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Make BPM Benefits about Business, Not Process, to Grab Execs' Attention

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Earlier this month I wrote a post about ensuring that IT pros and business users use the same language to discuss business process management so they can come to agreement about their goals and expectations for BPM before vendors are brought into the picture. Forget tech-ese like LDAP and SOAP, I advised.

 

But it's OK to talk about business processes, right? After all, BPM is about improving processes. Ian Gotts, on his Making You Think blog, says not to mention the word "process" when discussing BPM with senior executives because they aren't really interested in processes. They might be interested in the benefits they'll enjoy from improved processes, but the processes themselves, not so much. I think this is true of senior-level executives, who tend to take a higher-level and more strategic view of the business than lower-level managers.

 

What does interest the senior executives? Gotts offers a nice list of 11 items, all of which are grouped under three major business benefits: reduced cost, increased revenue or reduced risk. A few of his examples:

  • Product quality
  • Consistent operations
  • Knowledge capture and transfer
  • Increased accountability

 

Michael Rowley said it well in a discussion about benefits of BPM over at eBizQ. Referring to a recent report in which the largest percentage of respondents identified automation of standard procedures and processes as the "single greatest benefit" from using BPM, Rowley wrote:

I agree that process automation is critical, but it is the means by which other benefits are achieved, rather than a benefit in its own right.

I agree with Phil Ayres, another participant in the eBizQ discussion, who said the survey respondents likely weren't business sponsors of BPM projects. A focus on automation is an IT "tell" if ever there was one.

 

Tom Allanson, who according to his bio is a CEO, offered a more business-oriented perspective with his take on the greatest benefit: profitable growth. He wrote:

At the end of the day, everything we do in creating a product or service designed to fulfill a need for our end-user, and maintaining a positive customer experience is critical. If a company's internal processes are running smoothly that means deadlines are being met and deliverables can meet or even exceed expectations. Ultimately, BPM helps better serve customers, and therefore leads to business growth.

Right. In that short statement, Allanson hits on several of Gotts' BPM benefits. Maybe it's because he's a senior executive. That's not to mitigate some of the other responses in the eBizQ discussion. But many of them are written more from an IT than from a business perspective. Some executives might appreciate picturing processes in visual models the business can understand, a benefit mentioned by John Michelsen, but probably not enough to fund an initiative based on it.


I liked the advice of Nathaniel Palmer, principal and chief BPM strategist at SRA International, editor-in-chief at BPM.com and executive director at Workflow Management Coalition, but who was working for advisory company Transformation+Innovation when I interviewed him back in 2007. He said companies should select a small, yet highly visible project for their entry into BPM.

 

His suggestion: the new hire process. As he told me:

All sorts of studies show that the experiences individuals have within the first one to two weeks of coming on board with a company will affect their long term attitude toward the organization and their overall outlook for success. This process lends itself to BPM. It cuts across the organization. It meets other criteria for low-hanging fruit. It's an understood process, but not a rigidly defined one. It's not overly controversial, and fairly straightforward. It's one you can develop an ROI around fairly easily. It's generally one where you could go to the CEO and say, "We want to make this experience better, cheaper and faster. It's going to be key to our success as an organization. We also want to use it as a proof point for how we are going to transform the organization by taking a more process-oriented approach. Can we get your support in doing this?" It becomes an enterprise-wide initiative without trying to boil the ocean all at once.

An organization's corporate culture and current business environment will help determine an appropriate project. Gotts' list of benefits is a great starting point. In these budget-strapped times, cutting costs is important for many companies. If you can show how BPM can help cut costs, you should be able to get some of those scarce dollars to fund a BPM initiative.

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