Friday, 10 August 2007

The Top 10 Reasons Why BPM Will Fail

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For too long, people have spent all their energy espousing the benefits of BPM. No-one is really looking at the downside (and it is considerable!) and making people aware of the pitfalls and issues they will face. In this article I will try to explode some of the myths that have built up around BPM and reveal why for most companies BPM will fail to deliver.

Having been writing and promoting the business benefits of BP and BPM for over 10 years, to produce an article entitled why it will fail will surely seem like heresy in many quarters. My hope is that people reading this will do so with an open mind and will take on board the problems discussed. For only by understanding the real motivations of our companies, our clients and our staff, can we possibly begin to develop systems and techniques to help them.

Before we even get into the top 10 reasons we should remember that organizations have built themselves by function for many years. Executives are only just getting comfortable with trying to manage their entire business as one entity using functional approaches. Managers and executives have spent years, both in on the job training and through management training centers, learning how to become better specialists.

The very idea that a few so called "gurus" could suggest that they should turn their organizations on their side and manage the business through processes instead, seems more than a little amusing to them. To many these "gurus" should spend more time in "real" companies, understanding what really happens, instead of causing problems by converting some of their middle and senior managers to a new way of thinking.

It is this apparent lack of understanding of the people issues, by those in the BPM community that will ultimately stall any momentum built. Too many messages speak to the mythical "Company", "Customer" or "Organization" and don't take into account the "Me" factor. This may seem rather strange for an approach which talks of empowering people and promises greater freedom for people. By way of an example, a quick look at the exhibitors at a conference some insight; not one of the exhibitor panels talked of what was in it for "me" e.g. "Why should I engage with your company? You might have the best products, but they all say that, you might be able to save my company money, they all say that, but as a result of engaging with you what will I get out of it? Will you make my life easier? Will buying your product mean I work fewer hours? Will dealing with your company increase my chances of a salary raise or maybe a promotion?"

It may be the fault of marketers, but whether in the vendor or end user community the same lessons holds true. If we want to get people to do something, then in addition to appealing to the corporate issues we need to address the personal ones too. Companies and markets are actually just collections of individual people.

Having said that, we are still left with cultural issues and here, as we see, BPM does not come out particularly well. As we look at the top ten reasons why BPM will fail, we will see that the industry just simply does not understand the culture of either people or indeed organizations. The reasons given below provide a greater insight into our culture and the rationale as to why "BPM might be right for other companies but is not right for us".

As with any other solution, BPM must address itself to the real problems people and companies face and not the mythical ones. So far, the reasons for taking on BPM are not compelling enough to make it worthwhile getting into this brave new world.

So let's take a look at these top 10 reasons:-

Reason 1.    BPM is all about promoting professional change.

"Business Process Management is all about promoting professional change, promoting the idea that we have to move from where we are, to some greener pasture elsewhere. Whereas, in fact we actually quite like being where we are, thank you! We do not see a need for our company to move with all these new fangled ideas. We have been in business since way before you were born and have always served our customers well. The idea that we might not have customers later is just too preposterous for words.

Besides, there is already too much change in society and our customers and staff just won't stand for any more, it is our duty, just like a bank, to always stand firm and be somewhere and someone you can depend on!"

Reason 2.    BPM removes islands of information and silo thinking.

"Business Process Management helps to eliminate islands of information and silo thinking from within organizations. Such things of course may well be a problem in someone else's organization but it is not a problem here. I meet regularly with my peers and can get access to any information I require from them; sure, some of it might be a little out of date, or difficult to track down, but we have people who can sort that out and it does not really add to our costs.

As to silo thinking, we have been all through that debate many times. We cannot see any purpose in giving people visibility outside the areas they are working in. We take great pride that our engineers provide the best components and our marketers know how to market our products as well as anyone could."

Reason 3.     BPM promotes and encourages communication.

"Business Process Management promotes and encourages communication, which is all very well if you want to do that. But, in this organization we have management and it is their job to communicate what is needed, to the people that need to know. And to be honest we probably already have more communication than we need. It is far easier to manage our people, if we only drip feed the information to them. They are probably not capable of dealing with much more anyway.

