Business Process Management Solution (BPMS) Success: A Project or Program?

Companies that want continuous improvement should never truly declare a BPMS project as complete.

A business process management solution (BPMS) can be leveraged in numerous ways. A basic BPMS provides a workflow engine, system integrations, and process modeling/metrics, amongst other functionality, that can be leveraged to solve a variety of business process issues.

A wide array of BPMS vendors can provide tools to positively impact business performance through financial scalability, service quality, reliability, efficiency, agility, and transparency.

Regardless of the BPMS utilized, it is important to realize that these solutions are toolkits for solving multiple tactical, operational, and enterprise process-related issues through automation, collaboration, and visibility. Many companies purchase a BPMS to enable continuous improvement within their organizations but don’t put the proper structure around the tool in order to recognize real results.

By definition, projects are set up to have a defined start and end. A continuous improvement program, on the other hand, is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes.

Based on this, why are so many companies disappointed that their BPMS is not delivering continuous improvement while they are only supporting (and funding) it in a project-based manner?

Too often, companies simply expect a BPMS to provide business transformation and/or continuous improvement without committing the necessary time and resources to recognize these lofty goals. Leadership, sponsors, and process owners need to recognize that a BPMS is a strong enabler of continuous improvement, but the overall effort needs to be based on a strong, ongoing commitment to modify, standardize and improve business processes across the organization.

Think Big, Start Small, and Act Quickly

In order to achieve both short and long-term success with a BPMS, companies need to adopt a “Think Big, Start Small, and Act Quickly” mindset. Many initial efforts are successful by focusing on a single process, or component of a larger process, that proves out the selected technology and builds the necessary internal knowledge and processes (“Start Small” and “Act Quickly”).

These projects are often deemed successful, but declaring them to be “complete” can lead to tension between business sponsors, who are generally expecting full business value to be recognized, and business users, who are still working with a partial solution.

Instead, companies that want continuous improvement should never truly declare a BPMS project to be “complete.” In nearly all cases, numerous opportunities exist to enhance the new BPMS-enabled process and/or expand the process into related areas (e.g., tie the back office into a previously automated sales process) to maximize the business value and continue the transformation to a continuous improvement mindset.

One strength of a BPMS is the reporting and analytics (data) that it provides. A common phrase that I subscribe to is, “The Power is in the Data.” While this data isn’t always available prior to enabling a process, the data from a BPMS can be leveraged in order to analyze and quantify the value of further enhancements. Instead of thinking of a process as being “complete,” organizations should simply look at where further enhancements fall within their priorities relative to other processes already enabled or to be enabled within the BPMS.

“Start Small” and “Act Quickly”

An initial project-based approach provides the foundation for future success, but companies begin to fail with BPMS when they continue to treat these efforts as individual projects with defined timelines and budgets and don’t look at them as part of a broader transformation program.

As a personal example, one insurance company automated a claims process. Their goal was to implement a standard process and get out of a paper-based environment, but three years later the payment process remains a “swivel chair” activity since the back office system integration has yet to be completed. In this instance, as in many others, a solid foundation was laid with an improved structured process but lost momentum because the full automation was never implemented. This situation caused the solution and entire BPMS to not be viewed as favorably at multiple levels of the organization.

“Think Big”

To springboard off the initial success, the “Think Big” component needs to be accounted for from the beginning of a BPMS effort. While time and money are obviously not limitless resources, companies that experience continued success with a BPMS are more likely to view the effort as an ongoing program as opposed to a series of individually funded projects. By taking this approach, companies can continuously evaluate and address their top business process issues, whether it be implementing a new process or enhancing existing processes in a BPMS. While demand will almost always still exceed supply, a properly implemented program-based approach ensures that tactics (such as new process enablement and/or enhancements to existing processes) that deliver the most business value will filter to the top of the priority list and can be addressed in a timely manner, while providing clear visibility to the benefit and prioritization process across the organization.

Companies that experience continued success with a BPMS are more likely to view the effort as an ongoing program as opposed to a series of individually funded projects.

A key program success criterion is an on-going commitment to a base number of resources to support the transformation efforts. An appropriately sized centralized team who understands the broader BPM vision and specific technology functionality/limitations, and who is properly empowered to drive improvements throughout the organization, is better positioned to ensure each BPMS release follows the “Act Quickly” concept to achieve business value in a timely manner.

While some companies can recognize BPMS success with a project-based approach, companies that are looking to leverage a BPMS to support a continuous improvement mindset need to ensure that the proper structure is in place to deliver ongoing business value through the “Think Big, Start Small, Act Quickly” approach.