BPM Top 10 Tips: A practical guide to the early days of your BPM program

Tip one: Reject the “management buzz speak”; get to real reasons why your business should change

You will always receive immediate (and often visceral) reasons for commissioning a BPM program in your early meetings with Business Sponsors. Often, they are peppered with buzz words such as “cost reduction”, “increased efficiency”, and “process automation”, perhaps revealing the lack of insight and specificity often felt in the early days of a BPM program. More or less however, they tend to sum-up the prevailing mood of management and can be seen as an important data point as you start to uncover a deeper understanding of what your business needs. Using analytical techniques, some described below, you will elicit factors of change which will be representative of a far deeper understanding of the underlying malaise, inertia and/or sheer ambition present within the business. It is critical you as a BPM professional develop a skill in getting to the real root factors of change to adequately provide focus in the genesis of your program.

  • Interview many different stakeholders to get a balanced view of your BPM project objectives. Trying different mechanisms – for example, focus group discussions and one-on-one sessions – will  allow you to see the factors of change from different perspectives;
  • Use tools such as “5 whys” to get to the reasons for change; keep asking questions until you are satisfied the most appropriate factors of change are emerging;
  • Think about how to make your factors of change measurable

Tip two: Make sure process metrics are embedded into your process designs; they are an invaluable measure of how well you are achieving your business objectives

Process metrics are measures embedded into a business process to gauge how effective your new design meets specific business objectives. For example, the “number of contacts a customer makes with the bank for the same transaction” is a measure representing effectiveness of your sales process – and by implication, one of the many indicators showing how well the customer is being serviced by your organisation.

  • An effective metric is hard-linked to business objectives. They are be unambiguous and require little or no interpretation by stakeholders;
  • The capture of metrics should be a natural activity – a by-product of executing the process; no extra effort should be expended in metrics capture;
  • Make sure your stakeholders do understand the metrics you design; complex metrics are counterintuitive and wasteful
  • A dashboard can be an excellent canvas for sharing metrics; a highly visual dashboard is a great asset – which in many situations acts as a positive feedback loop, actively increasing the usage rate of your metrics – and therefore increase the likelihood of achieving business objectives;

Tip three: Communicate; even when you think you have done communicating…communicate more

BPM is not only about business process – people are central to all parts of a BPM journey, so communication and active engagement of your stakeholder group is crucial. This may seem an obvious statement – but many BPM programs are affected by the “communication sandwich” syndrome – which has excellent communication at the extremes (project initiation and the implementation phase) – but the in-between period suffers from poor engagement and communication.

  • Realise that discrete stakeholder groups have different needs – make sure the differences are identified and respected; stakeholder management techniques (e.g. power/influence maps) are powerful and should be used;
  • Use innovative mechanisms to get people involved. In one recent large BPM implementation involving a context of controversial and difficult change, the project team used social events to bring people together and discuss the change program in a safe environment;
  • Start small and win over stakeholders with continuous delivery, demonstrating the value and power of BPM
  • It is important to test your methodology, your change teams and foster a good relationship with stakeholders by starting with a controlled area of the business.
  • Chose a pilot with significant potential for positive business impact and limited downside should anything negative happen.

Tip four: Your customer is central to everything you do; Ivory towers have to go

In the heat of the moment in a busy BPM program, it is quite easy to misrepresent who your customers are and what they need. In some environments this is endemic – for example, BPM programs with a sole focus on a single corporate function often find it difficult to define the “real customer” – is it the paying customer or another part of your organisation that you service directly? – in reality it is both.

  • Be empathic – put yourself into your customers’ position. What are their expectations? What is the competition doing to better serve them? How can you better serve them?
  • Create process metrics to represent how well you are serving your customers. Ruthlessly look every aspect of customer service – e.g. the ease to buy product, what drives complaints and when complaints happen, how complaints are managed
  • Assess non-core processes with a critical eye to simplify the customer experience. For example, if you are an on-line retailer, should you create a website so the customer can check the status of their order? If you had a great business process where customers’ orders are shipped immediately, do you need a customer initiated process for the <5% that do not turn up within the agreed window? In the event of a late delivery, would a proactive phone call to the customer be better customer service than the alternative?
  • Be careful not to focus on single corporate functions (e.g. HR) when designing your BPM program; The needs of the wider organisation are usually neglected in this case and you risk building ivory towers which don’t need to be there.  At its best, BPM is a holistic approach and piecemeal solutions make transformational change much more difficult;

Tip five: Pick the right BPM / change methodology and implement it ruthlessly; make it sticky

