Every organization on the planet wants the capability to deliver sustained continuous improvement [or 'continuous excellence' as Nestle has neatly defined it].
There is a delusion around that 'BPM' will deliver this. The truth is that it's a very significant leap from 'BPM' to Continuous Excellence.
Just for a start - there is hopeless confusion about what 'BPM' even means. There has been a stream of newsletters, blogs and forum discussions recently about re-defining BPM. Is it a discipline, a way of thinking? Or is 'BPM' workflow or automation, a systems project? Both it seems, and more.
But this confusion about what 'BPM' even means is only the beginning. Jim Sinur at Gartner set off an interesting discussion with a post on his blog about 'Elastic BPM'.
This is where a BPM project delivers "a cost cutting and even innovative process that works for a while before the organization snaps back to traditional behavior."
Jim's post illustrates how many BPM programs are poorly conceived or failing to deliver. His research for the Gartner 2010 Magic Quadrant suggests that 'snap-back' is common:
"many organizations save money, time and optimize resources, but they find themselves having to double back in order to make sure the people involved with the processes stick with them and don’t fall back to the old habits or try work around alternatives. Sometimes this is because the process needs to get better, but often it is just resistance to change."
The comments on Jim's post endorse his findings, and offer the usual diagnoses and remedies. They boil down to this: that the business is not effectively engaged with process so there is no framework for effective collaboration between IT and the business.
As a result, business requirements are missed, IT usually takes the lead and the business feels like change is being imposed. So snap-back happens once the project is closed, and the project 'benefits' begin to get eroded through work-arounds. Resistance continues and the forces of 'revertia', to quote Gartner's Diane Morello, take over.
So the crunch question - the question from any C-level perspective - must surely be: How does an organization move from having a BPM strategy and a BPM project portfolio [which must be the case right now for 90%+ of organizations] to having the capability to deliver sustained continuous improvement [which must be the case for barely 5% of organizations]?
The answer: it's a huge leap because it's about culture and organizational maturity. You can't run an RFI and buy it. There are no 'continuous excellence' vendors you can simply pay to install it. It's about developing a culture of engagement with process and performance improvement across the enterprise. It's about long-term and joined-up thinking, where everyone is playing a part in continuous innovation.
Which leads me to a claim here that I've made before: Sustained continuous improvement has to be underpinned by an enterprise-wide collaborative framework, which provides:
- integrated and end-to-end views of its business processes
- a governance wrapper that ensures ownership and accountability
- personalised views to support end users and enable them to get involved in change
- features to facilitate the management of change.
This is not just the next step for BPM. 'Revertia' is a lament commonly heard from the Lean and Six Sigma communities as well. They intervene, do a 'great' improvement project and leave. But over time the business tends to snap-back to its former ways.
A continuous excellence culture underpinned by a collaborative framework of this kind embeds incremental improvements in the new DNA of the business. It becomes the new 'way that we do things'. It reduces revertia and minimises snap-back.
From the COO perspective, it becomes"how we bank the ROI", in the memorable phrase of a client presenting at a Nimbus conference last year.