Over the last 12 years, I've seen – and helped drive – a lot of change in the BPM market. First, I watched BPM move from a heavy focus on integration to a greater focus on collaboration and social interaction. And then, BPM expanded from highly structured and ‘automate-able’ processes to address unstructured, more dynamic business processes. It is safe to say that over the last decade, demand for BPM was driven by key characteristics of the "Information Age" - a relentless drive towards improving the flow and sharing of information across people and systems.
Now, the most compelling business cases powering fresh demand for BPM focus on characteristics of the new age we are moving into - what Forrester calls the "Age Of The Customer." If you look closely at most of today’s BPM initiatives, they tend to hide behind an imaginary firewall that separates what external customers experience and what internal business operations feel they need to be efficient. In this new age, business leaders are waking up to the realization that they can no longer divorce process improvement from the people and systems that touch customers, partners, and customer-facing employees.
As some of you know, I’m a bit of a political junkie. I believe I picked up the political bug from years of riding shotgun with my dad as he listened to Rush Limbaugh blaring on the car radio. As a kid, I loved listening to Rush and trying to understand where he was coming from, trying to understand his perspective, trying to understand his ideology. The term “culture wars” in U.S. politics is used to define a clash between two different political ideologies – conservatism and liberalism.
Over the past few years, I’ve also started using the term “culture wars” to describe the clash and fragmentation we’ve seen in the BPM market. In the BPM space, the clash has primarily been around dynamic case management (DCM), human-centric workflow, and straight-through processing ideologies.
I’m the first to admit that fragmentation and categorization is not always a bad thing, since it can help software buyers and decision-makers better understand which solutions best match their business requirements and desired business outcomes. However, the fragmentation in BPM sometimes overlooks the primary purpose and value proposition of BPM – to help support creating a sustainable business change program.
Outside of BPM, one of my other passions is mentoring college students through the process of launching new startups. I enjoy helping students tighten up their business ideas and seeing them build business plans that can attract the funding they need to stand up and implement their ventures.
Recently, after reviewing and providing feedback on a student’s business plan, the student responded, “I can launch my business without a business plan; all this planning seems like a waste of time.” At first, I thought he was joking. However, I could read by the look on his face that he was serious. I am sure you can imagine the conversation that followed.
The next day when I reflected on the conversation, I had a moment of satori. I could see that startups share the same risk/reward profile as business process management initiatives. Just like startups, BPM initiatives promise huge returns to investors and stakeholders. Additionally, just like startups, BPM initiatives are fraught with risks such as inadequate funding, low adoption, and difficulty attracting skilled resources.
My conversation with the student about the importance of business planning seemed to parallel conversations I often have with enterprise architects and business architects launching or retooling their BPM initiatives. Most tend to overestimate the BPM’s potential rewards and downplay — or do not fully understand — the risks involved with launching a BPM initiative. However, for the most successful BPM initiatives, I have found that their leaders tend to have a “lean startup” mentality.
What does it mean to have a “lean startup” mentality?
Many business people still struggle to see the role of business processes in building better performance (i.e., business results). So I thought I would share this little hook that I developed within one of my consulting engagements. It is based around preparing bread: Mixing the components of the bread — the flour, yeast, and water — and then baking it all together for an effective result.
In your business, it is the dough rising that equates to achieving its performance objectives — however those performance objectives are defined.
Whether they’re aware of it or not, in most businesses the different ingredients are not well aligned or working together as well as they could be. Mixing the metaphors for a moment, the roles and actors are not rowing together in a coordinated fashion. Business process management (BPM) brings together a range of techniques and approaches — the BPM tool box. The components of this tool box help change agents in the business (the bakers) create their own special sort of dough. At the heart of that is an ongoing inquiry into business processes — if you like, the water that binds the flour (your people) with the yeast (the technology).
There may be other ingredients involved that add their own subtle contribution to flavor and texture. But cooking is not only about mixing the right quantity of ingredients; it is also how you mix them and how long you bake the mixture. You might think it is just a question of getting the right measure of ingredients. But first, it is necessary to decide on the sort of bread you want to make, how it is going to be delivered, and to whom. Alongside the choice of people (flour), the most critical element is the water (processes) — the ingredient that binds it all together.
Firms are often challenged to undertake transformation at a grand scale — to sustain and scale BPM programs across the organization. All firms are at subtly different levels of maturity, with different histories, unique cultures — and while there are many commonalities, every organization needs to approach the BPM and transformation agenda in subtly different ways.
Enterprisewide transformation involves a large number of people doing some pretty special things. The reality is that each organization will need its own subtle blend of skills, methods, techniques and tools. In a sense, the organization needs to weave its own proprietary method framework — to create its own fabric — a unique approach that reflects its special needs, the maturity of the different business units, the history of change, culture, and political challenges.
There will be people inside the organization that need to own that framework and set of methods, monitor its efficacy, and improve it over time. And while external resources can complement those employees, the executives at the helm should understand that they cannot abrogate responsibility for change. Too often, I hear the transformational objective stated and then followed by something like " . . . and we are looking for an outsource provider to do it all for us.” That sort of attitude is likely to end up in a courtroom (as things go sour down the line).
Coming back to the weave — populating that framework is always a challenge (since you only know what you know you know). What methods, techniques, and approaches does your organization need? For the organization to answer those questions effectively, it needs to understand the likely challenges it will encounter and assess the skills and capabilities required to overcome them.
As some of you know, I am hopelessly addicted to golf. I can already hear you asking, “What does golf have to do with marathons, and what do marathons have to do with business processes?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Before becoming a golf addict, I was a runner – running 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. My goal was to work my way up to a marathon. This is still my goal, but I learned a while ago that you can’t be a serious golfer and also be a serious runner – they both compete for long stretches of time on Saturday mornings (although I did have someone recommend that I combine the two into "marathon golf").
When I was a runner, I quickly learned that how you run a 5K or 10K is different from how you run a half-marathon. It seems obvious now, but when I trained for my first half marathon I didn’t realize how critical it was to hydrate all the way through and to also change your breathing technique. Ultimately, I found a training program that helped me get ready for my first race, and I ended up crossing the finish line in pretty good time and without killing myself.
Over the past three months, I've been heads down working on our upcoming "Forrester Wave™ For Human-Centric BPM Suites, Q3 2010" report. I've also been on the road over the past five weeks attending and presenting at different BPM vendor conferences - gotta love Vegas! I must admit I have barely had time to keep tabs on my different BPM tribes - blog sites, Twitter conversations, and LinkedIn discussions. I've been checking in here and there around different camp fires and adding a little spark occasionally when something interesting caught my eye.
But today, I ran across a simmering debate around social BPM on different blog sites, here and here. Seems like this is fast becoming the hottest topic in BPM. Guess I shouldn't be surprised since I helped drive the conversation around social BPM over the last year. It's very good to see the conversation evolve and also good to see different perspectives on how social can help improve all aspects of BPM initiatives.
Earlier this month I delivered a presentation on social BPM at IBM's Impact 2010 event. This presentation provided the most up to date perspective on how we see customers using and applying social techniques and methodologies to BPM initiatives. During the session, we framed social BPM in the following way:
91% of executives say customer experiences are critical or very important to their businesses, nearly 5,000 consumers prefer better customers experiences over lower prices and better customer experiences drive higher revenue and profits,—according to Forrester Research .