The BPM Elephant in the Room: When IT and the Business Both Have Blinders On

Dan Morris

What Does an Elephant Look Like? It Depends on Perspective!

Every group within a business has different priorities and their own perspective on how it all fits together, writes columnist Dan Morris. So, how do you build a picture of transformation one specialist view at a time until the complete picture comes into focus?

There is an old story about asking a blind man to describe an elephant. He walks up to it, touches it and proclaims that an elephant is what he has touched – a rather limited perspective. But to him that was what an elephant is.

Do you see the whole elephant or just a part?

BPM is like that elephant. Business Process Architects, Enterprise Architects, Business Architects, Six Sigma and Lean experts, IT Analysts and a host of other specialists are each standing about six inches from this BPM/BPMS elephant and have blinders on. They each see this BPM/BPMS elephant based on their paradigms or filters and build a mental picture based on their perspectives. Each of these groups will thus create a different opinion of this elephant based on their view, experiences, and training. Each thinks they are right and each is willing to defend their point of view. And each is right – but from their perspective and based on their sample.

The simple fact is that if you put their individual experience based perceptions together, like pieces of a puzzle, they combine to form a true picture of the elephant – or in this case, BPM/BPMS and what it can do. So using this approach, none of these perspectives are really right and none are wholly wrong. Each sees a part and interprets it through the filter of their experiences and specialization. So each view is right if you want to talk about its part of the elephant. But, each group’s view is often too narrow to show the whole elephant and what it can really do.

In practice within companies this approach to segmenting their view of BPM/BPMS elephant amongst multiple groups and disciplines can, and often is, causing serious problems. In some cases a turf war even breaks out between business groups and IT groups as they all focus on their part of BPM/BPMS – the part that seems to fit what they are responsible for. The basis of the problem is that process fits everywhere – it is part of all things "operational". It is part of Business Architecture, Enterprise Architecture, Process Architecture, and Business Reengineering. But each of these and other groups have a somewhat different view of what process really is – to some it is technology, to some it is strategy and capability, to others it is operational efficiency, and to some it is the work that is done and its organization .

In reality, long term success in business operational change requires that these differing views be combined to create a complete picture of the business operation.

From experience, I have found that almost all BPM/BPMS based improvement projects require the collaborative efforts of these different groups. Even small improvement projects can affect the business operation, IT communications, IT applications, IT interfacing, manufacturing production, change management, document management and more. Building and controlling this collaboration requires an understanding of need and how all the part of filling that need fit together. I believe that this collaboration should be guided by a method or formal approach that melds these differing disciplines and perspectives. This is the only way that the full picture of our proverbial elephant can be built. It is also the best way to understand the complexity of the business and the improvement or transformation project, to identify who is needed, and to have the right people involved when they are needed.

The problem is that today these disciplines are often organizationally separated and have minimal interaction. To help promote the interaction needed to build this picture, I suggest that everyone consider formalizing their approach to BPM/BPMS and both transformation and improvement through the creation of a series of interrelated Centers of Excellence that are designed to work together.

Relative Isolation

The problem with the past individualized focus on the part of the elephant that is in front of each group is that it creates solutions that could be greatly enhanced by the addition of the other perspectives and the operational knowledge each group offers. This whole view of the operational elephant is important because it allows management to look at issues that are hidden when each group operates independently.

Creating this type of cooperation and collaboration represents the tearing down of many internal walls that were created to help managers focus their work and meet their personal and group goals. This is the real challenge in building collaboration. It deals with resource constraints, priority differences, performance measurement disconnects and the localized focus that has existed for years.

Last fall, I built a BPM Center of Excellence (CoE) for a client – a large financial institution. In designing it, I took care to discuss how the new BPM CoE would interact with all of the existing Centers of Excellence. My team also made certain that they included standards from all of these centers when we built the BPM approach and methodology.

Business transformation requires different pieces of the puzzle to come together

By orchestrating how everyone would work together to deliver performance improvement we were able to create a consistent understanding of how improvement would be performed and ensured that everyone would be involved at the appropriate time. By making collaboration methodology based, we also made certain that every group received the information they needed and that all the right procedures for everything from interviewing to moving a solution into IT production were followed. This reduced work and avoided problems. We also believe that it gave us a better solution.

