6 warning signs that your first Business Process Management (BPM) project is about to derail

You’ve got the green light from your business executives and some members of your senior management team are really enthusiastic about this whole concept of Business Process Management (BPM). But if you’re embarking on your first BPM project – are there warning signs that things could be about to go badly, badly wrong?

Apart from the classic signs of a project getting behind schedule and overrunning on costs – there are a six warning signs that all is not well in the land of BPM:

Warning Sign #1: The focus is on the software and not the business need

Is your BPM project going to hit some rough track down the line?

It is easy to get lost in the details of process mapping, requirements building and software acquisition so that you can forget about what business process management is ultimately about. (Hint- the clue is in the name). Basically, BPM is helping the business to perform better through improved processes.

All too often BPM is seen as an IT-initiative (or worse, a company invests in BPM software and then undertakes a project to make the solution fit their needs). While technology can be an important aspect of business process management, it is by no means a silver bullet and many other things need to be considered as part of your business process management initiative. Have you got the right processes in place (both manual and automated)? Are you measuring the right KPIs? Have you incentivized the right behaviours in staff?

Warning Sign #2: You’re becoming obsessed with making the perfect process models

Yes, we know that processes can be complex. And yes, we know that you can drill down into umpteen levels of detail. But the point is, will spending months mapping the "as is" processes help you achieve a better outcome?

There’s no such thing as a perfect model – as statistician George Box said "all models are wrong, but some are useful". Getting fixated on drawing intricate process maps can quickly lead to analysis paralysis especially if you’re spending all your time trying to capture everything down to the wrist movements of an individual e-mail operator. Don’t forget, you’re going to be changing the process anyway so anything you map now will be out of date in a few months time.

Warning Sign #3: You’re automating processes without improving them

Business processes are usually crammed full of non-value activity: obsolete activities, excel sheet workarounds cooked up by each individual line of business manager, quirky habits and personality traits of individual workers and things that just plain don’t make sense. If you work at an organization that doesn’t have a long history with process management, this is completely normal and exactly why you’re undertaking BPM.

In this situation it makes absolutely no sense to automate the "as is" process when you’ve got such a great opportunity to make the process better. Automating a bad process is like filling the gas tank of a Ferrari up with bad fuel. The Ferrari will still go – and faster than your old Chevrolet – but it won’t run as well as if you fill it with high octane gasoline.


Warning Sign #4: Line managers and other executives never seem to have time for BPM and just don’t seem that interested in what you’re doing

This is a classic sign that you haven’t communicated the "What’s in it for me?" factor. Your executives have demanding performance targets of their own to hit. Those may be business or revenue growth or some other metric that’s going to determine how big their take home pay is at the end of the day. Understand what’s hanging over their heads and make sure you can answer this one question: How will Business Process Management help your executives and managers hit their targets easier?

(And you can see our article 4 tips from a salesman for selling BPM for ideas on how to do this)

Warning Sign #5: Your first project is expected to take 6 months or more

This could be a sign that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew in your first BPM project. Most experts agree that while your first project needs to have significant business impact, you should avoid projects that have a high level of complexity (and therefore high level of risk) before you’ve built up experience and internal competency in BPM. Plus, if it’s a new venture, people will be keen to see it demonstrate benefit quickly and six months is a loooonng time.

Warning Sign #6: Additional features keep sneaking into what your BPM project is trying to achieve

This is classic scope creep. Reign it in now or in the eyes of your business, you’re going to fail. Enough said.

If you want to find out more about this topic, two Lean Six Sigma experts – Forrest Breyfogle and Rick Haynes – will be discussing strategies for avoiding risk in BPM and how you can make sure you're focusing on processes that will deliver the biggest bang for your buck: What’s your strategy for avoiding risk in BPM? Sign up for the webinar here.

But what do you think? Did we get the warning signs right? Are there others that your fledgling BPM programme is about to go the way of the dodo?