Business process management (BPM) has not yet matured enough to be promoting best-practices or featuring large clear success stories. Still, BPM holds huge promise. It shows no signs of going away and process pundits are giving it increasingly serious consideration. In general, the status is hopeful or that it might be starting to stabilize and mature. Companies with significant process challenges should stay closely tuned.
BPM has a lingering identity issue. Most business performance topics fall predominantly into one of the elements of the people-process-technology frame of reference, but BPM is all over. BPM has process in its name, but more than most topics, it resists clean classification. Maybe that’s the nature of BPM as a relatively new topic, and this contributes to the identity issue because it sometimes tends to look like all things to all people.
- BPM does not absolve a business from needing to have a solid process discipline. The fundamental questions of process ownership and challenges of crossing organizational boundaries become more visible and still have to be addressed. Without enlightened leadership, BPM (or really any change initiative) might not even start, or the results will be constrained. This is tied to the concerns for BPM’s cultural fit, and how an adoption program should be approached. Certainly there are many implications behind process ownership, but the more telling or insightful question might be who owns the BPM adoption program.
- BPM requires extraordinarily robust communications to manage all the process content. Here implied is one of the reasons business people don’t really want to manage capture of the processes. But neither can it be left solely to IT following the BPMN software-definition language. (BPMN is rigorous but too technical for most). Communications is a prime example of where business-IT fusion is needed to get down to the reality of work flow between desks and machines, handling exceptions, and gaining team understanding and agreement. Delivering on communications is necessary and good, but beware the tendency some have shown to think of BPM as “just a documentation tool”.
- BPM needs to be interrelated with businesses’ core improvement/change initiatives. In the end, just as it is with fundamental process discipline, it comes down to quality-oriented fundamentals and practices to address variability and handle never ending change. Here it is suggested to promote pro-activity and flexibility with eyes open because BPM will not be neutral with regard to lean, six sigma/DFSS, agile software development practices, the business model at large, the basic quest for innovation, promotion of desired cultural characteristics, performance metrics, other reference models, etc.
- BPM requires dedication of skilled people that can represent and facilitate the business and strategy. While everybody needs to know how they support and tie to the strategy, this takes on important deeper dimension for those who are core to BPM. Certainly these are people that can be instrumental and leading and entrusted with regard to points 1, 2 and 3 above, while simultaneously having solid appreciation for the IT implications.
A holistic view of BPM suggests it should be a clear reliable path for keeping strategy aligned with the design and support structure of the business. However, BPM now needs to get beyond the old impasse, where C-level executives aren’t seeing the level and surety of results to invest, while results aren’t being achieved because the investment isn’t there. To achieve the potential, there will need to be better ownership of BPM by the people running the business. And this probably won’t happen without acknowledgement that things haven’t worked or need to work substantially better.
While there is some uber logic to the ordering of these learnings/observations/opinions, it seems most practical to start with assuring the right people. In other words, points 1, 2, and 3 will require a core set of people to get meaningfully started. If you are committed and starting or if you simply want to do the diligence, you can hardly go wrong by retaining the right BPM-skilled/aware people since they will always be a tremendous resource.
TAKEAWAY: Rules are getting more attention because, more than ever, they demonstrate ability to impact productivity. This article provides insight into why this is the case, and how rules can help companies succeed in today’s competitive environment.
Rules have always been around, even taken for granted. Of late rules have been subjected to increased diligence, and increasingly subjected to automation. New approaches are enabling rules to be proactively used in business analysis, change facilitation and solution development. Progressively approached, rules are an integral part of the business blueprint and vital to performance.
Rules that can be applied to make repeatable decisions on a predictable basis are the starting point. Such rules reside in different places, like policy, regulations, legacy computer systems, and “tribal knowledge”. These rules work in direct conjunction with decisions and processes to impact performance.
Why Companies are Investing in Business Rules
- Rules bring efficiency to structured repeatable decisions, so productivity is improved and more predictable. Additionally, this operational efficiency keeps experts free to spend their energy on the more unique unstructured situations.
- Rules can be made clear and transparent, enabling team understanding of how and why decisions are made. In operation you can see precisely what might need to change, and there is a workable path to do so.
- Rules, as defined and owned by the business and as supported and facilitated by IT, provide a vital opportunity to get the team communicating and working together. The nature of rules injects discipline and attention to detail, while directly serving strategy.
How to Approach Business Rules (and Get the Desired Outcomes)
Rule-oriented techniques and tools have evolved and are a proven path for business analysis, using a genuinely business-driven approach. This is resulting in high quality business requirements, and leading to the best available solutions – solutions that are flexible, get used, and deliver results.
