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Change management, as Gartner analyst Elise Olding has pointed out, may not be too far from being an oxymoron. But change is inherent in every process-improvement effort. So is it really possible to reduce, or even eliminate, disruption in BPM?

“The short answer is that you can't minimize disruption if you want serious process improvement,” says Robby Slaughter, principal at Slaughter Development, a consultancy that focuses on organizational change.

But he and others says executives involved in BPM initiatives have plenty of options for managing upheaval during times of change. For example, a parallel run can allow a new system to be tested while the old one remains operational. A sequential approach to improvement focuses on one department at a time, rather than generating enterprise-wide change. Job “shadowing” can help reveal undocumented procedures so that they can be addressed.

Olding agrees that, in BPM, some disruption is inevitable. But understanding what kind of disruption is likely to occur and addressing it proactively can prevent a lot of headaches.

Olding uses the example of downsizing from a five-bedroom to a three-bedroom house, a process that’s inherently disruptive. “You’re not going to change that,” she says. But if you wait until moving day to decide what to take and what not to take, that will create worse disruption than planning ahead and deciding what you really need.”

One way to reduce disruption: Involve those affected right from the start, says Stuart Chandler, director at Virtusa, an IT consulting and services company. That way, as you move through the project lifecycle, people can see the changes and can start to understand them. “There will always be disruption, but you can pick your pain points,” he says.

For instance, rather than rolling out everything on Day One, you might first have people become familiar with the plans so that they understand the impact and can adjust accordingly. “Maybe before you roll out, you might start changing some job functions or get them started in a model office, where they can start working without affecting anybody else’s work,” Chandler explains. “Those people involved at that stage can then become evangelists.”

In fact, getting people into that early adopter-evangelist mode is an important component in change management, he says. Look for either people in positions of authority or those who are widely trusted and respected.

Chandler, too, emphasizes that it’s virtually impossible to completely prevent disruption in an era where change has become a constant. “Our world was very focused on the assembly-line model. For generations of people who went to work and did the same thing, change was not comfortable,” he notes. “Now, the workforce is mostly project-oriented and change is much more a part of that world. But it is still something that people tend to resist. People will need help and skill sets to handle change.”

Another way to steer clear of trouble: Make changes in small steps, says Chris Sanchez, vice president for business solutions and CTO with PointSource LLC, a technology consulting firm specializing in business process optimization. “Think big, start small and scale fast,” he says. “I like that because when you look at BPM, you need to think about where you want the business to go in a larger context---but you can’t think big and start big at the same time.”

He also recommends establishing a BPM center of excellence (CoE) to provide the vision and strategy of where the program is headed as well as project support. “In terms of BPM, it would define what areas of the business you are attacking, how to they link to the strategy and how best to build and invest resources in improving those parts of the business,” he says. “Whatever those steps are, you have to have them in context with a larger view of business. The small steps that you can measure and how can you build off of them follow from that.”

Organizational change needs to be part of every process-improvement program from the beginning, Olding says. Many methodologies can help with this goal. But the bottom line is actually getting people on board and getting the changes implemented. “That is where failure occurs,” she notes. “People say ‘I sent 500 emails and had 14 brown-bag luncheons [to promote the change effort] and that was my success.’” The real measure of success, she says, is whether people understood and liked what they heard and ultimately got on board.

Andrea Evans, a manager with MorganFranklin, a business consulting and technology solutions company, offers the following tips for minimizing resistance and managing other forms of project disruption:

• Establish the need for change. Build momentum and urgency for transformation. If people understand the necessity for change and what’s driving it, they’ll be more willing to adopt it.

• Develop a vision and strategy for change. Communicate the goals and develop strategies to accomplish desired outcomes and objectives. Articulate how the change will be managed.

• Create a team of change champions. This coalition of change-minded employees can promote and garner support for the initiative.

• Engage and empower employees. Their buy-in is critical. So solicit their opinions about the coming changes. Listen to feedback. Collect their insights. Address their concerns.

• Generate short-term wins. This will both help sustain momentum and showcase success—especially important during periods of potential resistance.

READER FEEDBACK: This article emphasizes the importance of a BPM Center of Excellence (CoE) to oversee both strategic and tactical aspects of process-improvement issues. Do you have a CoE? Do you plan to develop one? Or have you passed on the whole concept. Let us know what you think. Please e-mail Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

More by Alan Earls, ebizQ Contributor



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