5 Jun 2011

The Dos & Don’ts of BPM, Part One: The Dos

Over the years, Business Process Management (BPM) has often gotten a bad reputation as being too difficult, too costly, or too ineffective.  Many times this is due to improperly named processes being labeled as true BPM, or existing products that claim to be capable of BPM. The truth is that the success or failure of a BPM process rests more on the approach used when implementing the BPM system than on the system itself. To truly use a quality BPM much rests on the attitude of the company to align themselves fully with their customers. The following practices, when used properly can often avoid catastrophe as well as avoid wasting resources chasing BPM rainbows.

ABC: Always Be Changing

Many businesses operate from a top-down mentality, meaning that those that make the decisions in boardrooms expect their concepts to trickle down and translate into sales. The truth is that businesses work from the bottom-up with the end user being the only person in the chain of events that could tell a business where it is failing. This is because they are the ones that ultimately know the chinks in the armor. The first thing a business needs to be aware of when they start a BPM process is that they have to be ready to discard their ideas at a moment’s notice. While something might be a brilliant strategy from a corporate standpoint, if it isn’t in the best interests of the end user, it needs to hit the cutting room floor.

Many BPM processes fail at this level, partly because not everyone is on board with a total business redesign. Human beings are prideful animals, but that can make them too willing to hold on to outdated or hindering ideas. Like any growth process, instituting a BPM system is painful. Every person in the company has to be willing to keep their eyes open and to be critical of themselves. The possible rewards that can be reaped are great, but expecting a failed concept to somehow work in the future can leave a company stagnant if the business can’t adapt. Businesses have to evolve just like anything else, and if they can’t adapt, they become extinct.

Anticipate fluctuation. Like the saying goes: If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. The natural temptation is to try to force something to work. Fight that instinct and learn to bend with the winds of change. Then, once the change has been made, be ready to change again. The tides of business are fickle and require new discoveries every day.

Gradual Implementation:

In addition to growth being a painful process, it is also a long one. BPM is a marathon, not a sprint. Too many times a BPM process is thrown into a company as if it has been handed down from on high. The change needs to occur organically. Trying to force it too rapidly will lead to a total breakdown. It could come from within the worker ranks. It could come from customer disturbance, or it could come from an underdeveloped technological implementation. Whatever it is, any BPM plan that has an “end-all, be-all” release date will also have a “dead-by” date not too long afterwards.

Everyone in the company needs to acclimate to the new face of the business. Old customers need to be introduced slowly into it. While the new customer might love the system as soon as they see it, the individuals – both in and out of the company – that have been doing the same thing for years need time to adjust. As long as the first aspect – the willingness to change – is there, then slowly the kinks will be worked out, the fat trimmed off, and the business machine will run faster and smoother than ever.  BPM doesn’t hit like a hurricane. It erodes like the tide.

Measure Twice, Cut Once:

Along with being gradual is the need to plan, plan, and then re-plan the plan. Goals need to be assessed and reevaluated ad nauseam before they should be put into action. The ability to discard a bad plan is just as important to flexibility as being able to adjust after the process is in motion. Once a business decides to implement a BPM system, the excitement can often lead to premature implementation. It’s a fantastic new idea that the business wants to see succeed, but then the lack of planning leaves it anemic and unable to hold up to the fiery promises.

The way to avoid this is to almost beat it to death. Every outlook must be considered. Everyone must be consulted. BPM is comprehensive, which means that every hole that every different department can find needs to be addressed ahead of time. It goes contrary to human nature, but when everyone at the corporation, from the CEO to the lowest customer service rep is sick and tired of talking about BPM, that is most often exactly when it is ready. When every avenue for failure has been exploited, exhausted, and bled of all joy, then the system is truly a pragmatic choice rather than shiny, useless bauble. Remember that the underbelly of business is not sexy.

The institution of BPM requires a very difficult mentality. An effective institution is about the attitude of the company and a willingness to challenge old ideas. This is naturally easiest for newer companies that don’t have the same rigors as well-established companies, and as such they do not have as many doctrines to break down or reevaluate. Any business that is willing to wholly and honestly look at itself and make drastic changes from the inside out can have a very successful BPM program. Those that allow the status quo to remain can expect little change, no matter how much money is put into a good BPM process.

Thanks for reading our article! Be sure to stay tuned for our second part of this series — the don’t of doing BPM!

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