Over the last few weeks, I have had a variety of conversations with clients that have centered around the scope for the term BPM. I think we all agree that BPM is not purely a technology – but how far does it go.

BPM – The Discipline

Forrester sees BPM as a broad framework of methods, approaches, techniques and technologies that support organizational change, value optimization and ongoing performance improvement. While some see BPM as a narrow technical approach, Forrester regards BPM as including a wide range of improvement methods such as Lean and Six Sigma, along with customer-centric (outside-in) engagement approaches and organizational change management – each one of these levers ties back to a flexible and adaptable enterprise architecture that implements an evolving business strategy. Such an all-encompassing approach can help focus on strategic priorities, as well as opportunities to both differentiate the value proposition, and sharpen the competitive edge.

While some would argue that Lean and Six Sigma are separate – that they are “in the business” – our research data suggests that the most successful BPM initiatives are run by the business, for the business and are of the business (to paraphrase Lincoln). Something like just 20% of BPM process improvement initiatives are run out of IT. Indeed, I would go a little further than that – BPM initiatives run out of IT are just not sustainable in the long term. If you are charged with maintaining a BPM program from within IT (perhaps running a BPM CoE), then one of your primary tasks is to a) identify and b) work with any Lean/Six Sigma programs that are out there.

BPM CoE Service Portfolio

But each organization needs its own subtle blend of skills, methods, techniques and tools. In a sense, the organization needs to weave its own proprietary method framework — to create its own fabric — a unique approach that reflects its special needs, the maturity of the different business units, their history of change, culture, the current and planned organizational structure (to say nothing of the political challenges). Underpinning this fabric the individual methods and techniques that support project teams within an improvement initiative (process architecture, modeling, metrics development, organizational design, people change management, etc), are complimented (complicated) by many aspects of technology implementation. The service portfolio for the CoE becomes how it delivers those capabilities to projects within the business.

The point is that these methods and techniques need to be formalized into a structured approach for business engagement, project and program management. With an accepted, enterprise-wide approach to BPM, it becomes possible to assess those methods over time – to improve them, to add and subtract elements as seems appropriate. But that also implies having a disciplined approach to running BPM projects; monitoring the phases within a project and the techniques used within them. If done correctly, the organization builds an enterprise-wide capability for BPM. Concentrating the knowledge and expertise within a CoE becomes one tactic available. But it also means training/educating the LOB managers, IT execs as well as the practitioners involved in projects. I have been building custom BPM training programs for clients, helping them develop the organizational learning agenda that grows their BPM capabilities.

And sustaining the transformational focus over time implies moving beyond projects and programs toward a continuously evolving approach to “business as usual,” putting customers and value delivery at the core. While many organizations initially see the technical challenges, the so-called “soft” skills of cultural change and engagement are far more critical to long term success – they are the “hard” parts. These sorts of issues are the focus of our BP Council – they are common whether the organization is predominantly in the mode of a Lean/Six Sigma program, or undertaking work on automating processes at the technology level – building the engagement practices with the business, formalizing the methods and techniques, educating the business, training the specialists … 

Did we get this wrong? What do you think?