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Done well, BPM can serve as an expressway to higher productivity, lower costs and even increased competitive advantage. But as many BPM professionals know from first-hand experience, hitting one of several common speed bumps can send any process improvement careening initiative off in the wrong direction.

With that in mind, Gartner Inc. recently released a list of the five biggest BPM pitfalls. They include:

1. Being caught unprepared to demonstrate value delivered. In this case, BPM efforts may well have created some value for the organization—but nobody documented those gains or shared them with top business leaders, says Gartner Research Director John Dixon. “Benefits achieved but not demonstrated and communicated are as good as no benefits at all,” says Gartner, author of the Gartner report “Tales From the Trenches: Five Pitfalls to Avoid.”

The antidote: Understand exactly what you’re trying to improve and establish a baseline. Measure and document the improvement. Then make sure you communicate those achievements to business decision-makers.

2. Deploying a business process management suite (BPMS) without understanding BPM as a discipline. Even the best BPMS won’t solve problems if the organization deploying it hasn’t taken a strategic approach to BPM. Bottom line: BPM is not about technology, Gartner says.

So what is at the heart of BPM? “Because it fundamentally changes how people work, BPM is about change,” says Dixon, a speaker at this year’s Gartner Business Process Management Summit, to be held April 25-27 in Baltimore. In other words, it’s important to understand where things stand—and where they need to go.

Gartner’s advice: Follow an actual instance of the process from beginning to end. That exercise will reveal delays, loops, gaps and other problems that should be addressed—and resolving them might be easier than you’d think. “Often, the act of process mapping can reveal a rich trove of improvement opportunities before automation is even considered,” Dixon says.

3. Launching a BPM effort based on perceived problems, without validating the facts. Successful BPM projects involve solid data and measurable results. Gartner recommends setting aside a specified period of time for establishing, collecting and evaluating metrics before any process-improvement work actually takes place—essentially, to provide “as-is” baseline analysis that’s a critical component of any BPM effort.

Gartner’s recommendation: Start by applying the classic Six Sigma DMAIC process-improvement methodology: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. The first three steps—define, measure, analyze—should account for about 60% of the project lifecycle, with the last two phases—improvement and control—making up the rest. Be sure that the BPM team or project sponsors buy into the approach up front, and be sure to revisit the metrics regularly to account for changes in marketplace conditions, business goals or project value.

4. Developing BPM capabilities without delivering business value. In Gartner’s view, many organizations focus too much on the details involved in launching their BPM programs and not enough on exactly why they’re doing BPM in the first place. Analysts say they’ve seen BPM program directors who can rattle off impressive statistics such as the number of processes they’ve reviewed and stakeholders they’ve interviewed—but can’t provide any specifics about what business value they’ve actually provided to their organizations.

“The organization wants to see some return on its investment, often rather quickly,” says Dixon, who will speak on BPM metrics, BPM business cases and related topics at the upcoming Gartner summit. Gartner recommends delivering some early benefits—even if they’re relatively small—as quickly as possible, making sure that business decision-makers know about those achievement so that they’re willing to keep investing in process-improvement efforts. Ultimately, of course, the BPM program must save more than it costs to survive in the long term.

5. Focusing on mapping processes rather than improving processes. “BPM teams can get lost in mapping processes, acting under the assumption that this mapping activity amounts to ‘doing BPM,’” Gartner says. But if that mapping doesn’t lead to actual process improvement and business transformation, it’s not worth much.

Again, BPM teams must show that process mapping, modeling and similar efforts ultimately generate real business benefits that can be documented, measured and—most important—shared with the organization’s business leaders.

READER FEEDBACK: Have your BPM programs experienced any of the pitfalls that Gartner describes? If so, what steps did you take to overcome them, and what advice can you share to help others avoid them? ebizQ’s editors would love to hear from you. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for SearchCloudApplications.com at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at astuart@techtarget.com. Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail editor@ebizQ.net.

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