Involve Users to Avoid BPM 'Backslide'

Ann All

A few months back I shared four tips for successful business process management implementations. All of the tips relate to getting users more involved in the implementation process. I think this is a good idea for just about any enterprise application, but especially for BPM as it often requires people to make fundamental changes to the way they work.


Two of the tips: Involve users through visualization techniques. (I like this one because I think this makes workflow modeling more accessible to folks.) Employ an iterative approach that engages users to ensure a constant cycle of inspection and modification. (Also a great idea, as BPM is supposed to be about continuous improvement.)


Involving users is also a good way to avoid BPM backslide, a problem that Deb Miller, director of market development for BPM software provider Global 360, writes about on the blog. Gartner's Jim Sinur refers to it as elastic behavior, the resistance to change that sometimes causes users to revert to their traditional behavior instead of sticking with improved processes.


Miller makes several suggestions, including employing a familiar interface for process improvement efforts. She says:


I've found that use of a familiar interface like SharePoint and surrounding it with an intuitive experience can significantly help to engage users and speed adoption. And, a good way to make change stick is by creating an interface that delivers content within the context of the work that is done every day. When you get the user-centric emphasis right, the results can be outstanding.


In addition to boosting user adoption, involving users also increases the likelihood of ending up with truly improved processes rather than faster and/or more automated but still ineffective ones, a point Miller touches upon in discussing a successful BPM effort at Irish Life, a large Irish financial organization.

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Jul 28, 2010 8:21 AM Deb Miller Deb Miller  says:

Thanks for the mention Ann.  I strongly believe - as you do - in the benefits of a user-centric approach.  And it's increasingly important as knowledge works becomes more significant.   Look forward to your thoughts on getting users more involved with adaptive case management.

Jul 28, 2010 9:25 AM John Owens John Owens  says:

Great post and I agree with all that you say, apart from the repeated use of the term "users".  This was a term introduced by IT and was half a step up from "punters". 

I have often shared that there are two professions that persistently refer to their customers as "users".  One is drug pushers, the other is IT. Some people would argue that the former value their customers more than the latter and do them less harm!

Otherwise a great post.


John Owens

Jul 29, 2010 1:43 AM Deb Miller Deb Miller  says: in response to Ann All

Good point about users.  I've also used the term process "participants" - might be an alternative to consider. 

Jul 29, 2010 10:19 AM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to John Owens

Agreed, John. I'm not fond of users myself, but have used it since I began writing about enterprise tech since it seems to be the most common term. Perhaps I should start using customers and see if it catches on.

Jan 13, 2011 10:32 AM Phil Ayres Phil Ayres  says:

Punters, users, participants, whoever they are... The poor souls that have to use the processes and solutions we push at them need to feel involved, not just at the outset of a project through visualization (which sounds way too techie) or content, but through addressing the human concerns they have:

  • will this actually make my working life better?

  • will I still have a job?

  • what happens if it doesn't work?

  • you are asking me to do overtime to implement these changes?

Change management addresses these items, and must  be delivered in combination with process improvement. Projects work when supported vocally by a senior person who is respected by the troops on the ground and the managers they report to. Backchat leads to issues exploding, since bad feelings about a solution can be perpetuated quickly, however small they are. This leads to violently elastic effects.

Finally, we need to quash the IT project notion of everything useful arriving in "Phase 2". Employees have become accustomed to the idea that Phase 2 never happens. Iterative projects can work both ways here, since we see Phases 1 to 5, which keeps people hoping. But really process improvement has to become part of the culture, so that there is never an end phase, just a "better than yesterday".


Jan 14, 2011 2:40 AM Keith Keith  says:

Backslide is sometimes just the way that people looking the wrong way describe progress.

I have seen many organizations where BPM is viewed as a sort of "reigns" to attempt to force people into patterns of behavior that serve their purpose. What will sometimes happen is that one group will get very proactive about changing a process, without necessarily getting input from all stake holders. C'mon, you all have seen this. Couched in the language of "process improvement" what they really mean is "get those people to do the job (I think) they should have been doing all along."

I am not saying that all process improvement is this way, and I also don't mean to say that "those people" should not change the way they are working. However, the new process may not be optimal for all people. The new process may shift the burden of work from one group to another. Not everyone may agree that the new process is beneficial. This could be because the people who designed the process did not get agreement on the new process from all stakeholders.

The term "backslide" is then a way to place the blame for the not changing on the people in the process. We don't know in the abstract whether this is good or not.

Any case of backslide is clearly cause by a lack of agreement on the new process. It is a signal to re-examine the new process and see whether it really is an improvement. Then, communicate the benefits to all participants. Finally, address any burden shift and somehow reward people who have additional burdens under the new process. In other words, finish the job of culture change around the new process.


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