Here in the emergency services, we really do understand communication. It is not as if you dial 999 and get the police instead of an ambulance. When special arrangements are made, everybody who needs to know about them does."

Reason 4.     BPM focuses on managing by measurement.

"Business Process Management focuses on managing by measurement, which is all very well but we have all the measures we need. What I don't need are more measures. What you don't understand is that measures mean accountability and I quite like the fact that I can fudge the numbers in the current system. The idea of greater accountability fills me with dread and the fact that they might all be linked up in a cohesive manner, will sound great to the bosses but down here we don't want that.

In any case, I am not aware of anyone who has found themselves earning more money or getting promotion as a direct result of managing more measures, especially here in areas like quality."

Reason 5.     BPM is about moving away from a Command & Control Structure.

"Business Process Management is all about moving away from a command and control structure, which makes it simply unworkable in our organization. Our very strength and indeed that of our competitors lies in organizational structure. We have spent years creating and honing it to perfection and it is the very heart of our company. People rely on it to know their status within the organization and what is expected in their role. It is also vital in establishing pay grades, salary structures, benefits and bonuses, such things would just not work in a flat organization.

In our business, tomato products, it would be just ridiculous to imagine someone flattening the organization. No one would know what to do or what was expected of them, if they had no formal structure."

Reason 6.     BPM is not all about technology.

"Business Process Management is not all about technology. However, we have had numerous presentations from many vendors who say just the opposite. In fact we like the idea of a pure technology solution. As an IT group we know how to handle such projects and have the knowledge and capabilities, built up over many years, to implement them. The last thing we need is a concept that requires us to further engage with the business. The idea that technology is just an enabler for business is not something we believe round here.

I work in the automotive industry. I know of no-one who has reduced costs, by allowing the business to get more involved in technology requirements. In fact usually they only increase costs because they never know what they want."

Reason 7.    BPM is not Rocket Science.

"Business Process Management is not rocket science, so it is not really adding anything to our existing knowledge base. We have a highly experienced executive team and numerous MBA's within our senior and middle management teams; these people know how to go looking for solutions. We have invested in them, to enable them to seek the solutions and many of them could deal with rocket science. If it were that straightforward we could just train our existing people and empower them to make the changes we need. No, it can't be that simple or straightforward.

The software industry is full of very bright people. And it is not very likely that any significant market player developed with a simple idea from mere graduates. It might work for small companies, but not one with wealth larger than most countries."

Reason 8.    BPM requires investment in training and education.

"Business Process Management requires investment in training and education. Here in our company we can't be spending money on training in this stuff. If we do that they will all want training. Besides if everyone was trained in it, they would all be asking questions all the time and we can't have that. The managers and executives won't know the answers, which would lead to anarchy. Anarchy, because we won't be able to spare the time of managers and executives in education, they are too important for that.

I just can't imagine any multinational tobacco company putting together a plan for even three days training for employees and managers, never mind 6 or 7 days on this stuff. It is too difficult to organize on a worldwide basis."

Reason 9.    BPM promotes common sense.

"Business Process Management is all about common sense, understanding what you have, where you want to go and developing a plan to help you get there. This all sounds very well in theory. However, if business was just about common sense then everyone would be doing it, wouldn't they? We have worked very hard to create something very special and complexity just adds to our competitive advantage.

After all people will always want books and our search and indexing systems combined with our local store network gives us the edge, sure the website is a little complex to use, but our customers have to understand the system is vast, to have a simple one-click system might sound like common sense but it does not apply in our business."

Reason 10.    BPM is a boardroom issue.

"Business Process Management is a boardroom issue, perhaps you don't understand but we have a very full agenda here in the executive suite. We are with trying to figure out strategies for growth and corporate direction. We don't have time to waste on new-fangled ideas that have yet to be proven. We employ people in our technology division to look at these sorts of things, if they are any good, we will soon hear about it from them.

Besides last time I looked it was all about process, people and technology. We focus on bigger things up here, real numbers and real strategies. Here in the airline business, I can't imagine anyone improving their bottom line significantly with this stuff."

