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In Betsy Burton's view, highly adaptive organizations get that way by combining two crucial factors.

“Adaptability is the marriage of business value and disruptive innovation,” Burton, a Gartner Research vice president and distinguished analyst, said in a presentation on BPM’s supporting role in that relationship during Gartner’s 2012 BPM Summit.

Put another way: Highly adaptive organizations have learned to balance the need to provide business value against the ability to “fail productively” and move on, Burton told a well-attended session on the event’s opening day. More than 750 business and IT professionals attended the three-day conference in Baltimore.

She offered strategies for dealing with both halves of that balancing act. To help demonstrate value, those involved with BPM should:

Adopt a new way of thinking and speaking. “Frame every comment in terms of business outcomes, value and performance,” she said.
Show value for the money. Provide “the right services at the right level of quality and the right price.”
Position investments in terms of business performance. Consider how those expenditures will help run, grow or—preferably—transform the company.

As for failing productively, Burton recommended that BPM professionals should:

Accept the possibility of multiple missteps. “Be willing to fail—a lot,” she said.
At the same time, avoid catastrophic defeats. “Make sure failure is survivable,” she advised.
Nip potential blunders in the bud. “Spot a failure early--and fix it,” she said.

Both IT and business professionals need to recognize that the walls between their worlds are crumbling: “Pure supply and demand is passé,” Burton said. IT teams should start thinking of their business colleagues not as their customers, but as their partners, she said: “If you’re out there calling the business your ‘customer,’ you’re automatically putting yourself below them.”

Along the same lines, she urged attendees to eliminate the phrase “business-IT alignment” from their vocabularies. In Gartner’s view, the alignment concept represents an outdated sense of needing to bring IT and business together, when, in fact, each is already an integral part of the other. “There are no IT projects. There are only business projects. There’s only business driving forward,” Burton said. “If you’re doing something in IT and you can’t tell me the business value for it, you need to stop and ask yourself why.”

Burton repeated Gartner’s much-discussed forecast of large-scale BPM disaster, specifically that between now and the end of 2014, “overlooked but easily detectable business-process defects will topple 10 Global 2000 companies.” To avoid a similar fate in their own organizations, BPM professionals must constructively question their organizations’ long-held beliefs and assumptions about the right ways to do things. “As a business process management person, I have to be able to say, ‘You know what? This isn’t right. We need to throw this out’”—or redesign it, or replace it, or modify it, she said.

Burton cited three other capabilities that process professionals need to increase the value and impact of their BPM projects:

• Complete visibility into business processes—a holistic, end-to-end view that includes points of change and human intervention along the way.
• Strong interest in cross-discipline collaboration and BPM governance.
• A sense of adventure—that is, the willingness to try new processes even with the risk that some might fail.

Finally, don’t try to fix everything at once. “You’re never going to straighten out all the processes in your organization. Get off that tactical treadmill,” Burton says. Instead, focus on the processes that really matter. Decide whether they need to be repaired, optimized, enhanced, redesigned or replaced.

READER FEEDBACK: Has your organization been looking to improve response time? If so, is an effort to balance business value and "productive failure" part of that initiative? ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. 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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