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Effective business process governance clearly offers a variety of benefits. But getting started with governance can seem mighty daunting.

For starters, it can be challenging to define exactly what BPM governance is, or what it involves. "Governance is still relatively immature and largely predicated around assigning change rights to processes," says John Dixon, a research director for Gartner Inc. Other topics often lumped under the "governance" heading include IT's role in the business and who, or what part of the organization, "owns" each process.

BPM teams typically define governance as establishing the standards they will use to drive a BPM effort, says Clay Richardson, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "That's a broad definition," he acknowledges. "It usually boils down to how to identify and push projects, determining who are the key stakeholders and who will green-light the process improvement projects, followed by arriving at a standard definition for methodologies, roles and best practices."

From 'top-down' to 'empower and enable'

But that raises a more fundamental question: How is governance initiated and driven? Most process governance efforts begin as top-down efforts with strong executive support, according to Richardson. "We see top-down governance with strong executive support as very effective for driving participation, collaboration and agreement," he says. "That approach is very effective for keeping things together and moving forward." In some cases where companies are just starting out with BPM, top-down governance can be especially critical because many people involved may not yet understand BPM, he adds. If you have loose, undefined governance, you may find it challenging to get participants to the table—and to reach agreement once they get there.

However, once companies have been actively doing BPM for a couple of years, the authoritarian approach may not work so well, Richardson continues. Ultimately, BPM programs need to get greater involvement and participation from different lines of business—and empower those business lines to take more ownership of process governance.


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