BPM’s struggle over governance

BPM Governance2012 is coming to a close and I’m taking stock of my BPM experiences with clients over the past 365 days. After reviewing my notes and files, the theme of governance showed up again and again as the most challenging problem or previous project failure.

All this made me want to dig a little deeper and ask,  “Why?”  I think I’ve come up with the answer — most of the other parts of process management are easy, but governance is really, really hard. Really hard.

Easy parts done well

Nimbus1Process capture turns out to be easy.  I led or organized process authoring training in seven states and three countries in the last year. My clients were business people from functional areas that included IT, HR, legal, finance, marketing, sales, engineering, supply chain.

In every case, business people were able to “draw” relatively clear processes by the end of the first morning. Mapping was creative and straight-forward.

Other key ingredients were also generally easy to obtain.  For example, here is the recipe for a healthy BPM project:

  1. An executive owner: This is key to any effort, BPM or otherwise
  2. One or more trained facilitators: Most organizations I worked with already had well trained facilitators.
  3. Process improvement experts: Again, most organizations already had these
  4. Subject Matter Experts: Always nearby, often busy but they showed up.
  5. Automation Experts and developers: Not always in touch with the business, but their role wasn’t as front-loaded

This mix of talent wasn’t a problem for most large organizations.

Hitting the wall

We hit the wall when we approached the topic of who owns process versus who performs it, who can change it and the method for change and execution of changes. Everyone agreed that it was critical, but shoulders shrugged and people often fell silent when it came time to map the change and approval process.

But how long can the positive effects of better BPM last without governance? Easy question: Not long. Anyone who works in Finance knows the rigors of a contract approval processes. Anyone in HR knows the clear authority picture for discipline, bonuses, hiring and firing. But when it comes to day-to-day process in core parts of the business, we’ve never quite given governance its due.

Perhaps 2013 can be the Year of BPM Governance?

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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Process Management

Author:Tom Molyneux

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

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19 Comments on “BPM’s struggle over governance”

  1. December 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I don’t believe that “governance” is something that a BPMs needs to worry about..

    In a world where we have a mix of unstructured and structured work, structured work pretty much takes care of itself by way of the presence of steps, logic connections and rule sets at process steps. BPM best practices are largely “self governing”.

    Of course, when we re-visit already committed steps, when we visit steps that are not yet current along an instance pathway, when we skip steps or add steps not in a process template, we quickly get to the domain of Adaptive Case Management where “governance” takes precedence over the provision of “guidelines”.

    Within an ACM environment or and ACM/BPM environment, there are few guidelines.

    Since we can have published protocols where one person follows a protocol and the person sitting next to them does not, we need “governance” for unstructured work so that the latter ends up at basically the same outcome as the person who follows a best practice.

    Within a Case environment, we really have no way of knowing what the incremental contribution of a particular intervention is toward Case Objectives, except as declared by the performer.

    In theory, you can deduce progress toward objectives, but what we are actually dealing with is an undocumented process, where steps and their logical connections and contribution to Case objectives are known only to the performer. You can see very little progress for a long time and then a grand explosion of progress that takes an initiative to the 90 % level. This behavior is well documented by “S” curves in the construction industry.

    Other than biting one’s fingernails, in respect of unstructured work it is best for supervisors to define milestones (goals) that contribute toward achievement of an objective.

  2. Paul M. Konnersman
    January 1, 2013 at 10:56 am #


    I think your observations are on the mark. The fundamental problem is that few people have a clear and comprehensive understanding of what governing (or managing?) a process entails and therefore there is no appropriate process for managing/governing, and hence no required responsibilities, and therefore no accountability for managing/governing.

    Too often the focus is on process improvement rather than a more comprehensive understanding of process management/governance that includes process planning, process execution and process control in addition to process improvement. Even where such a comprehensive view is present it is seldom operationalized into a specific meta-process with specific individual responsibilities that support individual accountability.

    Vaguely assigning someone the role of “Process Manager” is somewhat better than designating a “Process Owner” because management emphasizes responsibilities rather than the rights and privileges of ownership. But is still far short of the detailed process that is required for reliable performance.

    The solution is to recognize that process governance/management is an extremely important meta-process that must be designed and enacted on top of every business process to address the problems you cite.

