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The last two articles in this series will cover the process personas that are more important than all of the other personas we have covered - combined. Interestingly enough, it is these last two critical personas that have been the line where BPM solutions and practices have traditionally pulled up short with little, or no, product or practice support. For this article, we look at the process participant persona.

Process participants are the people who actually do the work in a process. While many people think of business process management as the designing and deploying of BPM technologies, the reality is that once those processes are deployed is when processes actually come to life. The contrast in perspectives is extreme. Where builders are effectively experiencing the process as a series of projects with a distinct beginning and end, participants are experiencing the process as an integral - never ending - part of their daily working lives. To put it bluntly, process designs that aren't aligned to participant wants and needs, to their working reality, will always fall drastically short of the potential value BPM can produce.

The New BPM

This is the essence of the message that I have delivered on a global basis for the last five years, that BPM cannot fulfill its destiny if we don't understand process from the perspective of the participant and then develop processes that make their lives simpler, easier and more successful. Though that message resonates at many business levels, BPM vendors have for the most part, refused to acknowledge this, opting instead to take a position that their technology, in and of itself, solves the "challenge." Why would that be the case when it is so obvious that such a position is inherently flawed? Because it's hard, very hard, to bridge that gap. Doing so requires an innate understanding of the participant experience and the infusing of that domain knowledge into BPM technology in a way that achieves a simple, easier and more successful participant work experience. The scope of that challenge has exceeded the ability of BPM vendors - until now. Enter stage left, the New BPM.

Over the last two years we have begun seeing a new breed of BPM solutions emerge. Leading BPM vendors have been working hard to develop a true understanding of the participant experience they are now using to embed optimized participant user experiences into their product. This is a differentiating BPM solution, one that has the potential to unleash process improvement (i.e., lower cost, improved quality, increased productivity) literally an order of magnitude over what we have traditionally experienced. Think about it. How much do things change if your BPM solution comes with highly refined, contextually accurate and deeply optimized user experiences already in it? When I say new BPM, I mean new BPM.

The Participant Experience

So what is the participant experience that is part of this new BPM? Think of Apple's iPhone, and the difference it represents in respect to traditional mobile devices. From the participant perspective, it is a user experience that is immediately intuitive, has everything needed in a single interface and is presented in such way that most users need to spend little effort to find and do and what they want. It is optimized to the work patterns that participants actually follow, so it doesn't impose behavioral changes on participants - it just makes it easier for them to do what seems logical and natural! While BPM products may not be offering that level of embedded user experience, what they are providing has been developed along the same lines as the iPhone. The result is participant user experiences that are more intuitive and productive than ever before.

Process participants are also being given personalized experiences by presenting information to each participant that helps them assess their personal success, set goals, and compare their results to other process participants who do the same work. It gives them clear insight into what is important, what the business identifies as success and their personal performance in respect to that. It even gives them the ability to have individual work patterns - a form of ad-hoc process behavior - that make sense to each person within a bounded set of overarching process rules. Stated another way, within a subset of process rules that shape formal requirements (e.g., - tasks that must been done to complete a piece of work), participants are given the freedom to do work the way that is most productive for each individual (for example, the order in which tasks are performed.)

Can You Imagine?

Can you imagine BPM software where once a process is designed; it automatically generates a highly optimized, contextually accurate and flexible user experience that immediately increases the productivity of process participants? This is what the new BPM promises, and while we aren't all the way there yet, this is indeed happening today. With the evolution of process engines that actually support the way processes really behave, deep domain knowledge of participant work behaviors, and the embedding of that domain knowledge into the product, the ability to auto-generate what are essentially "ideal user experiences" becomes a reality.

This has the potential to fundamentally change how work gets done. It is a paradigm shift that moves us from participant resistance to new BPM deployments, workarounds being a matter of practice, and non value-added work consuming vast amounts of time, money, and energy to inherent participant acceptance, genuine excitement, dramatic productivity increases and new sources of value creation.

We aren't there yet, but we are getting there. The fact that as an industry, we are finally acknowledging the critical importance of the participant experience enables us to take BPM to the next level. The work that has already been done by leading BPM vendors demonstrates both the value and the certainty that we can do this. It is happening. It is changing BPM. It is a critical milestone, because until we empower participants to new levels of productivity through user experiences that matter, we are really just shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic. They are the ones doing the real work in the process, and only through them can we truly realize the benefit BPM has to offer.

Summing it Up

The advent of embedded user experiences for participants in BPM software is the one thing that will finally enable BPM to fulfill its promise. While much of that experience is contingent on process engine design, the process design environment (builders), and the manager interface is the key to unlocking the true potential of BPM - a potential that can deliver an order of magnitude in cost, quality, productivity and value creation benefits.

In the next - and final - article in this series, we will close out our exploration into the Best of BPM by looking at what BPM is doing for one last persona - the Customer.



About the Author

Terry Schurter is an internationally recognized process expert who received the Global Thought Leadership Award from the BPM Group in 2007. Among other positions, he is chairman of the board of advisors for the International Process and Performance Institute. His latest book is “The Insider’s Guide to BPM: 7 Steps to Process Mastery” (Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2009).

More by Terry Schurter

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