Harmony matters more than getting things done?

Just in the past couple of months there have been a quick succession of articles about high hopes for BPM, predicting BPM’s demise and my own swearing off the use of ‘process’. Why have there been so many articles around the same theme? What drives people to pen such divergent views? It would be easy to think that process management is in disarray.


The noise around BPM represents frustration that what seems so fundamentally simple is poorly understood, sold, implemented and managed. Not everywhere, mind you, but in enough places to hold back the revolution.

There are a couple of reasons for frustration that seem fairly evident if you spend enough time in the corridors of the average enterprise:

  • The organizational commitment that it takes to be process-focused is hard to get in companies looking for quarterly achievements. So we automate things as a quick win and move on.
  • Process by its nature crossed functional boundaries and upsets the political status quo. Harmony is very attractive…sometimes more so than greatness.
  • IT is often asked to implement software but can’t and shouldn’t try to change business processes unilaterally.

If you’re in the process space and feeling frustration, ask yourself if you aren’t stymied by these reasons. Your choices are to shake things up, find another place to work, or settle in for the long, slow fight. Maybe there is another choice.

Find the pain

Look across the organization for the place that everyone agrees is suffering. Start with an intractable problem, not an easy one. Break it down into its components and put it back together in a way not based on history but based on reason. It works. It spreads. I’ve watched it happen several times over.


Categories: 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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6 Comments on “Harmony matters more than getting things done?”

  1. John G Tesmer
    April 4, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Chris, spot on. We just finished our research project on organizations demonstrating strong process management capabilites and some of the coolest innovations – like reducing workforces by 50% and increasing the workload by 40% – come from organizations that hit that wall of frustration and come to the realization that their organization simply CANNOT follow the traditional “process” path.

    I like your list of options, and agree on the addition. I think the list is now:
    1. Shake things up
    2. Find another place to work
    3. Settle in for a long, slow fight
    4. Build consensus and momentum with quick wins

    The right answer depends on the culture and leadership at your organization, but there are some excellent ways to do #4 even in the absence of strong leadership in process excellence.

  2. April 4, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Thanks, John. The blog was borne of many experiences!

  3. April 4, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I would add that every once in awhile, you come across a leader with the vision to “take it to the next level.” I think we all agree that absent a visionary executive, #1 often results in #2 (or #3 if you’re lucky).

    In smaller organizations, a BPM consultant has a better chance of selling the grand idea to the person or persons who are in a position to “shake things up” across the enterprise. Convincing executives of public corporations, bound to the almighty 10-K, to shake things up is a different matter.

    • John G Tesmer
      April 4, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Tom, you’re right, in public corporations it is a different matter. Here’s how I’ve seen it work though: small groups of process improvement people start to get frustrated working on random acts of improvement and start looking up. One of them with mangerial aspirations starts to assemble a business case or other formal document that ultimately results in something outside of their traditional boundaries – perhaps a working group of six sigma professionals, collaborating on the development of an enterprise process model for their little corner of the enterprise. As the risk diminishes through a series of incrementally more successful quick wins, higher and higher levels of leadership acknowledge the impact of “that six sigma group” and before you know it next year’s budget includes some money for a tool, an outside consultant to help, etc.

      Again, it depends on the culture, but it’s difficult for politics to argue with real, tangible improvements. In organizations where leadership can’t commit to anything but organic growth, a structured plan by process improvement professionals is a great way to get started,and rarely is seen as #1 (shake up) and almost never results in #2 (find another job). It’s kind of a more pleasant variation of #3. 🙂

  4. rwebbapqc
    April 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Guys, I really like this discussion. To me, this is probably the most critical success factor for any process improvement effort.

    Finding the right hook…

    In some instances, you need a big shake up because the organization is so asleep, it needs to be kicked in the head. This usually works best when there is a leadership change and that “visionary” comes in.

    Sometimes, though, an organization might have pockets of excellence, a great culture, and mindset towards improvement, but they need better coordination or tools (methodologies or technology) to bring it all together and see real benefit.

    This question, to me, is where we, process improvement professionals, earn our badges of honor (along with the wounds that come with them). We have to find the special sauce that works in each individual situation, and assessing this is both an art and a science.

  5. April 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Great insight! I personally think that process is important but the people dynamic is more important to a business. BPM/Process Improvement should be a skillset instead of a job

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