Why we aren't 'Storming the Bastille' of processes

I read with some interest the recent article from the Forrester Blog entitled 'Storming The Bastille: A Populist Uprising In The BPM World?'. In it the authors, Connie Moore and Clay Richardson, make a very simple statement. They believe that 'business process professionals and business users are in open revolt against IT – pitchforks in hand – demanding greater collaboration and inclusion across all phases of the process lifecycle'.

It's an interesting statement and one that I would like to come back to in a few moments But first let me tell you a short story that happened to me recently.

I am a part of a couple of acting groups here in the UK (If you read my bio it does say "Blogger, author, actor, video editor and business process consultant. Weird eh?"). One of these groups was fortunate enough to have permanent premises for its activities which were provided for them by the local council. Or at least they did have until 2007 when the council tore them down to extend a local school.

This, effectively, left the group without a home. For those of you outside the UK (and those of you who are inside the UK but have had no dealings with drama groups) a huge proportion of these groups do not have permanent facilities. They rent rehearsal space on a show-by-show basis, they store props and sets in containers and they perform in local facilities which are, again, rented. The number of groups that can own up to having their own rehearsal/storage/workshop/performance venue is absolutely minute.

So in 2007 the committee decided that they were going to investigate the possibility of building our own facility for the group. They did the research and decided that a  suitable venue could be built for a sum of £200,000. At the time we had less than £30,000 in the bank and this had been accumulating over about 35 years of work. So we went to the membership and said to them "Would you like a custom built facility for the group?"

Guess what? The answer was a resounding 'Yes!'. With this mandate we went ahead, got planning permission and kicked off the fund-raising activities. We now find ourselves nearly three years later having raised an additional £20,000 pounds. At this rate we will be able to move into our finished premises sometime in the middle of 2033.

However, in the meantime we have been putting on three to four shows a year using temporary rehearsal facilities, rented storage and rented performance venues - exactly like the rest of the drama world does. And guess what? Our productions are every bit as good as they were before we lost our home.

So what has this got to do with Connie, Clay and the Bastille?

Quite simply the situation is almost identical. 

Let me explain.

My drama group were asked the question 'Would you like to have your own facilities?' They answered with a resounding "YES!". The problem was, this was a question that would only be answered with a "Yes". It's almost the same as asking, say, "Would you like to cure cancer?", or "Would you like to be financially independent for the rest of your life?" or "Would you, as a user, like greater collaboration or involvement over the process life cycle?". Of course you would. I don't know anyone who wouldn't like cancer to be cured, or to have enough money to not worry about anything for the rest of their life, or to be involved at all stages of the the process life cycle, or to have bought-and-paid-for facilities for their drama group.

But that's not the right question to ask.

The right question to ask is "Are you prepared to work the long hours and experience the frustration and anger that will be needed to cure cancer?", "Are you prepared to make the lifestyle and attitude adjustments that are needed to become financially independent?", "Are you prepared to create a process capability, staff, train and fund it to the point where your users can become involved at all stages of the process lifecycle, with all the impact that will have on the day-to-day running of your business?" and "Are you prepared to devote the next 3 years of your life to providing an average of £3000 per person to make the dream of owning your own facilities a reality?".

With the question framed as above it then becomes a real decision to be made rather than just a fantastic 'pie-in-the-sky' objective that will almost never become reality.

So when I read comments from Connie and Clay saying how the users want more involvement I don't see a 'Storming of the Bastille' I see a genuine issue with the wrong question being asked.

The article mentions 'Michael' - a typical worker representing 28% of the workforce. He will - when IT can't provide him the resources - take his own processes into the cloud and implement a solution without IT. That's great for Michael - it gives him what he wants and removes the burden from the IT resources who would have done this for him eventually. But at what cost?

We now have a solution which is working for one individual (or, more likely, a group of individuals in one department). This is a solution which will need supporting. It is a solution which might have been better implemented if it were rolled out to a larger group. Instead it is isolated and unintegrated with the rest of the company's IT architecture. This is very reminiscent of the old Excel solutions that were - and still are - rife across organisations. They are generally duplicated everywhere, uncontrolled and probably outside the Enterprise Architecture model that the company has created. I only have to remind you of the Y2K initiatives and all the issues that caused to make you understand the reason we don't want uncontrolled applications making their way into the enterprise.

But what the Forrester article does throw up is a problem which needs to be addressed in a different manner. The underlying question is "Why are users having to go outside IT to find solutions to manage their processes?" Is IT really that bad? Sometimes, unfortunately, it is. But usually the reason is that the organisation is not focused on the things that the users need. IT is focused on larger projects such as ERP, CRM etc, and the day to day needs of the users get left behind in this case (although you do have to ask why the users and IT are working on different things that are note aligned to company priorities?). But the solution to this is really straightforward. You take the 'process' part of things out of the hands of the users and you give it to a process capability within the organisation. 

This organisation can help the users manage their processes. But more importantly it can manage the overall process needs within the organisation. It can identify existing solutions from elsewhere in the company that would serve a different set of users rather than letting them create their own solution. It will provide architecturally approved process solutions which can be supported at minimal cost. It will also make sure that the users do not start automating badly designed or inefficient processes.

The right question to be asked is "Is your organisation ready to make process management a funded and recognised capability that your user base and IT can both benefit from?"

How many organisations are ready to answer 'Yes' to that question?

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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