Monday, March 07, 2011

BPM: Regressing and forgetting 60 years of management thinking

Around 2005 I first got involved in a project with some new innovative technology: Business Process Management (as we called it back then).

As business analyst, I was part of a team that also consisted of a number of developers.
And till today, I remember the look in their eyes when they started to understand the possibilities and implications of this technology. And the same look I saw in the business manager's eyes. And I did not like it.

The developers look: "Wow, before I could only drive the behavior of computers, but with this, this.... I can program people" (I won't go into the finer aspects of the developer psychology, including the way nerds are treated - hum ignored - by the cool business people - BPM as revenge!).
The manager's look: "Wow, so I get a process-driven application, which pushes my people's behavior, and gives me near real-time insight". (As most managers have had unsecure childhoods, BPM was the perfect way to regain control).

And the uneasy feeling I got, was also because at that stage as was reading lot's of management material, studying the history of management. The look in the eyes of these people felt "industrial revolution" or "Taylorian".
Interesting - a new innovative technology, that takes us back to the thinking of 80 years ago - ignoring all the developments in management thinking - empowerment, self-steering teams, work as social dimension, etc.
And it let back to the notion of "first process, than people".

Oh, by the way - the project failed. Insufficient user acceptance.

My lesson: Don't confuse the ends with the means. Process is not the goal - the goal is to support people collaborating and adding value to company and stakeholders. And process can be an element in helping these people structure and support their work. Process is (Capital) A means (and unfortunately often a barrier in many organizations...)

(This post also posted on


jaisundar said...

Great points, Roeland.

I am not surprised that the project failed. The thing is many people misconstrue the idea of 'control'. This, in my opinion, is also why not just BPM but many projects fail. I have particularly seen huge backlash in SFA solutions for example. However as you rightly say, the focus needs to be on 'empowerment'. Helping people perform their regular tasks with ease and efficiency should be the objective.

DotNetWard said...

Roeland; You're one of the few in the Netherlands who truly understands where the problems lie in the realization of BPM solutions