What to do in BPM When You are Starting, Growing or Dying

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Faculty Member, BPMInstitute.org and President, i4 Process
Ms. Shelley Sweet is a Faculty Member of BPMInstitute.org and President of I-4 Process (Ideas, Involvement, Implementation, Impact) in Palo Alto, California. www.i4process.com Shelley works with companies that need to transform the way they do work and use information. She provides a unique method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain process excellence. She is the author of a new book, The BPI Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Make Your Business Process Improvement Projects Simple, Structured and Successful, which is available on Amazon.


  • Are you ready to look at your work from a customer’s perspective?
  • Do you want to streamline workflows to increase your competitive advantage?


Have you been doing process improvement projects for more than a year?  Now…

  • Do you want to take your organization to larger returns—seeing the benefits of end-to-end improvements?
  • Would you like to build continuous improvement behaviors into daily management and employee life?


  • Have you been you modeling and analyzing single process for more than 6 months with no return?
  • Are your business process improvement (BPI) projects not getting implemented?

Three critical aspects o for a successful process improvement approach are (1) an assessment of the cultural readiness for process (2) choosing which process to work on and (3evaluating your human resources.  Each aspect is addressed below with suggestions for how to recognize and handle them in the three different maturity levels.

1. Assess company readiness for a process improvement approach. 

At the STARTING level:
If the culture is traditional and authoritative you will be facing an uphill battle; managers will be used to telling employees what to do and employees will wait to be told.  Maybe the culture has an Involvement environment, meaning leaders ask employees for their ideas, but leaders still make the decisions.   

It will be necessary to find a few early adopter leaders who see the value of process improvement and will lead a process improvement effort in their own department.  They will have to be trained or use an outside consultant to help them with the process improvement methodology.

At the GROWING level:
Now the company is probably at a level two or three level on the CMMI Process Maturity framework.  What that means for readiness is many leaders and employees understand process improvement concepts and have completed projects.  They see the value of diagramming the whole process.  Now it’s time for executives to step up and think bigger – taking on ownership and improvement of processes as the customer sees them from beginning to end.  Executives need to drive implementation across the organization, beyond any single leader’s authority.  So they have to value the process and the customer more than the silo any executive has built. 

At the DYING level:
If you are doing process improvement and not seeing results or are stuck in analysis paralysis, the incentive for process work will wane and just die a quiet death.  It’s important that projects be time boxed.  Don’t spend months modeling all the As Is processes – that’ s documentation work with no results.   

Start with projects that can be modeled, analyzed and improved in three months or less.  And use outside expertise to help the internal business process improvement team with the first projects to ensure success.  But don’t stop there.  If you design a new process and it doesn’t get implemented and adopted, that’s a great waste of company resources.  Implementation and Adoption needs to be as important as the specific improvement recommendations.  Additionally, if you don’t have strong project management capability for implementation, use outside resources to help. They are cheap compared to a stalled result.

2. Which Processes should you choose to work on for business results and success?

At the STARTING level:
Your first processes must be (1) important (2) doable and (3) have a strong process leader.  By important I mean it should impact some critical part of the business where there is an urgent need; by doable I suggest that the process should not be too large, but probably within a single department or two adjacent departments so that implementation will be under a single (or at most two) authority; by strong process leader, I mean having a leader who can lead at this early stage and model behaviors while others are watching.  These elements are all critical for success. 

At the GROWING level:
Now as the organization looks bigger, it is important to know what all the work processes are.  A process portfolio list provides this foundation. Then an executive group selects which end-to–end processes to start on- based on quantitative data and importance to the strategic plan.  This is best done at a C-suite level.  And like the STARTING level, the process chosen needs a strong process leader.

At the DYING level:
When choosing the right process to work on – these are killers:

  • Choosing too big a project at the STARTING level (Order to Cash or other enterprise processes) Recommendation:  Just don’t do it.  Say no and start smaller, but still have the process be important.
  • Choosing the right process but allowing scope creep.  Recommendation:  Use the charter to identify and manage scope.
  • Not having a committed and active Process Owner and Executive Sponsor.  Recommendation:  Choose leaders where this process is not only in their domain of responsibility, but where they are personally motivated.
  • Choosing a process which needs IT resources and knowing these are not available for implementation for three to six months more.  Recommendation:  Don’t start something you can’t finish.  Think about what dollars, timing, other projects and resources will be available.

3. How ready are your human resources?

At the STARTING level:
Employee resources and leader resources are probably not skilled in process improvement so they need training.  I recommend “action learning” where employees learn the tools and techniques in modules while working on a real project that they apply these techniques to.  This is real time learning and means that the work of modeling, analyzing, and improving the process gets done on their process.  The results is faster analysis and improvements. It’s probably necessary to have a process improvement expert help with action learning and act as a coach. And, employees and leaders must be excited about the work, and have an attitude of “we know the current process is broken, and we are eager to fix it.”

At the GROWING level:
Already many human resources have learned process improvement skills and have experience.  What changes at this level, is the complexity of the processes, the need to work across functions, and the daily discipline of using data to drive decisions for improvements and then operations.  Take it a step at a time, but it’s time to have a Process Center of Excellence that helps with standards and practices; it’s also time to have a Process Steering Committee at the leadership level.

At the DYING level:

Look for these red flags about your resources – both leaders and BPI team members.

  • Leaders do not have time for meetings.
  • Leaders move onto other jobs.
  • Process Leaders are assigned and have the charter handed to them instead of creating it.
  • Team members stop showing up for work sessions.
  • Team members have other important projects and choose that work over this BPI project.
  • There are no IT people on the team.  Or you don’t have any business people on the team.

These red flags are signals, and if they don’t get resolved the “sickness” will turn to DYING.  Recognize these red flags and use them as triggers to kick off key dialogs with leadership about how to deal with the situation.

Understanding the company culture, process methodology, and human resource skills is critical in planning and executing a BPM strategy.  Equally essential is knowing where your organization is in its BPM initiative –just beginning, expanding, or slowing and then knowing what to do to revitalize the process efforts.  Yes, slow and steady wins the race, but you must be aware of the signs and take some action to stay on the right path.

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