Rules are vital and need to be treated in context of the productivity improvements that are available, and their ability to bring a company to relatively high performance teaming (or even influence the culture). To establish rules as an important element of a company’s performance architecture, deliberate steps must be taken to recognize the commitment, keep the right people involved, manage the initiative, and assure a solid support structure. In hope of distinguishing this from the usual motherhood and apple-pie, the following points are offered to help make a rules-based program successful:
- A rules-based program can start to resemble “moths drawn to a flame”, so be prepared and take advantage. Business people will have their interest piqued and stay engaged if the effort shows promise. IT will be anxious for true requirements that brings them closer to the business and the allure of high system ROI. Recognize and stand up to the pervasive challenges of credibility and communications. Start with (and maintain) a communication strategy that includes development of a business vocabulary (not geek speak).
- Recognize that business people do understand and care but will be hard pressed to stay engaged because there is real cost when they are pulled away from operations. Organize the program to involve the right business people at the right times and in the right ways. Prepare and work to cultivate the active, high-impact participation of business stakeholders with an absolute minimum time investment. Administer the program with the same clarity and transparency that is to be embodied into the rules themselves. Continuously clarify and validate roles and responsibilities.
- Recognize that IT people are required and can assume the role of program leader/facilitator. There is a significant list of items that must be diligently addressed, all from an unwavering business perspective. These include scope, charter, goals/objectives, issue management, business and system analysis and modeling, reporting/metrics, and ultimately the rules themselves. Certainly the right IT people can do this, and it is true that a rules-based program typically leads to system requirements, design etc. However, more fundamentally, note that rules present a unique opportunity to link to strategy, something that must be done in close cooperation (even deference) to the business. The point is that this is one of those key opportunities for IT to be one with the business, and it is no place for trial-and-error, poor communication skills, or questionable credibility. Send the A team.
- Use methods and spend energy to extract rules from their natural state, where ever they are (policies, systems, peoples’ heads, etc.). and establish them as a baseline within a business rule management system (BRMS). Along the way, seek to gain real-business-life insights into successes and failures. Recognize that the goal is not simply to have a centralized repository of rules, but to proactively apply them for performance improvement. Map and refine rules in relation to the established vocabulary and key performance indicators (KPIs). Decompose and understand the affected decisions, and place those decisions in their process contexts. Analyze the rules in context of affected processes and supportive automation. Automation makes a huge capability improvement, but there will always be need for a practical understanding of how it works (if the system rejects someone, it’s not acceptable to simply say it’s because the system said so). Test specific rule adjustments to anticipate their impact before deploying. Maintain a clear path for business stakeholders to realize timely adjustments as required. Treat the program as a well-qualified source of company knowledge and best-practices.
TAKEAWAY: One way to facilitate business performance is to intervene right at the hand-off between strategy and execution. New energy and approaches are being applied at this point of hand-off, using it as a bridge to promote change, simplify, and increase diligence.
In the war of business, there’s a vital bridge between strategy and execution. This is the bridge where companies move from ideas to reality, and the battle fought here often determines the outcome of the war. You need to take this bridge, maintain it and use it to your advantage. However, many companies fail to accomplish the mission. Too many don’t see the battle line, or take it for granted, or don’t take the required deliberate steps.
It’s an up hill battle if direction has been less than clear or incomplete, multiple plans are in play, and the troops are looking for clarity or even find themselves at odds with each other (friendly fire). With supportive leadership and a meaningful strategy and objectives that are expected to drive behaviors and performance, what can a company do to take the bridge, to bring the strategy to life and perform as desired?
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These things are not only free, they’re important. Regardless of where you sit in the company or how big it is, one size fits all. There is no schedule – you can do these now or anytime. It’s up to you. And good for you if they’re already habit.
Put yourself in the place of the business owner, be and act like her/him, maybe with a magic wand. Think about the big picture. Don’t be consumed by tactical thinking. Look outward, with a customer and market orientation.
Understand Customer Needs
Know your customer, and your customer’s customer. Understand what your customer is trying to do, how they are doing it, how they measure success, and how others measure them.
Uncover Innovation and Value
Be committed to continuous learning. Learn to learn, and do it. Network, formally and informally, and interact with all levels of your teams. Forge strategic partnerships and alliances. Be a hub of communication with an attitude of plenty. Be involved and demonstrate endless curiosity. Develop personal relationships and commitments. Don’t be afraid to show you care and that you don’t know everything.
Execute and Work to Closure
Work to scale with your customer, giving them what they need now, knowing that you can build on it. Get value-adding things done in the here-and-now, with consideration for your customer’s specific situation and abilities. Done right, this is more a sense of purpose and conviction than urgency.
Embrace and Promote Change
Never forget that the things above (really everything) has to be done in context of constant change. You have to be in touch with change and facilitate it. Make time and build a reasonable working understanding of what it takes to change organization, culture, and technology at various levels. Don’t fight it – you cannot win.