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“A beaten path does not mean it should not be followed”.

It goes without saying that the beaten path might not give you surprising results, but I would argue that implementing a business process management practice (or BPM practice) needs to be surprising. In fact, if done properly the rest of the organization basically should not even know that they have walked down the path of #BPM in the first place. This week I had some interesting conversations around the topic of executive sponsorship and BPM.

If we take a little trip down memory lane we come to the conclusion that traditionally BPM implementation very often started in cupboard underneath the stairs of the IT department, piggybacking on an ERP implementation project. Sometimes, the BPM practice survives the go live and aftermath of this ERP project and manages to build up its own right for existence. It started venturing out to other functional areas with the company, however still “only” focused on process documentation.

At a certain point, the BPM group has rooted in the organization and starts to grow in a upward direction and this of course attracts the attention of management (starting with middle management and senior management) and this attention is not always positive. When done right, BPM provides a level of transparency that is welcomed by continuous improvement teams and process owners that want to improve their process performance, but disliked by more traditional managers that apply the divide and conquer technique above anything else.

Another initiative that is often deployed (or tried) by BPM groups is to also go beyond just process documentation or process modeling (which I can only stimulate). Applications, risks, roles and regulatory frameworks are artifacts that are typically high on the list of being added to the already documented business process. The advantages of this are obvious to BPM enthusiasts, but less so to the business process owners that often speak a whole different language. Unfortunately we do not always R2D2 at our disposal to provide translations.

And this is where something undefined hits the fan. Sometimes, managers in those functional expertise domains (like risk management, IT, Auditing) are not necessarily thrilled by the prospect of having to change their way of working, because that is the underlying root cause of misery. People resist change if they can’t see passed their own internal hurdles. So, in order to win these people over, workshops are organized to explain what it would mean to switch from maintaining an excel file on SharePoint to maintaining your risk library (or application library, or regulatory framework library) in a BPM platform (let’s use ARIS10 as an example here).

If that doesn’t do the trick, a pilot is being conducted to bring some of the content over into the BPM platform so it does not remain hypothetical, but these experts can actually see how it would look like and what kind of activities are needed to maintain it (and all of the other wonderful benefits of maintaining this kind of information centrally and connected to the other enterprise artifacts such as processes, roles, applications etc).

Nevertheless, it often happens that some departments still continue to refuse the incorporation of their way of working into a process management practice and that is the moment where an executive sponsor proves very useful. By now, I realize this was quite a lengthy introduction to our executive sponsor, sorry for that.

Every major company-wide initiative or program has an executive sponsor, typically a managing board member or a member from the executive committee (that mostly also contains senior executives from different parts of the organization). However, BPM initiatives, because the typical way how they originate, do not have that luxury from the start. This means that an executive sponsor needs to be found and cultivated (unless you can find a true believer) and one of the main responsibilities of this executive sponsor is to make sure that senior management is aligned on the why and what of the BPM implementation.

Now, even though I am not a fan of pure top-down change management, I do realize that it is something that is of vital importance to any company wide initiative and BPM implementations are exactly that, a company wide program that finds its way into each and every tiny blood vessel of the organization in order to help them be more effective and efficient. Your executive sponsor is the pituitary gland that controls the hormone levels in his or her organization around the BPM topic.

So, in short:

  • Can you start implementing BPM without an executive sponsor? Yes, you can
  • Do you need an executive sponsor in order to reach BPM maturity? Yes, you do

Having said that, please do enjoy your weekends and see you next week..

Ciao, Caspar

Tags: ARIS 10 Business Process Management Process Governance