As economic bailouts, uncertainty, stock market plunges, job losses and Chapter 11 filings proliferate, the bad habits of procrastination, workplace pandering and conflict avoidance must be addressed. This is as true among project managers, business and systems analysts, IT directors, CIOs, and consultants as it is anywhere else in the organization. It is not the responsibility of shareholders or boards of directors to ask the difficult, prying questions. That job falls on all of us. My experiences of late have reminded me that one of the most important ingredients in the field of BPM – whatever your role – is honesty. Sadly, the kind of candor we need so desperately is lacking and, sadder still, it is lacking by virtue of fear.
The Veil of IT
I have long been a critic of approaches to business challenges that lead with IT. I know it’s not really endemic but it feels like IT – with all its complexity and constant change, foreign languages and virtual qualities – easily shrouds and conceals reality from the lay-person and the executive suite. I have advocated from my humble beginnings that business process improvements are not IT projects. Not because I am a purist and believe singularly in the capabilities of operations folks but because I have worked with too many IT people who were challenged in the process of bridging theoretical, conceptual, linguistic and practical gaps between parties. I also believe that BPM stands a fair chance of overcoming those gaps but it is no guarantee. An honest, plain language approach is best.
Just the Brutal Facts
The act of watching banks, retailers and they-once-were-giants automobile manufacturers beg for financial aid and close their doors ought to be sending a piercing, shrill alarm through every organization and project team: tell the truth. It should also be establishing a new order: if this project is a high priority, then it will be first on your list and you will attend to it as though your livelihood depends on it. Thirdly, if you know something that has enterprise-wide, bottom-line, life or death implications, you must speak up and let your immediate superiors know about it.
I have several clients at present who have begun mission-critical projects (which truly will make or break their success) only to come up with competing projects and priorities 2 and 3 short months after project initiation. Consequently, SMEs and managers are stretched not knowing what meetings to attend and what homework to do. I have other clients who suffer from the obscuration of truth by virtue of frightened and manipulative IT leaders who continue to speak IT gibberish hoping to buy themselves more time and additional staffing resources to compensate for their own lack. I have other clients who insist on keeping critical information from the CEO or CFO, failing to disclose the true nature of process-related problems in meetings.
Yesterday, for example, I met with a hospital system executive and management team whose CIO insisted that the executive sponsor for a mission-critical IT project was one of his subordinates. I had to remind he and the entire team that sponsorship of a multi-million dollar, do-or-die project is not to be pushed down to a subordinate – particularly one complaining of being over-burdened by external healthcare quality audits and accreditation initiatives. The CIO’s reluctance to accept responsibility for this BPM project was alarming, especially given remarks from the CEO just minutes earlier that reinforced the critical nature of the project. How is it that the CEO and CIO were both so far off the mark in terms of ownership? Why is it that an outsider had to persuade them to reconsider their decisions and approach?
BPM Needs Executive Leadership
These issues – truth, leadership, due diligence, strategic decision-making – speak loudly on behalf of the importance of a BPO or Business Process Officer role. A role that transcends operations and IT and reports directly to the CEO is needed in some organizations if the CIO or COO do not want to or cannot accept full responsibility for it.These projects often involve enterprise-wide resources and decisions that – if not executed properly – can and will ensure success or failure. They need to be treated as such.