A BPM playbook for the Last Mile

Making process ‘stick’ is a real challenge facing process management initiatives. Most BPM professionals try to solve the problem in a similar way…they create the Playbook, the Electronic SOP or the Emergency SOP. Each is a flawed answer to the challenge but could look like progress.

Years ago, before the triumph of  mobile phones, there was the concept in telecommunications of the Last Mile, “the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer.”  The last mile was the challenge that the call seemed “almost there” but was, in fact, missing a particularly  important piece. It was, in fact, missing the single most important piece.

Convergent evolution

BPM has the very same problem nearly everywhere. Enormous resources are invested getting to the point where processes are agreed upon and ready for use by the employees. But how to truly affect the organization and get things done in new and better ways? This is a very real challenge that confronts all organizations at some point in their ‘process lifetimes’.

At a recent APQC conference, I heard organization after organization talk about attempts to take various process initiatives to the masses. Each had eerily similar ways of ‘packaging’ their results for consumption, but each fell short of the Last Mile. Just the fact that each arrived at the need to ‘sell’ a package was a great example of convergent evolution, getting to a similar result despite different starting points.


Getting to the same place was not validation of their success. In fact, getting to that spot without having the Last Mile figured out is the opposite. What each needed was the delivery mechanism that kept process owned, current and relevant to roles and functions in their organization. Without that, orphaned and stale information was going to be quickly ignored in favor of “the way things have always been done.” While they all seemed on the verge of the big process payoff, each was far from successful at changing the way business was done.

There are no shortcuts for the Last Mile. Organizations need a centralized way to own, store, amend and communicate process. Employees need to have a role-based view of their world that also provides contextual references for getting the job done. They need to trust the system is accurate and intelligent.

What methods or tools are you using to deliver your processes to the last mile?


Categories: Continuous Improvement, Disciplines, Process Management, Strategy

Author:Tom Molyneux

A business process strategist with a focus on real-time event management.

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12 Comments on “A BPM playbook for the Last Mile”

  1. May 22, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    How true this post is. Being in the distribution business, we are very aware of the cost of delivering to the “final miles” destinations. This is a perfect analogy to the final mile of BPM delivery. Controls is a ideal way of using technology to keep process references in front of the masses in a timely and relevant manner. Outside of use of technology, I only see throwing people at the problem which is a problem in itself because who ‘handles’ all of the people? Not sure of what the picture of the pill bug is for, smile

    • May 22, 2012 at 8:05 am #

      Convergent evolution! The pill bug and the millipeed arrived at the same place from different starts…

    • May 22, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      Thank for the post and glad to see that this “last mile” problem is a common business issue.

      The idea behind the bug picture is the idea of convergent evolution – which says (simplified) that nature will often end up solving the same problem in a very similar way, even in different situations. Another example would be wings – which evolved separately on insects and then birds.

      I was really struck by the number of companies that reached a point where they started to try to develop some mechanism to bridge that last mile. The names and tools they used to implement were all different, but the purpose was essentially the same.

  2. Ron Webb
    May 22, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Great observation from our conference. We saw the same thing. Many times, this shows itself to the BPM organization as “resistance to change”. When, in fact, it appears to be a lack of attention to the human side of change. We develop all the process models, flows, and leverage technology, but we tend to lose sight of the fact that humans have to change their daily behaviors (and continue with the new behaviors) for a process to truly change.

    We think the last mile has a lot to do with the human side of change management. At least that is what our members are asking us to go study as our next study in the BPM series.

    • May 22, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Thanks for the validation. I think this would make a good future study – all the approches, methods and tools around how to implement BPM on the human side. My hunch is success requires both usability (to borrow from computer science) as well as maintainablity (so materials are not out of date).

      • John G Tesmer
        May 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

        Tom I’m happy to see the discussion include concepts of usability and human-centricity. “No tool” is sometimes better than an “unusable” tool. I’ve already updated the scope document for our next process management study!

  3. May 22, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I’m reminded of process training efforts I saw in my days at SAP. One of our Oil Industry clients (one of SAP’s largest customers as it happens) addressed the ‘last mile’ like this. (1) Having signed off their process models in their BPA tool, they used “Snag-It” to create static images of process parts that would be legible on a PowerPoint slide. (2) They pasted the images into PowerPoint and added commentary text in the slide notes. (3) They converted the PowerPoints into Articulate presentations (Flash) with an audio recorded commentary. (4) They distributed the Articulate lessons as e-learning topics via their learning management system. A great solution until you realize, the cost (2 FTE consultants from their system integrator), the knowledge management nightmare (no single source of the truth), the effort (it was slow to create content, and worse of all the high cost of ownership as the SAP roll-out extended across multiple countries and processes were iteratively improved with each new country “go-live”. The “last mile” became the equivalent of “Painting the Firth of Forth Bridge” – a never ending project in itself!

  4. May 22, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for the real world stoy Nigel. I’ve also seen the approach you outline frequently used – with similar results. The worst outcome is when those training materials are floating around years later – telling users how to use a system that’s long since changed.

    I think the key is to use process as the basis for the training materials. Change management should include all the elements of change, including training end users.

  5. May 22, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Business supply and demand processes are dynamic, cross functional, cross enterprise and with globalization, now cross cultural and geographic boundaries.
    These processes require a Dynamic Network Architecture “system of engagement”, with multiple “points and moments of engagement” at various stages of any end-to-end process network.
    Because the last mile of a business process under these conditions, can be seen as having a multiplicity of destinations across heterogeneous enterprises and technologies.

    You cannot solve the last mile issues from a single enterprise ERP system.

    Lots of people are describing “systems of engagement” as the social enterprise,using twitter, email, LinkedIn etc.
    This approach does not work either, because the processes quickly lose context and integrity, when applied across different jurisdictions.

    Similar to social networks, “Systems of Engagement” and their end-to-end process capability, can be dynamically configured, combined and recombined on the fly by business users; across heterogeneous networks.
    Thus delivering the last mile for enterprises operating in a digitally networked economy.

    • May 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      I think I need to go back to school to understand this reply…can you translate it to plain speak?

  6. May 24, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    CoE or any centralised body within the company can only succeed if there is a change in organizational model. Work 4 Work Sake will give people jobs but will not affect change in anyway. It;s like going to the gym and carrying weights blindly without a structure and then hoping to compete in Mr Olympia 6 weeks later. Enough of the Program of the Year syndromes!


  1. BPM Quotes of the week « Adam Deane - May 26, 2012

    […] BPM Impact – Tom Molyneux BPM has the very same problem nearly everywhere. Enormous resources are […]

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