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Change never comes easily. But in today’s economic environment, it’s more important than ever for business and IT executives to take a big-picture approach to BPM to ensure that they're reaping the most benefit from their process-improvement efforts—and the maximum value from their BPM investments.

Overcoming the common bottlenecks around transformational or enterprise-wide BPM initiatives requires upfront and ongoing implementation of some key best practices to enable truly cross-functional business processes, industry experts say.

Common barriers to enterprise-wide BPM success include logjams during process discovery, lengthy process project timelines and low rates of adoption by business people and customers.

The good news: Certain technologies—namely, BPM suites, but also social and Web 2.0 tools—can go a long way toward hurdling those obstacles.

Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester Research, cites three cultural challenges that must be addressed for successful BPM initiatives:

* Getting everyone on the same page in terms of process methodology and terminology

* Overcoming process turf wars and political process battles

* Empowering business stakeholders to take greater ownership of process transformation

Building consensus around terminology and methodology tops that list because, typically, each participant comes to the table with his or her own definitions of what a process looks like. Rather than simply jump in from a systems standpoint or a process change standpoint, participants in a BPM initiative must find a common set of terms to ensure that they’re being consistent about what exactly what they mean.

“When you get into a cross-organizational situation, things should be approached organically,” says Nathaniel Palmer, executive director of the Workflow Management Coalition and chief BPM architect at SRA International. Otherwise, he warns, you’ll end up with something intractable and ultimately, not operational.”

Once companies get multiple departments to agree on what a process looks like, they must still address other changes and tradeoffs. Among the biggest: finding mutually acceptable ways to measure success. “At this point, you’ve got to get people to stop thinking in their silos,” Richardson says. Establishing common metrics can also help participants see that, ultimately, they’re all working toward the same goal.

Taking a truly enterprise-wide approach often requires involving multiple subject-matter experts from throughout the organization—and, often, from outside as well. “The team should come from cross-functional groups and involve discovery, analysis and redesign of cross-functional processes,” says Shelley Sweet, president of I4 Process, a consulting firm whose specialties include process redesign.

Unfortunately, many organizations lack process owners for cross-functional processes; that lack of leadership makes it difficult to reap the maximum benefit. “BPM that addresses cross-functional processes exposes an opportunity for big improvements versus sub-processes that are confined to smaller areas,” Sweet says.

And those subject-matter specialists can make the difference between a process that’s stalled and one that accelerating. “Having that skilled person, such as the process analyst or process architect, is necessary to facilitate and drive outcomes or offer design ideas when logjams occur,” says Richardson. Such specialists are often is equipped with toolkits for specific methodologies—such as Lean, Six Sigma and Agile--to help transform processes, shift thinking and quickly deliver BPM goals.

Meanwhile, Palmer suggests setting milestones based on a 30-day plan. “It’s important to look for tangible results,” he says, adding that a “win” provides visibility that can be used as a starting point for the next piece of the plan.

Mobile, social networking and Software as a Service (SaaS) are among the newest tools being used to break process logjams, ease bottlenecks and help dispel user frustration.

Social tools are particularly useful for gaining BPM buy-in from frontline users. “In many cases, demand for BPM is there, but adoption or ownership on the front line is low because [users] didn’t get to participate in the process,” Richardson says. The typical result: Users simply continue doing things the way they’ve been doing them.

Using a social approach allows the companies to capture feedback from business stakeholders and, ultimately, provide more ownership for users involved in a particular process.

Social approaches can be used in process discovery and process development. They can enhance process-improvement conversations, empower business stakeholders during process definition and enable smarter decisions during process execution.

Social networking can also increase visibility, feedback and engagement. “It doesn’t, however, replace having the right approach or methodology down,” Palmer says.

The use of mobile devices and cloud services can also remove some impediments that slow things down. “Mobile, in particular, provides use time that may not be otherwise available to some individuals,” Palmer says. Meanwhile, cloud services, already widely adopted in test and development environments, offer a great option for piloting and deploying business process solutions—especially in organizations where IT may be burdened with other projects.

Finally, many organizations bring in outside professionals to help launch BPM projects. That’s a great way to get initiatives off the ground, but experts say it’s important to have long-term plans for making sure you’ve got the needed expertise inside your own walls. “Not only does the organization need a well-defined plan for knowledge transfer, but it must also identify in-house talent or a plan to grow in-house talent,” says Richardson. One way to do that: Establish a centralized in-house BPM center of excellence, or CoE, to capture and share process knowledge and oversee BPM initaitives.

Bottom line: In every aspect of BPM implementation, ownership, collaboration and access to expertise critical to breaking logjams, overcoming frustrations and ensuring a measurable return on investment.

READER FEEDBACK: This feature points out that one of the biggest challenges for taking an enterprise-wide approach to BPM is "finding mutually acceptable ways to measure success." Does your organization have a common set of metrics for evaluating its BPM projects? What metrics do you use? Share your insights with ebizQ. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Lynn Haber is a Boston-area freelance writer who specializes in writing about business and technology. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net.

More by Lynn Haber, ebizQ Contributor



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