    • johnmardlecashperform
      January 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

      I feel rather uncomfortable about the fact that Governance seems, maybe wrongly, to have been separated from the BPM debate. We deal with working capital and every aspect of this area (throughout the whole financial supply chain) requires the upmost care when ‘governance’ matters arise. For instance suppliers not being paid timely gives rise to process issues that then impact good Governance (bankrupt suppliers etc.). Debtors that become bad can generate Governance issues re bailiffs. Overvalued, uninvoiced WIP causes financial reporting Governance issues.

    • January 2, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      Paul, thanks for your comment. I agree with your statement that process improvement is often the focus. What often happens, in my experience, is that a lot of process documentation gets created on a project basis. Once the project has been completed, the process documentation isn’t maintained. So the next time there’s a project, the process capture starts all over (or works with out of date documentation that people know is “sort of right”.). I totally agree that solution is to recognize up front process governance is extremely important.

  3. January 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    John . . .Next time you fly, sit just behind the wing and watch the ailerons as the plane comes in for a landing. You will be looking at a BPM system with real-time governance.

    No reason why less automated BPM processes such as the ones you describe cannot have 100% independent background auditing at key process points with a rule set at each step if need be that strongly resists efforts to declare the step as complete. This will handle quite nicely individual customer transactions.

    At the next level up, we have as an analogy the “lemon” where every part is within tolerance yet the assembly ends up skewed to the point where you end up with something disfunctional.

    Here, we use “sniffers” across customers\across transactions to pick up aggregate data for posting to strategic objectives. When strategic objectives start to go in the wrong direction, admittedly, it can take a lot of analysis to figure out what the problem origin is but the happy scenario is that strategic objectives do not wander when process variables receive adequate governance.

  4. Colin Claverie
    January 2, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Here are additional questions to find answers to:

    – What do we govern? The description of the process or its execution? Be carefull not to pick the easy solution.

    – What benefits do you expect from the governance model? Are you looking at short term “I passed the audit” or long term “it took 4 years but my organisation changed successfully” ?

    – Why do you need governance? Do you remember why you started this project in the first place? This might help finding where you need governance, what people are ready to do and who is in charge. which brings us to…

    – Who is in charge? Process designers, process owners, line managers or BPM Center of Expertise? What is the relationship between these people? If this question is not solved, you can’t go further. I would recommend starting here. If no one owns the vision it’s not even worth continuing.

    – How do you measure success of your governance model? Don’t focus only quantity!
    i.e. Number of change requests to a process description is not a good measure.

    We recently started like that : we draw a chart with all actors (see above) and pieces of content (process description, tools, etc.), and we tried to identify how they connect and how to handle changes on one of the elements. The benefit was to have something very visual we could all start working with.

    My last “general” comment : don’t underestimate (1) the power of the line manager. Nothing gets done if line manager is not onboard (2) the personal objective of the employees. In large corporate only what is written on employee’s objective gets done properly.

    Governance is “another” thing that does not create immediate value (it doesn’t produce cheaper or faster) so beware to not just do busywork.

    • January 2, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      Colin, some great points. I had intentionally attempted to keep my original post short, but all the issues that you raise are valid. I particularly liked your points about understanding the why and the importance of having line managers onboard.

  5. January 2, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    @Colin… I agree with your points except for last one “..(governance) .. doesn’t produce cheaper or faster”

    In respect of avoidance of re-work by keeping deliverables within boundaries, IMO governance definitely reduces costs.

  6. January 2, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Apologies but what is IMO Governance?

    • January 2, 2013 at 8:08 am #

      In my opinion, sometimes IMHO (for the more humble).

  7. Richard Waroway
    January 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    IMHO, Governance is another tool in your tool box to help drive collaboration and common understanding. Governance can be a critical stabilizing factor that enables other methodologies such as BPM and continuous improvement to drive “better, faster, cheaper” by supporting effective change control, training and deployment. The challenge, as with most approaches, is how much is needed and where ?

    This is situational and requires a level of judgement and experience to achieve the right balance between effective controls and agile business performance. As noted in a number of the comments above, governance cannot take the place of good management, it should support it. The more experienced and capable the operations team the less rigorous the governance required. The absence of this balance can, at the extremes, create chaos or stagnation in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

    So, while Governance is not a solution on its own, I agree with the original comments that it is required to maintain stable operations, crystallize sustainable competitive advances and help realize BPM’s potential.

    • January 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      Looks like we have two types of “governance”, one that “requires a level of judgment and experience” … “supporting change effective change control, training and deployment”.

