BEAParticipate: Best Practices for Succeeding with BPM

I’m jumping around between tracks (and hence rooms): I started the afternoon in the ALUI Experience track, then on to the ALBPM Technical/Developer track, and now I’m in the ALBPM Experience track for a discussion of best practices for managing BPM projects with Dan Atwood of BEA (another former Fuego employee) and Karl Djernal of Citigroup. It’s a bit difficult to pick and choose sessions when you’re interested in multiple tracks: this session and the one after it in the same track are both around best practices, although appear to cover different aspects of BPM implementations and I’d like to sit through both. This one is categorized as “beginner” and the next as “intermediate”, so I’m hoping that someone’s actually checked to ensure that there’s not too much overlap between them. I’d also like to see the next technical track on how BPM and ESB work together, but think that I can probably get a briefing on that directly from BEA as required.

Atwood started the session with seven key practices for BPM success:

  1. Fundamentals of process-based competition: understanding the competitive advantage of being a process-oriented company, and the business case for BPM.
  2. BPM and its value to the corporation: understanding what BPM is and how it differs from other management and technology approaches.
  3. From functional management to process-oriented thinking: how the shift from functional management must permeate through the ranks of middle management in order to disperse the fiefdoms within an organization.
  4. Getting hands-on BPM experience, with the help of mentors.
  5. Foundations for process practitioners: BPM as the capability for implementing and extending other management practices such as Six Sigma.
  6. Business process modelling and methods: learn about process-oriented architectures and development methods, and how they differ from traditional approaches.
  7. Human interactions and their roles within BPM: while system-to-system automation is often a BPM focus, the human-facing parts of the process are critical. In other words, you can’t think of these as being “human-interrupted” processes, as a customer of mine did long ago.

Obviously a big fan of BPM books, Atwood references Peter Fingar, Howard Smith, Andrew Spanyi, John Jeston, Mike Jacka, Paulette Kellerin and Keith Harrison-Broninski, as well as a raft of BPM-related sites (although not, unfortunately, www.column2.com). Also a fan of lists, he finishes up with his top five success factors:

  • Executive sponsorship
  • Correct scoping
  • Start with the end in mind
  • Framework
  • Engage stakeholders

Hmmm, that seems to make 12 best practices in total…

Djernal then discussed the Agile methodology that they used for BPM implementation at Citigroup, starting with a description of Agile and Scrum as the anti-waterfall approach: providing incremental deliveries based on changing, just-in-time requirements, and involving the end users closely during the development cycle to provide feedback on each iteration. Just as important as delivery mechanisms is the Agile team structure: the team’s not managed in the traditional sense, but works closely with the customer/end-user to create what they want. There’s a 15-minute team meeting every day, and a delivery (sprint) every 30 days. Many teams vary the sprint length slightly while sticking to the Agile methodology, although there’s danger in increasing it too much or you slip back to months-long delivery cycles. Initiated by the original prioritized set of product features, the user feedback on each iteration can impact both the features and the priorities. There’s basically three roles in Agile: a product owner who represents the stakeholders, the team that implement everything, and the ScrumMaster who provides mentoring on the Agile process and helps to sort out external roadblocks.

The interesting thing is how they brought together BPM and Agile, since I’m convinced that these are two things that belong together. Process diagrams fill in a lot of the documentation gap and are a naturally agile form of creating a functional specification; they form a good basis for communication between the business and IT. Changes in requirements that cause changes to the business process can be done easily in a graphical process modelling environment. In fact, in many BPM environments, the processes can be prototyped and an initial executable version developed in a matter of days without writing any code, which in turn helps to set priorities on the functions that do require coding, such as developing web services wrappers around legacy systems.

They’ve learned some things from their experiences so far:

  • Get training on using the BPM products, and on BPM in general.
  • Use some external resources (like me) to help you get started.
  • Since BPM involves integration, setting up the development, testing and production environments can be time-consuming and require specialized resources.
  • Spend some time up front putting together a good test environment, including automated testing tools.
  • Create a centre of excellence for BPM.
  • Start something small for your first BPM project.

There’s a lot of arguments about how Agile can’t really handle large-scale development projects, but it’s my belief that most BPM projects lend themselves well to Agile. The worst disasters that I’ve seen in BPM implementation have been the product of the most non-Agile development processes imaginable, with months of requirements writing followed by many more months of development, all of which resulted in something that didn’t match the users’ requirements and was much too costly to change. As I’ve said many times before, if you can’t get something up and running in BPM in a matter of a couple of months, then you’re doing something really wrong.

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