Ready, Fire, Aim

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OK – so you're ready to deploy BPM for improved performance. Maybe you've even identified a candidate business process where the application of BPM principles, practices and technology is likely to yield business benefit.

So what should you do if you want to optimize your chances of success? First of all, in spite of what some might say, don't start with technology! Starting with technology is most likely to result in the situation 'Ready, Fire, Aim.

Sure – technology is the key enabler – but it is just that – an enabler.

Instead, consider beginning by achieving a shared understanding of what you want to accomplish, why you want to do it, what business benefits are likely to be achieved and the likely scope of effort involved.

There are three crucial activities needed to do that;

  • Creating context
  • Linking to strategic issues
  • Demonstrating the business benefits

Let's consider what's involved in this.

Creating Context

Where does the process begin? Where does it end? What are the key steps? What value does the process output create? What are the measures of quality, time, cost and productivity of that output? What is current performance for each key metric? What is desired performance for each key metric? What process interdependencies exist?

These are the key questions to ask and answer in creating context – and taking the time to do it will serve you well in eventually achieving a shared understanding of what you want to accomplish, why you want to do it, what business benefits are likely to be achieved and even the likely scope of effort involved.

So let's say that you are thinking about automating the order entry process. It doesn't much matter whether it is for a product or a service. The issues are surprisingly similar. By asking and answering the questions outlined above, you will find out the percent of orders entered that are totally accurate, complete, and entered on time. You will have an estimate of the average cost of entering an order would be. Now, you can frame the 'order entry process' within the context of the 'order to cash' process. You can demonstrate, with data, that garbage-in leads to 'garbage-out.' Of equal importance, this groundwork equips you to link to strategic issues to answer the fundamental question – why do we want to do this in the first place?

Linking to Strategic Issues

In this day and age, no firm has unlimited resources. Your project needs to compete against possibly dozens of others. So, once you've created context, it's essential to link to the firm's strategic issues.

Referring again to the example of automating the 'order entry process', you need to ask and answer the question, “What's the strategic benefit of doing this?' Is it that the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of current order entry processes is so poor that there is a clear adverse impact on customer satisfaction? Is it that the average cost of entering an order is too high? Is it that the current manual practices have an adverse impact on the firm's ability to dramatically increase throughput?

Or – is it some combination of the above?

The answer to these questions will serve to inspire leaders to invest the time and energy needed to support your efforts.

But, the link to strategic issues, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition for success. You will also need to demonstrate the business benefits.

Demonstrating Business Benefit

Having created context and having linked the project to a strategic issue, it is then essential to demonstrate the likely benefits of the project under contemplation.

That means estimating the total investment needed in terms of technology, infrastructure, training and follow-up activities. Remember, the BPM software probably represents only around 25% of the total scope of effort.

In spite of the fact that there is increasing interest in customer-focused process thinking, the majority of organizations are still dominated by functional thinkers who care mostly about the financial results that BPM can produce. So, it's worthwhile demonstrating that quality actually costs less – and not more- in clear financial terms.

How to Do It?

So that's a very brief description of what needs to be done. How you do it is equally important. Here are just a few tips to consider:

  • Do it fast. If this scoping effort takes you more than a few weeks – you may lose people's attention.
  • Don't be afraid to estimate. You can't do it quickly with an anal retentive psychology. Estimates, properly qualified are a must.
  • Engage people across functional boundaries. BPM is all about cross-functional collaboration. Call it bridging the IT-Business divide – if you wish.
  • Create excitement. BPM can be deadly boring. Look at the business from the outside-in, from the customer's point of view, as well as from the inside-out.

And while you're at it, consider avoiding these pitfalls:

• Working at the wrong level, diving into too much detail too soon.
• Sending mixed messages
• Not remembering to communicate persistently
• Underestimating the importance of leadership engagement
• Cutting too many corners in performance measurement
• Failing to integrate tools & methods
• Failing to invest in relevant and effective business process training
• Forgetting about cross functional involvement
• Not installing feedback systems

Ready, Aim, Fire! That's a far sight better than; Ready, Fire, Aim! While it does take some effort, the benefits for your project and your organization can be significant.

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