Include Front-line Workers, Not Just Managers, When Selling BPM's Benefits

Ann All

When I read Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild" I couldn't help but be frustrated by protagonist Chris McCandless' apparent lack of preparation for his long stint in the Alaskan wilderness. According to Krakauer, McCandless took only a backpack, a 10-pound pound bag of rice, a non-insulated pair of hiking boots, a .22 caliber rifle and a map of the Alaskan frontier with him. McCandless wanted to test himself and live off the land. But willfully ignoring most of the proven wisdom about wilderness survival was a fatal mistake. (I got mad all over again when I watched the movie version of the story.)


Most of us have similar stories of negligence sprinkled throughout our lives. Even though we know better, we don't take sunscreen to the beach, bug spray on a hike or water to a workout. These "d'uh" moments often turn into "d'oh" ones - though fortunately the results are rarely as extreme as they were in McCandless' case.


This occurred to me as I was reading a recent eBizQ discussion about how to get users to adopt business process management. Not surprisingly, much of the advice boiled down to getting users involved.


This seems so obvious it almost doesn't merit pointing out, right? Maybe. But the sheer frequency of articles on this topic tells me that lots of folks who should know better somehow manage to overlook this good advice. While lackluster adoption can doom any enterprise IT implementation, I think it's an especially big problem with BPM. Without plenty of input from folks who actually use business processes, organizations run the risk of automating or streamlining poorly designed processes.


A lack of user involvement can also result in BPM backslide, which I wrote about last summer, borrowing the term from Deb Miller, director of market development for BPM software provider Global 360. Among Miller's hints for engaging business users: Use a familiar interface like Microsoft SharePoint to deliver BPM. Create an interface that delivers BPM content in the context of everyday tasks.


Jordan Braunstein, Business Integration & Architecture principal at Visual Integrator Consulting, writing on eBizQ, suggests starting with simple processes, advice echoed by several experts I cited in my post on picking a first BPM project.


Before selecting processes or software, however, organizations should bring together business and IT stakeholders to discuss the goals for BPM. The conversation will likely involve some education on IT's part. Stephanie Quick, managing principal and owner of consulting company iqu, suggests on eBizQ that end users should get a primer on basic BPM methodology, "how it consists of processes, analysis, constant improvement, measurement, collaboration, control and automation; how effective management of business processes impacts the customer experience and is strategic for sustainability."


I got similar advice from Vinaykumar Mummigatti, head of the BPM group at IT services company Virtusa Corp., who told me companies should "create a common set of expectations and understanding between the key business stakeholders and IT stakeholders" before evaluating any software. Provide an overview of BPM concepts and methods, determine who the key players are in a BPM initiative, and consider what makes BPM different from other platforms, he said when I interviewed him last fall.


Yet getting IT and business stakeholders working together may fail, if only managers are involved. Active Endpoints CTO Michael Rowley points out on eBizQ that BPM is often championed by management for high-level process benefits such as visibility and consistency without conveying how it can improve the lives of front-line workers. BPM can make it easier for store employees to process product returns, for example, as seen at European retailer Carphone Warehouse, which recently won a Gartner BPM Excellence Award. Carphone Warehouse also used this front-line focus in its call centers. Writes Rowley:

For them, the key is being shown that they can get their job done faster and better with the BPMS than they could without it, because the BPMS can be used to automate much of the time-consuming busywork of their job.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 14, 2011 3:15 PM Vinaykumar S Mummigatti Vinaykumar S Mummigatti  says:

Hi Ann,

Since we spoke last fall, number of clients have spoken to me and asked for help on the topic of user involvement and change management. these are very closely connected and also ultimately decide the outcome of a BPM program. If we are talking about a business transformation and bringing about a fundamental change in how we work or deliver services and products, then the end users of this system must be involved from the start and have a well defined role across the life cycle of a BPM program. we are also recommending the concept of BPM Center of excellence as a major enabler in this direction and bringing in repeatable best practices around user involvement. Bottomline is to have a well defined, structured and formal involvement by the end users across these phases :

1. BPM value definition and outcomes from the program

2. Scope and priorities alignment

3. technology value and changes it brings to the day to day operations

4. Iterative sessions spread across project lifecycle for feedback and validation

5. Focus on change management - human/soft aspects, cultural issues, technology aspects and complex issues such as staff reduction or retraining


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