Okay, so if you are still reading this then you have realized that perhaps it is a little tongue in cheek. But it serves to highlight the real issues faced by any and all of us in the BP or BPM fields. Largely we are offering help and solutions to problems people don't perceive they have. The challenge we all face collectively is how to ensure that our clients, our companies or our executives understand that these are the real problems they face. And that BP really is an ideal way for them to start tackling them. Certainly it does not solve all the problems of the world, but then what new management paradigm can?

For anyone who is not totally convinced, let's reconsider the examples in mind when writing the answers above. I fully accept that they are not all directly related to Business Process, but they do serve to illustrate the types of thinking we come up against, almost on a daily basis.

In example 1 we heard from what might be a typical banking executive. The news for them is that banks are not the reliable stalwarts they used to be. Competition is fierce and a lack of on-line or telephone services means customers will leave them in droves. The cost of not changing from a branch based model is far greater than the cost of doing so.

The second example would be fairly typical of an engineering company (especially one which has adopted Six Sigma). We see that engineers build great components, but no matter how good Marketing is, if Engineering are making something that the market does not want or at a quality the market will not pay for then we are just wasting money again. So much easier to remove the silos and have them engage much earlier in the process and continue to do so throughout.

Next we took the example of the UK emergency services, all three of which (Fire, Police and Ambulance) while managed separately, spend a significant amount of their time working together. However, recently when the Countess of Wessex needed to get to hospital urgently for the birth of her baby, it was a policeman that arrived and not an ambulance. It turns out that everyone thought someone else was sorting the ambulance and so a well thought out plan fails in execution, due to the lack of communication. Luckily enough for all concerned, this potentially life threatening situation had a happy ending.

In our fourth example I had in mind the positive side of Six Sigma and companies like General Electric and Motorola. In these companies significant amounts of executive and management pay, are directly linked to their achieving the requisite measures set by the company.

For the fifth example, I considered the "Morning Star" company and their highly unusual flat structure. More of which you can read about in my friend Doug Kirkpatrick's article "The Flat Organization" which appears on the website. Through a set of contracts and service level agreements Morning Star have created the world's leading tomato product company.

Sixth in our list of examples is the Volkswagen car company in America, who outsourced their IT to a newly created subsidiary, GEDAS. Meanwhile inside the company they continued to examine the structure of their business and the IT required to support it. As a result of the work done they were able to go back to GEDAS and significantly reduce the costs for their service provision.

The seventh example, if you did not already guess was Microsoft. In the early days they were just a couple of graduates who saw an opportunity and with a couple of quick moves created the beginning of what is now a monster company. Of note though is that, while many see Microsoft as a software or technology company, the key to Microsoft's strength lies not with the "Rocket Scientists" in their lab but with their smart use of marketing, for me Microsoft are a marketing company who happen to deliver software.

The strength for our eighth example, British American Tobacco, according to recent presentations given by the company, lies not with the extensive program. Or indeed with the executive buy-in to the 7 strategic imperatives or with the management buy-in to the resulting 160+ strategic initiatives underway (many of which are business process driven). Instead, they attribute most of their success to the inclusive training programs they have put in place. When rolling out their Business Process and Enterprise Architecture initiatives, the company took a great deal of time and trouble to put in place a training and education program. This has enabled managers, process engineers and line managers to all learn the same approaches, tools and techniques. This has resulted in extraordinary buy-in from the business.

For the ninth example, I imagined the sort of conversations that might have been taking place in companies like Waterstones or Borders, while Amazon marched on. I wonder now how they feel about the decisions they made at that time. And also how many other retailers will ultimately go to the wall. Before realizing the world has changed and they need to change too, and fast.

Finally for the tenth reason, I had no specific example in mind. However, if we take the sum of all the previous examples, as well as many other published case study examples, it is simply not possible to ignore the business benefits. However, the language used in the case studies may not yet be right for the boardroom. Indeed, the media too may be inappropriate. Perhaps when such stories are regularly carried in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, as was the case with stories such as GE and Motorola years ago, then we can hope to win the hearts and minds of the boardroom.

In closing, I hope you can see it is not a matter of doom and gloom at all, but significant work needs to occur. To change the language we use, to focus on the people issues and to destroy the plethora of myths that are building up around the BPM industry. Such myths are being built in both the vendor community and within end user organizations.

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