Three curable symptoms impeding BPM success


A healthy process improvement culture means process management has become part of the bedrock of an organization. Processes are documented, acted upon, referred to and improved on a continual basis. Teams from every department are empowered and equipped to develop ideas that improve quality and consistency, enhance customer service, reduce waste, streamline effort and make the business operate more efficiently.

The benefits include more motivated staff and closer customer relationships. When you walk into these organizations, you can feel the energy and engagement.

There are many organizations where process improvement has been attempted, with dramatically different results. Following a one-off project, seen as successful enough in its day, the resulting pages of procedure documents are viewed as something akin to an audit exercise. Any initial benefits have long been forgotten and eventually the value of even trying to manage those processes is questioned.

How do some organizations get their process culture so right, while others experience failure? Why are some teams more engaged with process and improvement, while others just seem too busy for it all?

SEE ALSO9 ways to secure team participation in process improvement


The top three reasons process improvement efforts don’t work:

  1. Too much focus on documentation

A fundamental problem with business process management projects over the last three decades has been the belief that process improvement is synonymous with documentation. There is a misguided belief that if we’re three quarters of the way through documenting our processes, we should be three quarters of the way towards realizing the benefits from all this effort.

This attitude is an example of aiming at the wrong goal posts. If the processes are inefficient or poor quality, writing them down isn't going to change a thing. Simply compiling a list of better processes won't change anything either.

To gain real benefits, process management must be intimately tied to improvement. It has to be continual and second nature to your teams - a living, breathing part of everyday business.

  1. Processes are left to the quality manager

While many organizations like the idea of establishing a special group – such as the quality team – to be responsible for processes, there are inherent risks in this approach if this is seen as ‘ownership’. The only people who really know how a process works, who are in a position to update or improve processes, and who can define processes in ways that resonate with staff, are those teams who carry out the processes day in, day out.

Process owners in the business need to step up and take responsibility to own their process knowledge. And this information should be readily accessible to teams whenever they require it. Collaboration, improvement ideas, innovation - all come from process owners and everyday process users. Organizations need to invest the time and discipline to ensure their process information is relevant, used by teams, and forms the base for ongoing, controlled change.

  1. There's no plan for what happens after the improvement idea

There are two issues with this. First, collaborating to develop smarter processes is no guarantee these new processes will be executed consistently in future, or that the benefits of a new practice will be sustained. Organizations must find ways to maintain engagement with teams - awareness and ongoing conversation around the ‘right way’. They must help teams constantly agitate to improve existing practices. This doesn’t just happen - it requires process information to be stored and managed in a way that works for your team.

Secondly, there is no “after”. This is another area where many process improvement projects have typically fallen down. Business process management (BPM) is an ongoing state of being. Processes provide the template for activity, but they are constantly changing. Rather than relying on the knowledge of experienced team members (”trust me I know what I’m doing” or “don’t worry we don’t change that much”), improvements need to be systematically documented so they are captured and noted for the benefit of all.

Sustaining valuable process knowledge takes ongoing effort and requires a plan.

Identify the right outcomes

Recognizing process success begins with knowing what outcomes you should be chasing. An organization can't change or improve things if nothing is written down and agreed by teams. But it’s more than this. A healthy process culture means everyone is involved in an ongoing discussion around how to better service customers, or how to facilitate more effective teamwork

With the right attitude and investment, a healthy process culture can boost engagement, innovation, and team collaboration, bringing market-changing benefits.

The organizations that gain real benefit from process management are those who pursue improvement, and are committed to making great, useable processes a part of their culture: processes so good they enable agility and become a competitive advantage. These organizations think of improvement as an ongoing investment, a state of mind that is sustained. In the same way we need to invest to sustain our core technology platforms, or our team’s skills and capabilities, rather than treating them like a one-off project or audit exercise.