RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Starting the BPM Process: 10 Best Practices

A 10-point guide to getting started with business process management.

By Mac McConnell, VP of Marketing, BonitaSoft

Most organizations understand how business process management (BPM) can generate long-term benefits, but the common thinking has been that implementing a BPM solution will be a complicated and disruptive short-term task. It doesn't have to be. If you set reasonable goals, choose a system that works for your needs, and approach the implementation in an organized way, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that badly planned BPM projects encounter. Here is a 10-point guide to getting started with BPM.

1. Don't try to model how you should work; model how you actually work

Establish a starting point. Identify benchmarks for how people currently perform for best results, then model that process, either graphically or in narrative form (even a simple document will suffice). Once you've established benchmarks based on actual performance, you can develop a workflow model. After validating the model, you can begin to apply improvements.

2. Think big, start small

Take an incremental approach rather than forcing changes on the "big picture" of interconnected processes all at once. When you start with a small, easily manageable project, you will produce measurable results that should ease the way for wider implementation. This first implementation should be one in which real improvement actually makes a difference to the organization. No one will be impressed if the first application of BPM results in better handling of useless or unimportant tasks.

3. Involve all project stakeholders in development and testing

Encourage as much collaboration as possible between developers and end users throughout your project. The people who actually know how the process works and who are most often responsible for its effectiveness must be involved during the process modeling phase. IT knows how to transform the process model into user applications. They will also connect the process application with existing systems. End users will use the deployed applications; conducting quick and dirty test deployments during development to get hands-on user feedback (for example, to check the usability of online forms) can make all the difference between a BPM deployment that is quickly adopted and one that is quickly abandoned.

4. Choose the tool based on your needs; BPM applications come in different forms designed for different audiences

BPM implementation should answer the needs of the executive suite, corporate IT, and end users. Typically, business executives need to track business processes with a primary emphasis on control, visibility, and efficiency. Developers often prefer open source BPM solutions because of the transparency of the code and the availability of an ecosystem of inexpensive complementary solutions. Users want something simple and easy to use. The total cost of ownership should be taken into consideration; proprietary solutions usually have a "per-seat" license cost and possibly even additional operating costs (if deployed as software as a service, for instance) whereas open source solutions tend to cost much less.

5. Choose a champion

Find and select a champion to manage the implementation process. The champion does not necessarily have to come from management -- depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to appoint someone with a technical background instead. The role of the champion is to support the choice of routines to include BPM and overcome resistance to these changes. The champion helps protect the BPM implementation and staff involved in the process from interference. The project manager needs to be a champion too, as this is the person who assumes all control of (and responsibility for) the project, oversees and directs the implementation process, and should have the passion needed to sell it internally.

6. Establish milestones

Prepare a strong business case for both near-term and longer-term BPM implementation to address the scope and goals of using BPM in your organization in detail. It should have planned milestones and a reasonable deadline for each phase. This also minimizes risk by simplifying a large implementation plan into a series of smaller, measurable steps, allowing for easier adoption.

7. Provide results promptly

The first benefits of BPM implementation must show up quickly. Define deliverables that are based on results: something that people can actually observe or use.

8. Encourage collaboration

Ensure adequate communication and participation among all stakeholders during implementation. The champion should work closely with everyone involved to avoid "management disconnect" problems – where management may not fully understand the day-to-day issues that workers face in the actual processes involved. Effective collaboration tools for BPM implementation include means for BPM developers to share (for example, a common repository), "social" mechanisms for discussion about the project, and the notation used for process modeling (for example, the BPMN2 standard).

9. Measure results step-by-step Measure the results of new procedures to see whether the plan requires any adjustments. Identify what type(s) of data you need to gauge how much value has been added. Put a means in place to collect that data, like key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs can be tracked in business dashboards, charts, and soon that display aggregated data from both test results and live processes, which you can provide in the milestone deliverables.

10. Use professional services when necessary Use outside experts when you need better results faster than if you handled your organization's BPM implementation completely internally. The main benefit of using external consultants, of course, is the experience they bring. This is especially valuable in the case of software implementation, where a significant design flaw or miscalculation could cause major problems and damage the overall investment. Using a contractor may cost more up front, but expertise pays off in the long run.

Mac McConnell is vice president of marketing for BonitaSoft, a provider of business process management solutions, specializing in corporate finance, human resources, IT management, and claims management. You can contact the author at mac.mcconnell@bonitasoft.com.

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