The next stage in the BPMG saga

Remember BPMG (later reincarnated as BPTG)? I wrote previously about the original troubles when Steve Towers and Terry Schurter (two of the key people at BPMG) left and started Bennu Group, a competing training organization. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also redirected the BPMG domain to their own website, in what many consider to be an incredible show of bad faith.

That was just over a year ago, and today it appears that Bennu Group is dissolving. From an email sent yesterday from Terry Schurter to a participant registered for an upcoming course:

I must inform you that the Dallas CPP class offered by Bennu Group has been canceled as Bennu Group LLC is now in dissolution.

If you would like to receive a refund of your purchase please let me know and I will process your refund promptly.

Alternatively, if you would like to attend a CPP class on the same day and same location with myself as the instructor I can transfer you over to that course at no additional cost.

Then, in a follow-up email:

It will be announced tomorrow morning that I, Alex Morse and Don Smith [the latter two also from Bennu Group] have formed a new organization – the International Process and Performance Institute (IPAPI). This is a not-for-profit organization formed in the state of Texas and will be carrying forward the CEM vision.

Certification (IPAPI CPPTM) will be granted under the new organization. The material for the course is based on the same fundamentals used in the Bennu Group program, revised to reflect the learning from delivering that program for a bit over a year. The primary revisions include simplification of explanations and context along with discussion on flexibility that can be employed with the techniques presented. We also include additional new resources and templates for class participants to help make using the techniques easier, simpler and more successful. We will be using at least 3 case studies for hands-on activities in the class.

I am personally very excited about the new direction. The movement to a not-for-profit is a very important step (if you decide to attend my class you will be given a free one-year’s membership in IPAPI). You will also receive one year’s access to the online training which is again a revised and updated version of what was offered by Bennu Group.

The IPAPI.org domain was registered by Alex Morse over a month ago, so this has been brewing for a while. If you check LinkedIn, there were only four employees of Bennu Group; after this latest round of musical chairs, Steve Towers is the one left standing on the outside as the other three start a new venture of the backs of the work started by BPMG and continued by Bennu Group.

This raises a number of interested questions, not the least of which is about the value of BPM certification from training organizations like this. To state that they offer certification for their courses seems a bit hollow and self-serving: what sort of accreditation do they have to make a claim for the ability to offer certification? And more importantly, when the music starts again in a year or so, who wants to be holding certification from an organization that no longer exists?

My advice: take training with any organization that appears to offer what you need, but pay little or no attention to claims of certification unless it is a widely-recognized organization (think Microsoft or IEEE here) with a well-established training and certification program.

Note: I’m receiving this information (and the email quoted above) third-hand, so there could, of course, be inaccuracies.

University of Exeter to offer Masters in BPM

Exeter’s Centre for Research in Strategic Processes and Operartions is partnering with BPTG (the part of BPMG that didn’t make off with the domain name) as part of their soon-to-be-launched Masters in Business Process Management. From the BPTG press release:

The Masters Programme has 10 modules and a dissertation and can be completed over three years. The modules include:

  • Business Process Foundations
  • Business Process Measurement
  • Business Process Improvement
  • Operations Management
  • Business Process Modelling
  • Business Process Change Management
  • Services Management
  • Research Methods
  • Customer Value and Process
  • Business Process Leadership

Looks like some good content here, although I think that BPTG needs to just get over the whole BPMG debacle and stop including phrases like this in their emails: “Some providers distribute course and other certificates like confetti, the authenticity and veracity of which, beyond simple attendance, have no discernable pedigree.”

BPM Chapter meeting in Toronto, October 12

On the morning of October 12th, the BPT Group — which rose from the ashes of the BPMG — is having a general-purpose BPM chapter meeting in Toronto open to anyone interested in BPM. Although the agenda is heavily weighted in favour of a demonstration by Metastorm, who are hosting the event, it will be an opportunity to meet other people interested in BPM. Jim Baird, who is organizing this, is actively looking for BPM practitioners to speak at future chapter meetings, so please let him know if you’re willing to talk about your BPM project or know of someone else who might.

