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How do you answer, If BPM is so necessary, how come so many SMBs do fine without it?

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An interested question asked on LinkedIn (which requires you to join the group), how do you respond to the question, if BPM is so necessary, how come so many 100 to 300 people organizations do fine without it?

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  • Scale, scale, scale. The smaller the scale the easier the correction for errors in execution, but the greater the impact; and vice verse. Small groups working together can see the whole much easier than a large group. Hence, it's easier to self-correct. Self-correction doesn't mean that the process is working, just that it's easier to maneuver around the flaws as they occur. Smaller groups also probably have to work doubly hard than that of a well-oiled large group or even a small group operating with an effective business process, but they will get the job done. The problem is that they get the job done, which means management is riding blindfolded in the backseat until the ride is over and have no idea about the arduous journey; all they know is they reached the destination.

  • Simple, because you dont need BPM...

    All organisations can muddle through processes, without needing to know what BPM is. Typically in muddling through, they probably define a form of process in any case.

    The argument for BPM is one of process improvement. In a larger organisation this is far easier to measure and identify the need for. Process inefficiencies are multiplied with more and more users and or higher volumes, making it easier to identify process improvement as a busines driver in larger organisations...

    That doesnt mean SMEs cannot benefit from BPM, it simply means they are less likely to identify process improvement as a real busines driver. As @JP states, scale, scale, scale...

  • Just to add, BPM would also be too bureaucratic for most SMEs, therefore they are better off looking to improve processes with something like APG (Adaptive Process Guidance) or Case Management. With APG Less investment in time is required up front, processes can be detected and then reviewed, and the platform will work for far more business processes than traditional BPMS.

    Perhaps this is the target audiance for more holistic approaches to business

  • There is a process maturity curve which starts at the bottom end with low process (BPM) maturity which is a stage called Heroics.

    Many of you work in companies like this. Staff heroics day in day out make up for poorly defined processes. Inefficient, but it gets the job done.

    But at what cost? Financial: Wasted time and cost Reputation: Client errors & security Emotional: Staff morale & burnout

    So your question says that they do "fine". They do, but only by the definition of FINE from the last Italian Job film.

    F= f*cked up
    I= Insecure
    N= Neuroitic
    E= Emotional

    The challenge is making clearly defined and govenered processes easy enough to achieve and maintain for SMB organisations. That requires Board level commitment, and funding, to first get them processes defined and then funding a FULL TIME Business Excellence / Quality /Compliance role to support the continuous improvement.

    This requires a leap of faith, but the results are worth it. results measured in efficiency, ability to grow, to punch above your weight, and the human cost of all those heroics.

    Let's put this is real terms. Nimbus is an SMB and needed to get ISO27001 to give our global clients confidence of our Nimbus BPM Cloud service. Because we have implemented BPM (Nimbus Control + Salesforce.com) we have saved huge amounts just in the ISO27001 audit process.

    But to finish on a quote from the auditors:

    “It should be noted that in our extensive experience with a range of client ISO Gap Analysis projects, of those at a similar stage of ISMS development, Nimbus have demonstrated one of the highest levels of compliance we have seen.?

    That is the reason BPM is important in an SMB. You need it to play on the global stage, because Nimbus does not want to stay an SMB.

  • As an owner of a small business, I agree with JP. Volume and $ value are the drivers for BPM. Incidentally, I have done and seen a few BPM projects with firms with less than 50 people, or with ~$5M in revenue. Why would they do that? In one case they were setting up self-serve for their customers (onboarding, etc), and in another case they were expecting to grow dramatically and needed to invest in a process that new people could execute (they grew to over $500M, so I guess they made a good choice).

    And, as JP says, much easier to course correct when you deal with a small # of things than when you deal with thousands, tens of thousands, or millions. Of course, you still might choose to invest in process if the small # of things have large price tags attached to them.

    It is a bit like asking: why don't many small businesses have an IT professional? I mean, if they're so critical, why don't they have one? well, when you're small you might make do with Google Apps and other tools that don't require you to own infrastructure and manage it. You might place all your hardware buys with a provider who provides technical support for your team. But at some scale, the balance shifts and you want someone to help you manage your IT assets and help you make good decisions.

    Lots of key assets for large corps are luxuries for the small business. We could run this same question regarding office space :)

  • I like this question, and also liked the answers given by everyone here already.