For the most part this blending went well. Many of the groups were open to participating. Then I ran into the Business Architect group who thought that they should own everything to do with business change. Shortly after that, I ran into the IT developers who knew that they owned all business change. At that point, things got interesting. Each absolutely knew that their view of the BPM elephant gave them ownership of the elephant and each was willing to fight for that ownership. So a compromise was necessary and we created a Business Change Council with representatives from all groups. We created standards to define roles and ownership and things were looking good. The conflict was over and the issue settled. At that point the council began to try to coordinate projects and better manage the involvement of people on multi-disciplinary teams. But, this group is the same as it would be in all other company groups and internal politics and group goals still plays a significant role – everyone still has their personal performance goals which must trump collective goals. But communication is much more open and everyone is aware of what others need from then and how they can benefit from cooperation.

Aside from the internal politics, the point is that to succeed in BPM, it is necessary to include people from a variety of groups – including business operations and maybe even customers. The hard part is to orchestrate this blending of people from different disciplines and keep priorities and interest going. That is where executive mandate comes in with the creation of joint goals that can take priority over individual group goals.

Collaboration – no one can really own business improvement

Business improvement and its big brother, transformation, are currently of critical importance to the future of most companies. No one is too big to fail and no company is immune to competitive and legislative pressure. As the economy opens, these pressures will build to new levels as companies from all over the world try to grab as much market share as they can.

One of the main tools that management will have to face this looming threat is the flexibility to move quickly. This will clearly require the ability to quickly build collaborative groups in your company that can leverage the speed of change that a BPMS supported BPM operating environment can provide. But while everyone can buy a BPMS and everyone can say they are doing BPM, the fact is that only those who succeed in melding these different internal groups and their disciplines and perspectives into a composite capability will deliver comprehensive, rapid, low cost, low risk change. That will be a great competitive advantage. It will also be the foundation for quality improvement, cost control, and true innovation through continuous improvement.

We all need to understand that we each have perception filter and that we each naturally try to mold everything new to fit through the framework of these filters. We also need to understand that the filters our various disciplines, methodologies, technologies, techniques, and pre-conceived concepts put in front of anything new, may give us a skewed perspective.

Because of this need to have a multidisciplinary view of change, it is clear that no one group can own BPM or BPMS or business improvement or business transformation in a company. BPM based change is rather a true team sport that requires new levels of communication and cooperation between all the parties needed to deliver optimization and most importantly, competitive advantage.


While a great deal of what each of the various groups who are involved in operational improvement, transformation and optimization may have to do doesn’t require a lot of interaction with others, there is a requirement to interact for improvement project that expands for either strategic change or business transformation. These strategic change and transformation projects have a different requirement for collaboration and coordination than improvements, which are focused on doing the same thing, but just faster/cheaper/better.

The smaller improvement projects may involve one or two of the groups that are needed in transformation, but typically the need for collaboration and coordination is less than in a transformation project. Part of the difference is in scope and associated level of difficulty.

Transformation and strategic change is based on innovation, investment, and commitment to new ways. This can only be accomplished when the team has the benefit of the composite visibility delivered by melding such groups as Process Architects/Analysts, with Business Architects/Analyst, Change Management Specialists, IT Technical Architects, Data Architects, BPMS Developers, Legacy Application Interface Specialists, and Application Developers with business experts. This collaboration requires a very different level of project staff orchestration as people with different skills and perception join and leave the project at different times.

In some companies, the recognition of a need to coordinate the activity of all these groups on large transformation projects is driving the creation of a Chief Change Officer or Head of Business Transformation role. While this role will have few direct reports, it will have the ability to negotiate priorities on behalf of senior management with all the groups who need to be involved and then orchestrate the collaboration.

So, how can you move from the view of the BPM elephant that is strictly within your reach and experienced only by what you can feel or see, to a view that builds a picture of transformation one specialist view at a time until the puzzle picture is complete? This shift obviously starts with recognition of a need to do so. But it will not be easy because every group has different priorities and their own perspective on how this all fits together. This is why creating an environment of open collaboration among all the groups is challenging.

The place to start is a sales campaign to senior management and to the various department managers who own the various centers of excellence. This will require a formal marketing plan and will probably take time to put in place.

But as hard as it will be, I believe that it must be done. The simple fact is that once in place, this collaboration will reduce risk and improve solutions. And, nothing breeds interest like success.

I hope that this column helps you understand the type of collaboration that is needed to succeed in delivering transformation level change and in going way beyond cost control or even quality improvement to positioning the company to compete successfully with those who can react quickly and effectively to opportunity.

But what about you? Leave a comment a below to let me know what you think.