I've been thinking a lot recently about business process skills development because it's such a big need in organizations that are moving to BPM initiatives. I’m also presenting on this topic at Forrester’s upcoming Business Process And Application Development Forum in Washington DC, October 7-8. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue; your feedback will help me develop a better presentation.  (If you haven’t registered already, call our Events Team at +1 617.613.5905. We’d love to see you there!)

With the growing acceptance of business process management (BPM) methodologies for continuously improving business processes (Lean, Six Sigma, and TQM) and the mainstream adoption of technologies like BPM suites, business process modeling, and business rules, a new career field has emerged with significant impact and potential for both IT and the business. In fact, people in this career field live at the intersection of business and IT. In large part, they are business people who use management disciplines and business process technology to drive continuous improvement, process innovation, business optimization, and even business transformation in their organizations. At Forrester, we call these individuals “business process professionals”.

Based on in-depth interviews conducted last year, we grouped business process professionals into five categories or cohorts:

  • Change agents.These executives champion BPM initiatives, working with business process owners and stakeholders to fund BPM projects. They have strong backgrounds in business and IT, and most of the time they report into the business — although in some instances, they may report to the CIO. Organizations with large-scale BPM or continuous improvement programs may have multiple change agents.
  • Gurus.These highly respected business domain experts have deep process skills, see the big picture, often come from the business with process expertise in Lean, Six Sigma, or TQM — or they may come from IT with a background in enterprise architecture. The guru has deep expertise in business architecture and can guide multiple BPM projects. The guru may be an individual contributor, or she may have multiple process analysts/architects reporting to her.
  • Prodigies.We call these individuals “prodigies” because they have rare talent in business process modeling techniques and the implementation of BPM suites. These individuals must have strong IT skills and usually come from an application development background where they used Agile, Scrum, and other iterative development techniques.
  • Wannabes. People in this cohort are almost always former business analysts who seek to move up a notch by working on business process improvement projects. However, many business analysts aspiring to the process analyst job do not have the skills, background, or inclination required for that role, and the washout rate for business analysts is easily 50% to 70% at the organizations we have spoken with. But some business analysts really take to the process analyst role and start working closely with prodigies (process architects) to model business processes and/or implement BPM suites.
  • Operators. Unlike the four categories above, which exist in organizations aspiring to transform processes, this operator role is usually found in companies that are quite immature in their process initiatives, usually delivering BPM projects as one-off projects for business departments. These operators, who may be called VPs of development but may be responsible for packaged suites, eCommerce, the Web site, and so forth, have inherited a BPM project and are trying to deliver it successfully. While their companies are not pursuing BPM on a large-scale basis, the operators usually need lots of help and process skills with their BPM project.

All of this background points out one major trend: A new career field is emerging for business process professionals, fueled by the growth of business transformation, business improvement, and business optimization projects.

What do the individuals in this new field need most? Process architecture skills, process analysis skills, process modeling skills, change management skills, Lean and Six Sigma skills — the list goes on. More than anything, the skills gap or skills shortage keeps BPM projects from scaling throughout the organization.

 Here are some ways organizations tackle the process skills issue:

  •  Get technical skills from IT. Although most business process pros are in the business, they sorely need technical skills. One way to get these skills is to recruit application developers to become process analysts/architects (prodigies), business analysts in IT to become process analysts (wannabes), and enterprise architects to become business architects (gurus). Even change agents are often former CIOs or VPs within the IT organization.
  • Use “two in a box” to train new process pros. Many companies pair their experienced process analysts and architects with employees who have the requisite background but haven’t learned BPM or held process positions. By pairing like-minded and like-skilled people for three to six months, most organizations find that they can grow their process skills organically. Some companies find that they can even pair employees with vendor support staff and get the same level of skills transfer. Although this is a slow way to grow skills, it’s a proven approach and not too difficult to do — particularly if you watch for situations where people aren’t picking up knowledge over time.
  • Encourage employees to take courses. While this approach isn’t as prevalent, encouraging staff to take selected courses in BPM, business and predictive analytics, and business rules is a realistic way to build process skills. For example, since 2004, IBM has worked with more than 100 universities worldwide to incubate, grow, and develop courses in BPM and related topics. These and other courses are available from business schools, engineering schools, and community colleges. Consider this approach if you need to systematically build skills on a large-scale basis.
  • Use external resources, like the Association of Business Process Management Professionals (ABPMP). External events like conferences and workshops, as well as professional associations, provide opportunities to build business process skills. This approach works well if it is coupled with another approach at the same time — like pairing employees while also seeking external training and networking for the employee building his process skills. ABPMP recently developed a Common Body of Knowledge in BPM and now offers a certification test. While there are many other options, a few other organizations and universities also offer a certification program.
  • Create and use a center of excellence as a skills accelerator. Many companies launch and deploy successful BPM initiatives without a center of excellence (CoE). But our research shows that successful BPM programs have a high correlation with the existence of CoEs, and, as a mirror opposite, unsuccessful BPM initiatives have a high correlation with the lack of a CoE. Organizations with CoEs often create them over time by recruiting individuals who worked on the initial BPM project. That means the CoEs in companies that are just starting their BPM journey may be as small as two to six people, while CoEs in large companies with large initiatives may have a centralized CoE with up to 100 individuals. To foster process skills transfer, most CoEs pair experienced CoE staff with workers from the business unit that is starting a BPM initiative. Instead of doing all the work within the CoE, the CoE serves as an internal resource to help grow and accelerate the development of process skills throughout the organization. This can be a huge force, particularly in companies that have multiple CoEs targeted at specific cross-functional processes or functional departments.