    For a moment I tried to imagine how it would be like trying to implement BPM in an SMB. First, it should be easy to define the process because the visibility of the As-Is process should be much better, right? Wrong, there may not even be a process. There may be a process in the sense that there's a sense of when something starts and ends and there's an outcome expected. But, do they follow any flow or set of pre-decided activities or instruction set, I doubt they do. Work gets done though. Any processes, if we call them circulate among 2-3 individuals at a time, maneuvering through whom is not difficult in a small organization where every knows everyone, their families and names of their dogs.

    It is not as much about BPM itself. They may not have the structure to design the process. Even if they did, it would eventually execute like this: X performs A, then goes and gets B done through a call, comes back make a decision and performs C, and chases Y to get D done. Of course there's a hand-off but that's much more fuzzy if at all. And then, the leakage through the process, if any, is not much due to the much cleared bigger picture for everyone in the organization. As I said, it's not even about BPM, they may not even have an HR function, and Admin function at times!

  • All good replies and I like the Italian Job quote, but I have to disagree – especially when we are talking about medium (500-999 people) sized businesses.

    While large, multi-national enterprises are often the most prolific users of our modeling and BPM products, we see many SMBs using BPM to deliver the governance, control, and repeatability that large organizations achieve with customized ERPs and bespoke applications. BPM allows these companies to grow without huge investments in IT and infrastructure. We have hundreds of BPM customers that are small and medium sized enterprises.

    A good example is one the largest propane retailers, which is squarely in the ‘M’ side of the SMB category. When this company grew from 400 to over 700 employees, their extensive use of BPM allowed them to only need three additional IT people. The company uses BPM for many of the processes that are unique the retail propane business. However, legal, accounting, and engineering firms are also broad users of BPM software – for the same reasons.

    You can have control and visibility a large company affords with a smaller price tag and TCO.

  • The main reason that most SMBs do without BPM is the complexity and thus the cost of it. Additionally, most SMBs are managed with a flatter hierarchy and more management attention. Thus the worries about 'we don't know what is going on' are not there. We are an SMB and we couldn't work without a solution that tracks and handles our call center, sales and service processes. We just don't use flowcharts but ACM and never did any upfront flow analysis.

    If the immense BPM bureaucracy would disappear (once processes can be executed without the need to encode them in flowcharts) then SMB's will the first ones to implement because they don't have the internal political landscape that makes BPM implementations so much harder. Unfortunately much of the current BPM consultantcy and service industry would no longer be needed. That is not unfortunate for the SMBs, obviously.

    The BPM illusion starts with the focus on 'Error in Execution'! There is no such thing! There is only a failure to achieve a positive outcome (value perception) for the customer (internal or external). Execution does not guarantee outcome. Communication and verification guarantee outcome. How you execute is secondary.

    I asbolutely disagree that companies have to go out and explicitly DEFINE all their processes. A process is good if the people are happy with doing it and the customer is happy with the outcome. Efficiency comes after effectiveness and that happens with transparency that allows coaching for optimization and innovation.

    We are talking about people and their jobs here and they have the right to be FINE. Take that away and business becaomes as crappy in service as most large enterprises are today with all their process management illusions. Put the CEO at a call center phone for a week and things will certainly change quickly.

  • We too are a small business - and like every small business we do BPM (business process maangement) just NOT using a BPMS.

    Expense reporting, customer on-boarding, invoicing etc. are all processes that every business does - no matter how small. Most small businesses execute processes either through a specialty applications (e.g. salesforce) or using spreadsheets, documents and email - actually the same way that most "large enterprise" processes are executed.

    The reason they don't use a BPMS is that they don't have the IT organization that is needed to use the BPMS to create something of value to the business. Without an IT organization there is no way leverage a BPMS.

    Jacob Ukelson - CTO ActionBase

  • Max Pucher, above, has it right: there is an obsession on automation to eradicate errors. In modern businesses the 80:20 rule doesn't apply to transactions. Whoever heard of a 20% exception rate?

    Many of my customers, of all sizes, moaned about having to put controls into the systems to be compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley. Those same customers today tell me how much better they are at running their businesses because those same controls give them visibility into how the business is behaving.

    Automation of processes, for me at least, is about taking humans out of manual tasks and freeing them up to have the time to make the right decisions based on empirical data so they can grow their business and delight their customers.

    Too many businesses are fighting the alligators and too few draining the swamp.

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