Process governance: Why it matters and how to do it right

Editor's note: In this Q & A, Forrester Research Principal Analyst Derek Miers talks with ebizQ's Peter Schooff about the growth of business process governance and offers tips for those interested in adding it to their BPM programs and initiatives. This Q & A was excerpted from a more in-depth ebizQ podcast. It has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Process governance has come to prominence lately, but it seems as if most people have only a vague idea of what it is. How would you define process governance?

Derek Miers: "Process governance" is an interesting term. I think what people are struggling with is governance of a process or improvement initiative, in terms of how it is set up and rooted in the organization appropriately. What is its charter? How does it operate compared to the traditional lines of business? Because in the end, these business-improvement initiatives are affecting not only just the order of activities, but the organizational structures, the reporting lines, the ways in which people earn their bonuses. The whole shooting match really gets called in.

Now in terms of defining it: It comes down to setting the sort of decision-making context for how an initiative is going to be set up: Who owns it and how does it report in? Who's going to sponsor it? Where is it positioned in the organization? How is it budgeted? How is it directed? How is it going to engage the different business units or lines of business?

Typically, you find that people are heading towards a center of expertise or center of excellence [(CoE)] approach…These [questions] become issues for how that CoE is mandated—how it's prioritized, what quality of service it's going to deliver, what sort of services it's going to deliver. [Those are big questions] because organizations really aren't used to having a unit like this, which changes the way things happen.

ebizQ: The question it clearly follows, then, is: Why do companies need process governance? What benefits do they derive from it?

Miers: [Without governance,] you run the risk of the initiative becoming just a couple of disconnected projects that fall by the wayside as the management attention wanes…Yes, an executive might give you sponsorship of your project. But when it comes to resolving the political challenges of affecting the sort of changes that need to be made, often you need [governance] to make it happen…Without it, the initiative is likely to falter and fall away…Without governance set up properly, you're going to be into deep trouble.

ebizQ: How does a company successfully implement process governance, then?

Miers: We've been involved with some fairly large organizations, helping them think about structuring their CoEs and their initiatives and trying to make things really stick. What you often find is that, even though the CoE might be set up, it's almost, in a sense, floating around inside the organization looking for projects, looking for work. Now maybe that's not hard to find—the work, the improvement initiatives. [Still,] there needs to be a step that says, "All right, let's step up to the plate with the executive steering group or with the executive team who are responsible for this area." Typically, we're talking business operations here. There needs to be a step here of engaging those folks and getting them involved in what's going on.

One way of doing that is to get them involved in developing the roadmap for how that initiative is going to work. There are techniques that we've been using; it's not rocket science. You end up doing multidimensional analysis of the capabilities of the firm, the value that you deliver to customers and the sort of services that you're doing. You try and find areas that are relatively low levels of maturity with relatively low complexity initially and big impact. And really, what you're doing is [asking] "What's the performance of this capability compared to the rest?"

Once you get executives involved in that sort of discussion, you are really getting them to surface the problems that they may see in their organization. They get on board with it. They start to think that this needs to be rooted in the organization. They get to the point where they can see how the change itself is going to benefit them in the long term. And then they are also more likely to help drive it through.

Now there's a big difference between getting this sort of nominal sponsorship for the initial project and getting real executive leadership for the program…You're trying to get that [effort] to be high on the agenda of the executive who's overseeing it. It's really about engaging the executive in terms of understanding what this is all about and why they need to set this up properly. Actually, it's them having that conversation that's the most important point, rather than any particular technique.

ebizQ: What are some of the mistakes or pitfalls a company should avoid when implementing process governance?

Miers: The big mistake is not to actually set out with that in mind from the beginning. If you think you're just going to go and improve this business area and that'll be it, and you've managed to get the line-of-business executive sponsoring that, the mistake is to stop there, rather than trying to build the broader guiding coalition of how it's going to happen.

It's always easy to say that there's a one-size-fits-all solution here, but I don't really believe there is. In a sense, what you're doing is building the organizational weave, the organizational approach to process. [You're considering] which methods you're going to use, which framework of tools and techniques; those sorts of things are all part of this.

It's not as though just applying Lean Six Sigma will do the trick. Lean Six Sigma becomes one of the improvement initiatives. BPM suites become one of the tactical implementation approaches. Business process modeling repository tools become one of the approaches that you might take to get a sense of how all the processes hang together to support your organization.

These decisions, [about which techniques and tools to use]—they're all part of this decision-making fabric that you need to start developing around how you're going to affect and drive change. And, of course, you want to be able to concentrate that change and really make it happen, delivering more over time.

ebizQ: What do you see for the future of process governance?

Miers: I think what's going to happen is that organizations will become more and more aware of the importance of getting the politics set up right first, which we're talking about here--getting the issues squared away [up front] rather than waiting for them to happen and having to manage around them.

Of course, you've got to have good program- and project-management techniques and approaches. But you've also got to have all those soft skills that go around it, that make this thing come together. It's those soft skills, it's that engagement, it's that building the ownership of this change in the business itself rather than it being seen as some sort of technology or application-level change. That's really what we're talking about.

About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at

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