Defining the Nature and Role of the BPM Professional

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

As I attend and present at industry BPM conferences, I often survey the participants, asking them to raise their hands if they are from IT departments. Generally, about 30 to 45 percent of the hands go up. I then ask people to raise their hands if they are from the business side of the organization. Once again, about 30 to 45 percent of the hands shoot up. I then ask, “Who is stuck in the middle, like me?” Nearly the entire group raises their hands, generally emphatically.

These informal surveys are revealing. Many of us, who work in process management, process redesign, process performance analysis, process automation, and related disciplines, are conflicted. Are we business practitioners who have to understand how to leverage IT to manage by process, or are we IT practitioners who have to understand the business in order to fully utilize the capabilities of new IT solutions?

BPM’s Dual Nature

BPM is both a management discipline and a set of technologies that supports managing by process. A convergence of technologies for workflow, enterprise application integration (EAI), document and content management, business rules management, performance management and analytics – among others – has been brought to bear with a focus on supporting process-based management. A few years ago, BPM software vendors were focused on the execution layer of the technology stack. Today, they are delivering BPM suites with a full range of features and functions to support process managers and analysts, as well as technology developers.

Paradigm Evolution

Recent research studies confirm that business process management is rapidly evolving as the dominant management paradigm of the 21st century. An April 2005 BPMG study found that “…the practice of BPM as a primary means to manage business has already gained substantial adoption” and “…more than 80 percent of the world’s leading organizations are actively engaged in BPM programs, many of these on a global scale.”

An APQC benchmarking study completed in March 2005 found that “BPM is the way best-practice organ-izations conduct business.” That study also examined proven strategies, approaches, tools and techniques (including business process frameworks and maturity models) employed by world-class, process-focused enterprises. It found that, while “technology, by itself, does not constitute business process management, much of the promise of BPM initiatives will not be realized without powerful, flexible and user-friendly IT solutions to support them.”

Business process management and performance management are merging as more and more process management groups begin to recognize and understand their organization as a system of interacting processes whose performance must be balanced and focused on fulfilling strategies. Conversely, more and more of those engaged in enterprise performance management are realizing that it is the performance of the business processes, not the organizational functional units or a set of assets, that has to be their central focus in order to gain the true benefits of a performance management initiative. Sophisticated and powerful new technologies are central to successful and sustainable programs for both of these disciplines, and integrating the information delivery capabilities, as well as management methods, is critical to moving up the scale of maturity in deploying these practices.

New Structures

Along with this business process management revolution, new organizational structures and roles are emerging and a new category of professionals is emerging to support these practices. Because these are new organizational structures and new professional activities, business schools don’t teach us how to manage by process. No textbooks tell us what roles and responsibilities we need to put in place in order to do this kind of work. There is no authoritative research to indicate exactly how we should structure our governance and operations to do this kind of work. In fact, what research there is indicates that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Various models and roles have proven successful in various industries, none showing any clear advantage over the other.

One thing that is clear, however, is that managing by process and adapting new information systems tools to support those activities is a successful strategy that brings tremendous advantage to those businesses that adopt it. And, it seems that the more broad-based the process management initiative is in the organization, the more effective it is and the more it adds value.

Different Approaches

There seem to be as many companies whose BPM efforts are driven by their IT organizations as there are those whose BPM programs are being led by core business areas. Likewise, there seems to be two major approaches: those that are more project-oriented versus those that view BPM as a continuous process improvement and transformation effort. These different models generate roles and responsibilities with widely varying titles and alignments of responsibilities, yet all are process management focused.

Within the Association of BPM Professionals, our membership shows a diversity of titles that reflect these divergent approaches to process management. We have well over 150 different titles represented in our database, although there are clusters around some of the titles like Manager, Director, VP, Analyst, Consultant, Architect usually preceded or followed by Process, BPM, Process Improvement, Process Innovation, and the like.

One role that is particularly significant in BPM programs is that of the process owner. Depending on whether the organization restructures around cross-functional business processes, creates a matrix managed organization, appoints functional managers to take on a dual role, or relies on a cross-functional council of managers to oversee core business processes, they all contain some title that ensures that someone takes on the responsibilities of a “process owner” for each of the organization’s key operational processes. This role seems to be one of the critical success factors in effective process oriented organizations.

