The BPM (business process management) space is very active, populated by sophisticated software vendors, led in part by talented engineers and consultants and financed largely by IT budgets. Entire suites of BPM and BPA (business process analysis) applications are broadening into SOA (service-oriented architecture) capabilities. All of this is very exciting, enabling rapid transformation of enterprises and radically folding what used to be “IT” – the distinct geek department – into a business services environment. All of this is also IT-intensive and relatively expensive. I say “relatively” because BPM-mature organizations with revenues greater than $500M are not going to be particularly intimidated by BPMS (BPM Suites) that can run $3,500-$10,000 per seat (and then some). The rest of us are going to think twice. That’s what concerns me.
BPR (business process re-engineering) is about discovering opportunities for value-creation, efficiency, quality improvement and – yes – even automation. However, it is not strictly in service to software and application development. That isn’t to say that BPMS is strictly in service to software development. That would be an over-simplified conclusion. My experience and some persuasive research by Nathaniel Palmer (www.bptrends.com) gives the impression (not a scientific conclusion) that BPMS is tending and trending toward being an IT tool much more so than it is an operational improvement tool. At least that’s how large organizations are tending to use the tools. In essence, the tools are not gaining as much traction among operations and management teams as one would think. Having used some of these tools as an operations type, I find it a shame but it is what it is.
What to do?
Don’t lose sight of the value of workflow analysis and BPR! Your organization may not count itself among the bigger, richer shops that are equipped with BSAs (analysts) and BPMS sophisticates. That’s not a reason to abandon workflow documentation and process improvement. From an operations standpoint, there are dozens of fabulous reasons to adapt to your constraints. Simplest among them is hiring a well-equipped consultant to do it for you. Secondly, you can invest a few hundred bucks in Visio and do it yourself.
Simplified Workflow Analysis and BPR
If you happen to work in an organization that doesn’t see the value in process improvement, business rule management, value creation, efficiency gains and the like, then I suppose you have an entirely different task ahead of you. Send your leadership some books for Christmas. If the interest to improve is there but the budget isn’t, develop a keen sense of the reasons why your organization ought to pursue the skills and tools. Above all, develop the culture and discipline.
Create a Workflow and BPR Circle of Excellence
Call it what you want – a Circle of Excellence, SWAT Team, Process Improvement Team, Workflow Design Ensemble – the point is, you’ll need a cast of champions that cut across organizational silos and functional areas. Select your SMEs (subject matter experts), send them to training (1-2 days should do the trick) and have them do a little homework on the web (Wikipedia is a great resource if you’re on a budget). Buy at least one Visio license for every major functional area (finance, IT, customer service, sales, operations, etc.) and learn together. You might designate one person as the “super-user” to run ahead of the curve and serve as a mentor for others.
Challenge yourselves to learn the language of BPR, integrate the principles into your strategic planning, measure impact, pilot various projects and recognize/reward improvement. When you’re beginning to climb the learning curve, remember to accept failure as opportunity. Don’t allow cynics to pull the plug on your initiative simply because you encountered failure.