The State of BPM - Part 1

This is the first of a three part series of posts on ‘The State of BPM’. Yes, I know that’s a pretty ambitious topic to do in three posts - especially without spending loads and loads of time talking about the minutiae of the topic - but I wanted to put a stake in the ground (or line in the sand) to try and summarise a number of the recent posts I’ve been reading which lead me to believe that not everything is rolling in clover in the BPM world.

The three parts of the topic will be as follows:

  • Part 1: This will discuss the state of the capability of BPM. y this I mean the practice of performing BPM, the pitfalls, the issues. This will not look, specifically at tools, but may cover methodologies.
  • Part 2: Will discuss the state of the technology surrounding BPM. In particular we will look at the vendor segment and try to understand the impact of the consolidation that is occurring there
  • Part 3:  This will look at the state of things to come in BPM and try to extrapolate where this will take us and what the problems are going to be.
Part 1
The State of the BPM Capability

I would catgeorise this section as being related to three separate topics

a) The Definition of BPM
b) The State of Training.
c) High failure rate of projects.

Let's look at each of these:

The Definition of BPM
I think that I won’t get a lot of push-back if I make a simple statement about BPM “BPM is not very well defined”. The borders and boundaries are flexible when it comes to defining what BPM is and where it applies. This is compounded by the introduction and inclusion of a large number of acronyms into the sphere (DDM, APG etc) matched with new movements to bring other similar/related capabilities to the fore -ACM and Social BPM are two examples of this. A recent post I wrote talked about this phenomenon and the fact that various groups are trying to make more and more niche's within BPM. Each of this is - I think - merely serving to muddy the BPM waters.

As I said in that post
Last year, Thomas Olbrich and I sat down and put together The BPM Nexus (along with original founder Theo Priestley) and we sought to create a BPM definition which we could use to create concensus amongst practitioners. Our efforts - unfortunately - came to very little for a number of reasons which are not important now. But what did come out of the discussions which took place was the fact that so few people have a common understanding of what BPM means precisely. They know what BPM means to them and the know what they do when it comes to BPM. But to sit down and write a standard defintion of BPM that everyone can agree on is difficult.
Because of this there have been a number of separate initiatives aimed at splitting BPM into component parts - or sub parts - to allow vendors, particularly, to attach to these niches and boost their own offerings. The phrase "Social BPM" has suddenly appeared in the BPM vernacular along with "ACM" or Adaptive Case Management.
I know that folks such as Alexander Samarin (a key member of the Nexus at that time) have chosen to make three distinct definitions of BPM depending on whether BPM is being looked at as a discipline, a portfolio or a toolset:
As usual, I have to be very explicit with the BPM (Business Process Management). I distinguish the three concepts of BPM:

1. BPM as a discipline (better management of an enterprise via modeling, automating, execution, controlling, measuring and optimising the flow of business activities that span the enterprise’s systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries),
2. BPM as software product (e.g. BPM suite or BPMS) and
3. BPM as a portfolio of the business processes of an enterprise, and the practices and tools for governing the design, execution and evolution of this portfolio (enterprise BPM system or enterprise BPM-centric solution).
Whilst I think I can align with this it does indicate that there are - at the very least - a number of possible interpretations of BPM. This, in itself, must be causing problems.

The State of Training on BPM
What constitutes BPM training? Is there a globally recognised standard for BPM training? I would maintain that there isn’t. Not that this is necessarily a problem, but unlike other officially recognised training standards (for things like project management or accountancy) there doesn’t appear to be a recognised body responsible for providing this training. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t BPM training (And I am not going to make any comments about the standard of training or the suitability of it in this post) but it does mean that there are a number of ‘BPM bodies’ who are profiting from providing their own brand of training to an unsuspecting user base.

But what about BPM? Or Six Sigma? Or Lean. Aren’t these BPM training? I would maintain that none of these constitutes BPM training, but each of them constitutes a sub-set of BPM training. I risk the wrath of the Black belts out there by saying that Six Sigma - a partially discredited methodology - is, in fact, nothing more than a basic version of quality improvement which has - in fact - done nothing to help companies that are using it improve their overall performance (although it does identify improvements at a micro level). Forbes stated that "of 58 large companies that have announced Six Sigma programs, 91 percent have trailed the S&P500 since" [1]

Does BPMN constitute the training we need? No. BPMN is, again, a subset of the training that is needed. It is a graphical representation for specifying business processes in a business process model. But it isn’t the only way of doing it. This is one of several notations that can be used for modeling and what it doesn’t do is teach the fundamentals of how to discover and map a process.

