Workflow and BPM in a Project Management Environment – Break it Down

I recently attended meetings with very smart people who are eager to automate much of what they are doing manually. Each is a specialist in their domain. IT folks are waiting for the green light to acquire systems and technology. Operations folks are wondering what their new tools will look like and how they’ll change day-to-day life. Classic disconnect.

When we speak of workflow and business process management in service to this project, peoples’ eyes take on that characteristic glazed-over look. “How will we ever get there?!” they cry.

Project Management

We stand at an evolving intersection of technology-enabled business and sophisticated workflow/process management nested safely in a project management environment. Some industries not only “get” this, they have matured and moved on to ERP and SOA approaches that eclipse the developmental stage of other industries. I am concerned with industries who are behind on all 3 curves. Still doing much of their work manually. Still new to BPM and still failing to harness the power of project management.

When we speak of project charters, trained and skilled project managers (let alone certified), project plans, critical paths, milestones, etc., we are taking a lot for granted. There are thousands upon thousands of American businesses, non-profits and governmental agencies that are only being introduced to these tactics and methods. Most are still oblivious. In an era of shrinking profits, their ability to ramp-up quickly and apply these tactics to create bottom-line savings and top-line innovations and growth is critical to our economy.

Break it Down

Drawing simple pictures for folks – showing them where they are now (their current state) and their desired future state – is not enough. Those of us with skills and experience in this work must break it down much further without losing people in the details. Simple cascading work plans that are designed to show progress towards milestones are necessary. Strategic goals and objectives are necessary ingredients. People need to know why. Individual contributions and resource planning are central to their understanding. Management tactics that include oversight and accountability (consequences) are required for effective change. Deep understanding of the cultural nuances and compensating for resistance to change is crucial. Managers, for example, need to know how they will address hiring, job descriptions, supervision, performance measures, training and other human resource concerns as a result of changes in process and systems interface. The list goes on.

Breakdown for Buy-In

When we speak of buy-in, we tend to think in terms of presentations that tie process change/improvement to strategy. That’s not enough, folks. You need to obtain real buy-in by breaking initiatives down to the core elements described above. Otherwise, heads will nod up and down and you’ll find yourself standing in conference rooms alone in no time. Buy-in is happening when managers show up with plans and a deep sense of ownership and responsibility. Buy-in is happening when you see mud on the walls. It’s a thing called traction.


If you don’t have buy-in, start by reviewing how much you’ve given people. Do they know enough to make a commitment? If they know enough, have the resources and tools they need and still don’t get traction, then you need to look to leadership. Someone has to hold everyone accountable. Use rewards and consequences. When something is mission-critical, hold peoples’ feet to the fire.


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