Non-Technical Issues Matter Too

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This article originally appeared in the members only BPM Strategies Magazine.  Join today to receive your own copy. 

Too many organizations think they can implement business process management (BPM) efforts with nothing more than a comprehensive set of tools and a good ROI story. While these aspects must be dealt with, failure to also effectively address cultural resistance and organizational desire can relegate even the best-intentioned BPM projects to the dustbin of failure.

Three key issues must be addressed to ensure the effectiveness of BPM efforts. The most obvious is tools. Having the right technology solution in place is a key requirement. However, experience has shown that two other non-technical issues will be the primary determining factors as to whether or not BPM projects actually improve the organization's effectiveness. These issues are:

• Cultural resistance: This tends to be a "bottom-up" phenomenon that occurs when people sabotage improvement efforts because of resistance to change driven by fear of potential job losses.

• Organizational desire: This is a "top-down" organizational attribute that relates to the willingness of the senior management team to forcefully drive process improvement efforts throughout the organization in the face of resistance to loss of management authority within the operating units.

While these two issues are inextricably intertwined, experience has shown that they must be addressed in different ways.

Cast a Wide Web

Overcoming cultural resistance is not easy. Many of the business processes with the most potential for improvement are those that span functional boundaries and have been resistant to previous enhancement efforts. In these cases, we have found that the best practice is to form a process improvement team made up of key individuals from each of the functional areas involved in the process. The team is chartered with analyzing process bottlenecks, evaluating possible remedies, and implementing corrective action.

This fosters teamwork between the functional groups and results in a situation where the people with the deepest working knowledge of the process are the ones that end up "selling" the improvements to the rest of the organization. The cultural resistance gradually fades into the background.

High-level Arm Twisting

Ensuring the needed level of organizational desire is a senior management function. Rigid barriers between siloed organizations can stymie progress and are difficult to overcome with cross-functional process teams alone. The main issue in these cases is resistance to loss of management control within the functional units. Individual supervisors and managers perceive certain process improvement efforts as reducing their authority over the part of the process for which they are responsible. It is always best to start BPM efforts with a strong, clear, concise, and highly visible senior management commitment.

Beyond Technology

The success of BPM projects will be constrained more by cultural resistance and low organizational desire than it will be if a suboptimal technology solution is picked. Take steps to make sure that the project team addresses the key concerns in both of these areas instead of focusing solely on the technological aspects of the implementation.

Ken Vollmer is a member of Forrester's Applications Development & Infrastructure Group, covering trends, issues, and strategies related to all forms of integration, including application integration, business process integration, business process management, enterprise application integration, and electronic data interchange. He has 18 years of management-level experience in the IT industry. Prior to joining Forrester, he was at the Giga Information Group and, before that, he was the director of information systems planning for a retail company, where he implemented an EDI program with more than 1000 trading partners.

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