The High Failure Rate Of projects
If we bypass the different training issues, the methodology sprawl, the reduced scoping issues and the other points listed above we still get to the key issue that plagues BPM:  Our friends at Gartner have stated that over 50% of  process projects will fail (This is addressed in the Perfect Process Project) and this is due to a number of reasons but primarily it is lack of appropriate Executive Sponsorship and Change Management.

As a business leader, it is all very well to hear about BPM and what it can do for your company. But at the moment there simply isn’t a large number of case studies that can conclusively prove that BPM implementation will save your company fortunes, or indeed improve your efficiency. The case studies that do exist are mostly vendor produced and therefore are selected to identify the best case scenarios. Our friends at Gartner state that well scoped BPM projects approach a 15% internal ROI. I align with that theory, but I can’t get away from the fact that - like Six Sigma - the processes of providing ‘the scope’ will reduce the effectiveness of the overall project. Remember, as stated above, Jack Welsh and GE used Six Sigma to great effect back in the 1980’s/90’s, but companies that followed haven’t been as successful and there must be a reason for that

On the positive side, however, a recent study has found that organizations are showing a growing interest in BPM, but some are challenged by the lack of standards between process modeling and execution, amid other issues. 
( On top of that, many organizations remain "process ignorant" when it comes to BPM because many still don't necessarily understand exactly how things are getting done in their own business. Some cited issues such as a lack of interchange standards between process modeling and execution tools, which can render system interoperability difficult. One reason that this issue exists  is that organizations are using modeling-only tools that lack an execution component. Organizations are finding the breadth of available BPM systems confusing in that each vendor interface will dictate how business processes are to be designed and applied. We’ll talk about this in the next post.

IT is constantly being challenged to do more with less. Outsourcing as a concept become very big recently - especially with regard to Business Processes. But now the cost of this is starting to bite and companies are pulling their BP management back in-house. It is supposedly saving them money (which does beg the question of why it was outsourced in the first place if money wasn't a driver). But at the other end of the scale the logic that processes can be automated without people involvement is coming under attack from respected individuals (

Modelling and building processes has to now consider the role of the human as a PART of the process rather than just a monitor of the process or recipient of the output. This is another item which is causing pain and confusion for businesses wanting to implement 'BPM'. In the current context BPM is looked upon as a tool which will automate the processes. This brings in the concept of having some third party bring in best practice ( and tell you how to perform your business (whether this fit your model or not). Training on a particular tool is needed to understand how specific parts of a process are modeled (and the differences are quite spectacular (, your workforce then needs to understand physically how to create the process, model it, simulate it, implement it and manage it - all while trying to run the business and keep within budget and on time in the project. It's no wonder that a large proportion of Business Process programs don't work....

But are there positive signs? Of course there are. The consolidation in the BPM vendor market is showing that vendor's are looking at the ability to bundle different facets of BPM together to produce a package to support the business (more on that in part two). This is good for business, right? Right? But moe than that it is starting to prove that the capability of BPM is become more and more widespread across organisations. Whereas previously the work was known as 'Time & Motion' study this has now developed and business and IT leaders are starting to see that value that a well scoped and managed BPM project can bring to their organisation. This - in turn - is bringing more and more people into the BPM sphere and expanding the pool of knowledge and talent that is available (albeit without the globally accepted training)

To summarise: We have a capability in BPM that is not clearly defined, is suffering from an amount of 'bloat' with the introduction of topics such as ACM into the mix, has-ill defined globally accepted training and is suffering from a high rate of attrition when it comes to successful implementation. All this without considering the tools and packages that can be used and the impact of biased vendor involvement.

Is it any wonder BPM is in such a state?

In part two will discuss the state of the technology surrounding BPM. In particular we will look at the vendor segment and try to understand the impact of the consolidation that is occurring there. Part two will be released next week.

1 - Morris, Betsy (2006-07-11). "Tearing up the Jack Welch playbook". Fortune

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.

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