BPM should focus on people, not technology

bpm toolsThe breadth and variety of BPM tools has never been greater, yet the increasing availability of tools has not increased the success of BPM projects.  The biggest barrier to BPM success is so often human related.

This software often allows companies to monitor process performance and implement changes in real-time, a stark contrast to days of yore when managers would have to wait until the end of the week or month to see how changes had performed.
Of course, with these technological advancements in what BPM can achieve come an equal increase in the complexity of the people related hurdles that managers must overcome to ensure successful execution.
"Just as we have found in the past, it's not really implementing the software that's the problem. What is the problem is that you're changing the way people work, and making sure that two years from now, they don't go back to their old habits while also trying to circumvent [what they were told to change]," Elise Olding, research director, BPM group at Gartner. said.


She highlights that whilst focusing on technology might see some short-term improvements, unless managers manage the human behaviours the benefits will be limited, with many organisations regressing to their previous state over time.  Indeed in some instances things become worse, as employees revert to using both old and new systems at the same time.

To prevent this from happening, managers should resist the urge to get greedy with their BPM efforts and start out with a small project first.  As Galls Law states
"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system."
Starting small has a number of benefits:
  1. You can afford to fail without the consequences being too large
  2. Complexity is much more manageable
  3. You're not spreading resources too thinly
  4. You can target early adopters
  5. You have success stories to help spread things throughout the organisation

So your BPM efforts should start with one relatively easy and well-defined problem that you need to address. Starting small, such as a BPM project for a particular business unit, will mean that it is easier define the scope and stick to it, and makes for more consistent leadership--all of which are common challenges facing any IT project including BPM.

You're also allowing your organisations BPM skills to grow and evolve based upon tangible projects, thus improving the chances of getting senior management buy-in when increasing the scope of your projects across functions and departments.

Moving from a one off skunk works style project into a more organisation wide change project will require significant political skills.

Olding drew up a typical scenario: Managers, who are used to running their respective teams the way they want to, are now being asked to collaborate and be accountable to work metrics shared by other departments. In other words, they feel they have to sub-optimize how they run their turf, in order to benefit the enterprise as a whole.

She advised that for BPM to work, at least 10 to 20 percent of the effort should be entirely devoted to organisational change or change management.

So BPM shouldn't be regarded as a silver bullet that will solve all of your woes.  For companies to make the most of it though an emphasis on the human elements is essential.
Adi Gaskell is Head of Online at the Process Excellence Network