What holds back #BPM maturity?

An August 30, 2011 Forrester report, “Focus on Customers and Business Architecture for Greater Business Process Maturity” stated “…most organizations still fall relatively low on the business process maturity curve.” and, “Fifty-three percent of the respondents to a recent Forrester/IQPC survey of more than 400 business process pros across a wide spectrum of industries reported that their firms use immature management practices and have not moved from isolated, tactical projects focused on cost reduction toward a more holistic, strategically aligned business process management (BPM) program.”

Why would this be? With all of the case studies for efficiency, cost savings, opportunity capture and risk avoidance, it would seem that the C-level of business would embrace the benefits of BPM.

Homer Simpson problem

The first challenge is that doing this is just hard.  Two of my favorite Homer Simpson quotes are “Trying is the first step to failure” and, “If something is hard to do, then it is not worth doing” (Say these in a Homer Simpson voice, of course). We laugh at the Simpsons because we recognize our own lives in their over-the-top words and behavior. None of us would say we’re Homer, but when it comes to business process, the risk of a bad start or getting it wrong makes us reluctant to get going. In the Forrester study, it is no surprise that some of the top challenges companies face are:

  • Defining the road map from reactive to proactive and deciding on milestones

  • Effectively evangelizing to execs and to the rank and file

  •  Defining what organizational, governance, structure, and staffing models look like

When I look at these reponses, I see that it hard to 1) getting power and funding, and 2) decide where to start.  Large barriers, to be sure, and interesting that the top challenges weren’t in finding talent, which would be the case if BPM was the hot topic across most enterprises…think of PeopleSoft talent in the 90’s, where anyone who could spell “PeopleSoft” could demand the highest rates.

Technical and tactical

A second challenge mentioned in the study but also in evidence in many enterprises I visit is the focus on technology efficiency goals at a lower, tactical level rather than business process efficiency driven by senior executives with a broader, enterprise view. If your BPM initiatives are being managed by a technical architect, and the highest-level stakeholder is in IT or middle management on the business side, you have this challenge (sorry to be the one to tell you…but someone needed to). In the end, it is about the quality of the process more than the flow of 0’s and 1’s…technology needs to support process improvement.


It wasn’t surprising to see that the governance was also mentioned as a significant challenge. For BPM to have great impact, it has to be cross-functional, meaning it has to cross political and departmental boundaries. For some of us, it is a line in the sand, and for others, it looks more like barbed wire above land mines. The most valuable BPM initiative is also the most likely to disrupt the status quo. To get beyond this, it always comes back to executive sponsorship and clout when it matters.


The Forrester report found that most organizations don’t approach collaboration systematically. This is the challenge that I see the most hope for a near-term solution (or at least mitigation). The social media movement that is arriving in the enterprise now with the use of collaborative software like tibbr and Salesforce’s Chatter will make collaboration and transparency (a big part of collaboration) far easier. If you haven’t witnessed what is available now, you are missing what may be the biggest real-work-impacting-technology since the computer. In my enterprise, I don’t find out most things through email anymore…I find them out like everyone else, by following key topics on our social media platform. Instead of one-to-one conversations, which are error prone (think: telephone game) and inefficient, I discover and contribute in an open, public forum that speeds the flow of information and collaboration dramatically. It is a thing of beauty.

What Forrester says

Forrester’s conclusions match my own…1) stop focusing on cost reduction and focus on the customer, and, 2) develop a business architecture. These two recommendations are a call to battle the BPM two-horned beast. How do you achieve BPM maturity in your organization? It needs to be a value driver to get funding, and it needs to have an enterprise look and feel to ever get off the ground. Some suggestions to take a turn in that direction?

  • If you haven’t done so already, adopt an enterprise model as a target state
  • Find the senior leadership that needs cross-functional process success. Work you way up the chain from there.
  • Choose a collaboration software and make it the substitute for most email
  • Make business owners the only owners of process initiatives

These are workable starting points and the proof is in the pudding: Companies that are considered mature have taken these points as core to BPM success.


Categories: Featured, Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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One Comment on “What holds back #BPM maturity?”

  1. November 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Great post. Good BPM is like any Change Management programme – as John Kotter says in his seminal book, without critical mass, good energetic leadership and a strong sense of urgency, any change will be short-term, if it happens at all.

    Of all the projects I’ve managed, especially where process is involved such as in CRM, those with true business owner input and influence have seen greater returns, on balance.

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