Organizational Maturity

One sign of the evolution or maturity in organizations implementing BPM is the existence of a specialized group that is recognized as the process specialists. Many begin with a BPM “Center of Excellence” or similar group that provides the organization process modeling, analysis, design, and project expertise – along with standard tools, methods and techniques – and acts as an internal consulting group. The Center of Excellence can become both a focal point and a resource for process-oriented projects throughout the enterprise. It can serve as a common address and a repository of accumulated knowledge.

A more mature or experienced process-oriented organization will very frequently create a process management governance group or “Process Management Office” that oversees the organization’s portfolio of processes, and aligns, prioritizes, and authorizes transformation efforts in a systematic way. And, some companies may have both types of groups working together. These groups are staffed with process management professionals with a wide range of titles and alignment of responsibilities.

While there seem to be many successful models for implementing BPM in organizations, one thing they all have in common is the many new roles with new sets of skills and responsibilities centered on BPM. This is an emerging group of professionals whose work is essential to contemporary businesses, the business process professional. Judging from the members of ABPMP, they are generally highly educated (67 percent have a bachelor’s or advanced degree) and have a significant amount of experience (9.9 years average) working in process improvement and redesign. Figure 1 shows some of the more common titles for process professionals.

These titles and their variants cover the majority of the new roles and responsibilities in process managed organizations. Regardless of the roles or organizational structure, they generally are responsible for the same sets of activities: Process Modeling, Process Analysis, Process Design, Process Change and Transformation, Process Implementation, Process Monitoring and Control, and Process Performance Improvement. These activities generally represent the core components of process management in most cases and it essential that they receive attention.

Some of these roles may be staffed in IT organizations and some in business disciplines. Many organizations are staffing cross-disciplinary groups that are built with the idea of harnessing both IT and business knowledge. Or they are assembling teams of people who have served in both IT and business units and bring a depth of knowledge. These people are in the position of bringing a range of skills that transcend traditional boundaries to bear on the specific tasks at hand. Many have found that combining people who have general consulting-type knowledge and skills with those who have a depth of business specific knowledge is a successful strategy for BPM efforts.

The business process professional represents a new kind of professional in the business environment. The work they do is critical to the future of competitive organizations today. And, even though there is no single or clear model that one can adopt, it doesn’t diminish the need for more skilled and motivated people to do this work. Eventually, universities will come out with well researched and structured models based on some of the most visible success stories. In the meantime, business can’t wait for someone to tell them the “best” way to do this, they have to do this work today and there just aren’t enough knowledgeable skilled people to go around. Successful organizations are finding that to staff these groups, they have to invest in training and development. Some are building their own curricula and training programs and bringing entry-level people on board to work closely with the few talented BPM professionals they do have. Others are sending managers, project leaders, and systems analysts to training, like the BPMInstitute certificate program, to begin to build the requisite knowledge and skills. This situation will likely continue to be the most viable approach to building process organizations for the near future.

ABPMP’s Mission

The mission of ABPMP is to engage in activities that promote the practice of business process management, to develop a common body of knowledge in this field, and to contribute to the advancement and skill development of professionals who work in this discipline. ABPMP’s local chapters produce periodic events featuring case studies and presentations about BPM topics that provide an inexpensive continuing education program for their members.

ABPMP has an education committee that is developing a BPM Common Body of Knowledge. Following that, we will produce recommended curricula for academic and training programs. We intend to create a set of criteria to evaluate training programs and a formal endorsement process for training providers and academic programs. Following that we will develop a professional certification program to certify practitioners and expert business process management professionals.

I think working in BPM at this time is the most exciting and valuable business experience managers and professionals can get today. I see business process management professionals as the new training background for future business leaders today, much as project management was 15 years ago. However, we need to develop some baseline standards, minimum qualifications, and some reasonable path for becoming a professional in this area. If you are working in process management, join others in developing the profession. Together we can build a new professional discipline that will create the future.

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