Implementing BPM

The flight home from Mashup Camp was a great opportunity to catch up on my notes from the past couple of weeks, including several ideas triggered by discussions at the TIBCO seminar last week: some because I disagreed with the speakers, but some because I agreed with them. I split my opinions on the discussions about implementing BPM systems, specifically about the role of a business process analyst, and agile versus waterfall development.

First of all, the business process analyst role: Michael Melenovsky sees this as important for BPM initiatives, but I tend to feel the same way as I do about business rules analysts: just give me a good business analyst any day, and they’ll be able to cover rules, process, and whatever else is necessary for making that business-IT connection. Furthermore, he sees the BPA as a link between a BA and IT, as if we need yet another degree of separation between the business and those who are charged with implementing solutions to make business run better. Not.

There were some further discussions on how business and IT have to collaborate on BPM initiatives (duh) and share responsibility for a number of detailed design and deployment tasks, but this is true for any technology implementation. If you don’t already have a good degree of collaboration between business and IT, don’t expect it to magically appear for your BPM initiatives, but do take note that the need for it is at least as great as for any other technology implementation. How we’re supposed to collaborate more effectively by shoehorning a BPA between a BA and IT is beyond me, however.

Melenovsky also had some interesting “lesson learned” stats on the correlation between the time spent on process discovery and model construction, and the success of the BPM initiative: basically, do more work up on your analysis and up-front business-focussed design, and your project will be more successful. Gartner found that over 40% of the project time should be spent on process discovery, another 9% on functional and technical specifications, and just 12% on implementation. In my experience, you’ll spend that 40% on process discovery either up-front, or when you go back and do it over because you implemented the wrong thing due to insufficient process discovery in the first place: as usual, a case of choosing between doing it right or doing it over.

That directly speaks to the need for agile, or at least iterative, development on BPM projects. You really can’t use waterfall methods (successfully) for BPM development (or most other types of technology deployments these days), for so many reasons:

  1. When implementing new (and disruptive) technology, whatever business tells IT that they want is not accurate since the business really isn’t able to visualize the entire potential solution space until they see something working.
  2. While IT is off spending two years implementing the entire suite of required functionality in preparation for an all-singing, all-dancing big bang roll-out, the business requirements will change.
  3. During that two years, the business is losing money, productivity and/or opportunities due to the lack of whatever BPM is going to do for them, and is building stop-gap solutions using Excel, Access, paper routing slips and prayer.
  4. That all-singing, all-dancing complex BPM implementation is, by definition, more complex and therefore more rigid (less flexible) due to the amount of custom development. It makes sense that you can’t use a development methodology that’s not agile to implement processes that are agile.
  5. The big bang roll-out is a popular notion with the business right up to the point when it happens, and they discover that it doesn’t meet their needs (refer to points 1 and 2). Then it becomes unpopular.

Instead, get the business requirements and process models worked out up front, then engage in iterative methods of designing, implementing and deploying the systems. Deliver “good enough” processes on the first cut, then make iterative improvements. Don’t assume that the business users aren’t capable of providing valuable feedback on required functionality: just make them do their job with the first version of the system, and they’ll give you plenty of feedback. Consider the philosophy of an optional scope contract rather than a fixed price/date/scope contract, whether you’re using internal or external resources for the implementation. Where possible, put changes to the business processes and rules in the hands of the business so that they can tweak the controls themselves.

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