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

Friday, March 04, 2011

Understanding management's hesitance towards BPM

Sometimes I get the feeling that BPM is a solution, still trying to find a problem to solve.
And I often hear BPM-specialists complain that "management does not support BPM".
Our research in the Dutch Market (this is a sneekpeek, watch this space, and Capgemini for more publications in a number of weeks!) suggests that BPM-specialists need to dare to apply a key BPM-principle on themselves: "Outside in thinking".
If management is the customer, why aren't they convinced of BPM?

In our research, we found a number of things, clarifying why management is not eagerly and happily jumping the BPM-train:

1. BPM is fairly complex and abstract

2. BPM takes time and requires a lot of energy from managers to fight the often dominant functional culture, existing in most organizations (and we all know: pick your fights carefully)

3. BPM has not delivered some of it's key promises (according to our findings):
- It has resulted at this stage in only limited increases in transparancy (process intelligence is mostly still a promise)
- Through BPM (as a discipline, with focus on maturity) organizations have not reached agility - changing processes is still hard and timeconsuming

4. Due to its history, BPM is often still viewed/confused as an IT-subject ("the new workflow")

5. The IT-promise of faster time to market of changes has not been delivered (and although our research does not give a cause, we suspect that many BPM-technology implementations are less flexible than expected and that many supporting IT-organisations still need to learn to increase speed, as they are likely caught in old-world "9 month" releasecycles, treating changes in processes and business rules as full fletched change requests)

Tricky situation. Even more if we see that research participants state that:
- The management of only a few organizations see and leverage processes as bridge between strategy and operations, using process interventions for change and improvements
- Management commitment is one of the key CSF's for BPM projects

My thoughts: for BPM to earn it's status as integral element in management and technology, we need to further develop BPM!
But.... We have some really interesting findings that suggest why BPM is already becoming an essential capability in best-in-class organizations - more on this later...