules and simulation capability combine to provide the means for improved collaboration and improved performance.
For lasting impact, move beyond a project mentality to a broader view of process management as one means of improving performance in a sustainable way. Building key performance metrics on what matters to customers into the senior leadership team’s scorecard is one key tactic. These will include metrics such as perfect order delivery performance and first time right responses to customer inquiries. Another “soft side” consideration involves forging key partnerships with like minded executives. Establishing governance for end-to-end processes is another important tactic and this can’t just be another name for a functional paradigm. Instead, process governance needs to emphasize collaboration for chains of activities that span organizational boundaries. A clear linkage to performance improvement and simplicity are essential. The use of complex frameworks such as Hammer’s Process and Enterprise Maturity Model (PEMM) should be approached with caution; as such frameworks may serve to reinforce the perception that BPM is more difficult and complicated than it really is.

There’s no doubt that it takes focus, persistence and discipline to put the “M” back into BPM. The concepts outlined above are just part of the puzzle, and readers are invited to contact the author with their specific challenges.

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