BDM, Governance, and a Center of Excellence

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As we continue to find more powerful tools and approaches available to us in our efforts to employ Business Decision Management, one last roadblock remains on our quest for agility. Ourselves. We already know effective BDM will be facilitated by a new kind of resource – a hybrid business/technical person that knows the business well and is able to codify that knowledge in a structured fashion. But the organization itself must enable – not inhibit – the collaboration we seek.

Companies have traditionally cultivated a huge gap between the technical and business sides of their organization. If these sides are able to communicate at all it is probably in the form of requirements. That has been far from a perfect approach. For now we will assume that the latest approaches to methodology and technology (e.g., The Decision Model) offers us some hope that we will minimize the gulf that separates us and get us over at least one hurdle.

It is a sad fact that many companies still rely on dated hierarchical organizational structures that inherently promote this separation and virtually guarantee the creation of silos. Interestingly enough, these very organizations frequently attempt to force a collaborative environment by the technology approaches they put in place. However, without getting to the core problem they have little chance of succeeding.  Consequently, too many organizations find themselves repeatedly reorganizing in an effort to find themselves yet again. As the partitions continue to grow we begin to observe problems including ownership (when silos compete, who wins?), expertise (where does – and where should – it reside?), and consistency. The latter can be fatal to BDM efforts so we must look at others ways to break down these artificial walls.

We have long been proponents of establishing proper governance to ensure intelligent and consistent use of best practices, methodology, and technology. Forrester defines a Center of Excellence as “a formally appointed and documented body of knowledge and experience on a particular subject area with the goals of providing expertise, managing governance practices, and supporting projects associated with the subject area.” Establishing the foundation for governance is even more critical for the organization embracing Business Decision Management. Even within a flattened organizational structure, care must be taken -  especially in the initial stages—to ensure success. Because we are now dealing with the true assets of a corporation in the form of processes, decisions, and rules, it is so much more important to ensure they are handled in a consistent, logical, and documented fashion.

Forrester gives us a concise charter for such an organization. I like to think of it as a body whose duty is to ensure consistent and intelligent use of an approach or technology. These definitions leave a great deal of flexibility in terms of the actual structure but I think several concepts are imperative:

  1. This is a group that should be composed of both technical and business resources and it should provide direction for both technical and business groups. We are attempting get everyone operating with the same mindset so a COE absolutely cannot be seen as belonging to one side or the other.
  2. The COE must be supported and embraced by the highest levels of the organization.  While it’s not necessary to become a feared or despised restriction, it should be clear that it is an Enterprise directive and must be considered.
  3. A COE is a living, breathing dynamic organization. Generating one set of "how to" instructions for publication on a corporate web site will not be effective. The COE must take feedback from projects, incorporate new approaches, and provide an evolving set of guidelines to lead the projects that follow.
  4. If possible I like to see a COE provide real resource support. This can come in many forms – anything from someone able to provide a 2-week "jump start" to a new project all the way to a “deep insertion” where a consultant works with a project from beginning to end. Providing skilled resources directly from the COE is a great way to increase the chances for success, particularly when we’re in a BDM world.

So do these things really work? The idea of a Center of Excellence sounds great on paper but can they really provide everything we claim? Forrester examined companies (both greater than $1B in revenue and less than $1B in revenue) that had undertaken major Business Process Management (BPM) projects. For those organizations saying that the resulting project “exceeded our goals significantly”, 67% had established a BPM Center of Excellence. Conversely, of those organizations claiming the project “failed to meet our goals but was considered a success because of other delivered benefits” or “significantly failed to meet our goals”, over 70% had planned – but not yet created – a BPM COE. While it may be a stretch to claim the COE was a major factor in the project’s success, I think it is clear that our odds are probably much higher with a COE established.

Consistency. You say “po-tay-to,” I say “po-tah-to.” If we’re all talking about a potato, shouldn’t we just say it? It is sometimes amazing to see how members of the same organization can discuss the same business concepts but in a completely different language. When an enterprise reaches this state, it is far too likely to complain that “we bought a BRMS but we still aren’t agile”! Is it any surprise, when it has to face the technology, business, and organization gaps we’ve just described?




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