A well-designed methodology is an important tool that gives all participants in the BPM project – from change practitioners to sponsors and operational staff – a common framework that structures the program. The methodology should contain at least the following elements: project management, to assure delivery; process analysis, to analyse and design target processes; organisational design, to build the target human organisation & policies; metrics & quality, to measure business value;technology enablement, to automate processes (only) where needed;

  • Consider using an Agile methodology, but make sure it is appropriate for your organisation. Contrary to popular belief, Agile methodologies can be used for business process engineering projects (as well as their mainstay – technology initiatives)
  • Use industry standard notations (e.g. BPMN) and train all staff how to interpret them, providing a common language in your organisation for business process design
  • Create a buzz around the methodology – training courses, learning bites and posters all work well to create a BPM “brand” makes the methodology sticky.

Tip Six: Eradicate the corrosive culture of automating sub-optimal business processes

Too often BPM projects fail because of automating existing business processes, typically using Business Process Management Systems (BPMS). Usually such approaches give back immediate return on investment – but over the medium & long term, this approach merely compounds existing problems and creates a tighter knot to unravel.

  • A business process automation program should be preceded by a sensible business process architecture and a full understanding of the cost / benefits of automation;
  • Before starting an automation program, common-sense methods such as Lean and Kaisen should be implemented to eliminate any residual waste to prevent them being caught up in the automation activities;
  • User  input should be continually sought out – an Agile method are ideal at bringing this level of intimacy with requirements;

Tip seven: See the benefit of process architecture, reusability and consider developing a BPM Centre of Excellence.

A key determinant of reengineering cost within a BPM program is the degree of efficiency and reusability that can be gained from process engineering. A crucial role here is the Process Architect – a professional who is responsible for understanding business objectives, the customer, and the products; they then translate this into a coherent blueprint containing target processes, organisation design and a view on automation.

  • Consider developing a Centre of Excellence for BPM; this will be the custodian of the BPM methodologies, deliverer BPM training and champion of BPM in the wider audience. It is also the policeman that ensures the prescribed standards are being met in the organisation;
  • Creating a community of mentors around the BPM program increases the chances of success;
  • Consider the build-out of business facing utilities, such as a customer servicing utility or document handling utility. These are the ultimate in process reuse – and allow the concentration of a particular function to develop – thus gaining huge economies of scale and potentially allow companies to spin off highly efficient utilities to third-party outsourcers

Tip eight: Ensure all Lean, Six-Sigma and other improvement methods are aligned with your BPM program

BPM naturally complements other business improvement methods; for example, in some environments, effective statistical process control (Six Sigma) relies upon BPM to implement reliable and accurate process metrics; likewise Lean is a critical component in understanding and designing effective business processes and a predecessor activity to large-scale business process engineering.

  • When designing your integrated approach, do a full walkthrough of a typical project lifecycle with colleagues from all disciplines to ensure you are considering all aspects of business change
  • As a BPM professional, ensure you have an open dialog with fellow  colleagues responsible for other methodologies and agree clearly the boundaries
  • Do not make one approach dominant – in reality, as an organisation matures, the dominant methodology will change over time

Tip nine: Ensure you consider organisation design in your change program

All BPM change impacts human beings – and consequentially, most programs have a significant impact to organisation structures, roles and responsibilities and even locations of work. Unfortunately, organisation development commonly takes a secondary or even tertiary role in most BPM initiatives. The aim of the organisation component is to ensure work requiring human beings is appropriately allocated to organisational units and the resulting jobs are well described, located in the correct geographies and are appropriately skilled up to meet the expectations of the business process.

  • Using your newly discovered process metrics, simulate the load on a business process to determine how many people you need to be involved in your business process; use this to seek additional efficiency
  • Look for economies of scale in job design and training
  • Look for potential partners that you can eventually outsource common functions/utilities to

Tip ten:  BPM should be persistent and sticky – after your BPM program “ends” – leaving a legacy of “sustaining BPM” – good governance, the process engineering capability and suitably qualified BPM professionals 

BPM should be a continuous process transcending the discrete and numerous change programs that are commissioned over time. Your BPM methodology should have a significant “sustaining” component. The structures, governance and roles that are implemented during a BPM program must stay in the organisation.

  • Encourage the culture of change to develop, through appointing BPM program change staff to operational leadership roles once the majority of program change has concluded
  • Continuously re-enforce methodology through training and engagement
  • Continuous assessment operational performance using your metrics. Keep using the metric dashboards you built

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