      Then, at run time, we have highly-automated governance which is a combination of “guardrails” provided by background rule sets (working at a 100% audit sampling rate by the way) and typically not-automated oversight and action resulting from supervisors looking at changing customer priorities and workload across staff.

      I have a keen interest in run-time governance because in a mixed ACM/BPM environment, whereas in BPM you can put rules where you like, it’s a lot more difficult at an ad hoc intervention to figure out whether the intervention helps/hinders progress toward Case goals/objectives.

      ACM/BPM has a lot of the characteristics of ‘connect-the-dots” run time process management (i.e. major crimes case management) where players other than the performer may not immediately see what a particular intervention is in aid of.

      After the fact, of course, they can tell stories about how a particular set of Case initiatives dovetailed.

  8. January 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I like the idea of two types of “governance” and personally I have applied both types without thinking about it to a corporate over the past 18 months! I will now sit down and write an article on this case study to see if resonates with others.

  9. January 7, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    When I was at Chevron, we had extensive experience with process governance (versus governance over BPM as a whole which I will address in a moment). For individual processes, we found an effective approach in each business unit or department was to assign a relatively high-level manager as a Process Sponsor who was ultimately accountable for the performance of the process, and also, from among the staff working within a process, a Process Advisor who ensured the daily operation of the process was compliant with documented expectations and produced the outputs needed by the process customers. The Process Advisor was responsible both for maintaining accurate documentation of the process and for overseeing that the process was actually performed as documented. When gaps surfaced (for example, when customer needs changed), the Process Advisor would work with the Process Sponsor to identify how to re-optimize the process.

    In the most effective business units at Chevron, a BPM Coordinator position also was created. This position ensured the Process Sponsor and Process Advisor teams within a business unit worked effectively for all key processes and led a prioritization process so process improvement resources were directed against the higest priority needs.

    I address this type of process governance (and related issues) in my recent article: http://www.processexcellencenetwork.com/business-process-management-bpm/articles/can-your-bpm-initiative-deliver-strategic-value/.

    In addition to process governance, especially in large organizations, it also makes sense to have governance at the level of the BPM initiative as a whole. Governance at that level does not address individual processes. Rather, it is concerned with movement up the BPM maturity curve and, ultimately, with the value being generated by the BPM initiative. Key points of focus include: development of an effective BPM Center of Excellence, selection and/or development of appropriate standards, methods, training, technology, and – yes – effective process governance models (e.g., the Process Sponsor/Process Advisor approach described above). A so-called BPM Governance Board holds business unit and department leaders accountable for implementation of BPM within their units.

    For an extensive treatment of both types of governance – Process Governance and BPM Program Governance – see my recently published book: http://www.amazon.com/BPM-Boots-Ground-Management-Organizations/dp/0929652169.

  10. Elise
    January 12, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Is the issue governance or cultural change? At the heart of this you are asking people to change the way they work. My suggestion is to get really good at communication, building buy-in and tacking behavior change. Then a culturally contexted model for how to have process visibility and achieve business outcomes will emerge – and stick.

    • January 12, 2013 at 10:15 am #

      Elise – I agree that governance involves communication and is closely related with change. However, I also think that governance is is a stand alone requirement for BPM that is sustainable – it goes beyond communication and provides a structured, managed way to maintain and improve processs

  11. Parimal Solanki
    July 31, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    The Chevron case (tx Jim) demonstrates the required organisational structure and maturity needed to maintain optimized cross functional processes in a complex global business. This is a significant cultural change that I imagine was probably actively manged and nurtured. Based on my experience one needs significant effort to maintain this new state. This ‘effort’ includes the the buy-in and active support of the C level executive to drive & keep the momentum as well as a cross company governance structure and meta processes. 2 of my past BPM programs at global companies have reverted back down the maturity scale. The main reasons were a) departure of the C-level executive who supported the BPM program b) lack of institutionalization of governance structure and meta process.
    while one is still going strong and has won several customer excellence awards and is delivering stronger financial results for shareholders in a difficult market. Here the CEO is behind the BPM program and a global 10 men business excellence team looks after the meta process and continuously maintains the cross divisional governance within the PMO structure.

  12. Nak
    September 16, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Governance in BPM i.e. a decision framework has several aspects to it namely; BPM Program governance, BPM project governance and process improvement governance. Not to mention, it is just as important to consider governance of assets being delivered with BPM projects. From experience, I get the impression that the latter is seldom given enough thought.

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