Here’s the details for the meeting on October 12th:

Location:

O Beirao Restaurant, 5468 Dundas St. West (side banquet hall entrance). If you’re on public transit, you can walk west from the Kipling station in 10-15 minutes or catch a westbound bus out of the station (such as the 111 East Mall). I’m not sure of the parking situation but there’s sure to be some around.

Agenda:

  • 8:30 – 9:00 Registration and Continental Breakfast
  • 9:00 – 9:10 Welcome and Introduction, James Baird – BPTG North America and Australia
  • 9:10 – 9:15 Welcome from Metastorm (session host), Michael Szczerba – Account Executive – Americas
  • 9:15 – 9:45 BPM or Requirements Analysis – Where to Start?, James Baird
    • The links between BPM and gathering business and system requirements
    • Different approaches to documenting processes
    • How organizations are implementing BPM
    • Measuring BPM success
    • The importance of Business and IT involvement
    • Choosing your first BPM project
  • 9:45 – 10:00 Question and Answer / Discussion period
  • 10:00 – 10:15 Coffee Break
  • 10:15 – 11:00 Demonstration of ProVision BPM by Metastorm, Michael Szczerba
  • 11:00 – 11:45 Networking opportunity and discussion of future topics

You’ll need to RSVP Tuesday, October 9th if you want to attend, to Judith Baird at 416-252-8405 or [email protected].

BPMG held a couple of chapter meetings here before the big blow-up earlier this year; one of them was very well attended, the other (due to bad weather) was much less so. In any case, I think that these meetings are a good way to get more of a BPM community going in Toronto, although we definitely need to get some practitioners speaking at them.

BPMG reincarnated

The past few months have seen strange happenings with BPMG. I wrote about the original hint of troubles, when Steve Towers and Terry Schurter jumped ship and Terry redirected the BPMG domain to his own competing website, then the follow-up a month later when BPMG appeared to have truly shut down. They’re not down for the count, however; this morning I received the following email:

Welcome to the BPTGroup website www.bptg.org

The following facilities and services are up and running or scheduled for the new site

  • a full range of training and development programmes for open course and in-house delivery
  • a comprehensive, degree-level programme for business change professionals designed to be  internalised by organisations to provide a future structure for developing change expertise
  • an accreditation process that is quick, efficient and authenticated
  • insight to the 8 Omega methodology and maturity assessment process
  • core sections dedicated to Strategy, People, Process and Enabling Technologies including articles, reviews, presentations and a comprehensive cross-referencing system
  • the introduction of the BPTG global partners
  • the International BPTG Chapters web facility
  • executive briefings, coaching and mentoring, process audit services are offered to organisations as they endeavour to move effectively through the cultural and other issues of change surrounding their transformation to process-focused operations.

The deliberate sabotage of the BPMG website impacted its members, staff and associates worldwide and raises many issues, ethical as well as legal, about the integrity of the organisation and the individuals involved.  The actions that created that situation are totally at variance with the core BPM principle that serving the customers best interests should inform all our actions. 

However, as you will see from our home page, many of the BPMG key people have expressed their opinion very clearly by readily joining the BPTGroup.  We also welcome new faces and expertise, and there are others on the way.

Website functionality will be enhanced in two further phases over the next few months ? we will be introducing new features, new courses and services to our fellow process professionals ? and we want you to help us in this development process. 

One final point before I leave you to explore the BPTGroup website. 

Why BPTGroup? After the BPMG debacle I am sure many of you would expect us to avoid any association with similar phrasing.  Quite the reverse.  The principal movers behind BPTGroup were proud of what we had created in the BPMG and the services we provided to our members.  Although in no way responsible or accountable for the destruction wrought, we want to help rectify the undoubted damage done to an ethical and principled global community and we invite you to join us in these endeavours. 

Please, express your opinion by your action ? help us to help you.

A number of delegates were seriously inconvenienced by the collapse of the BPMG and some lost their fee pre-payments.  We make this offer to those people ? when the BPTGroup next run a commercially viable programme in a location convenient to you we will invite you to join us and waive all professional fees for that course.  Please contact us now to enable our people to keep you informed of convenient courses.

Thank-you for your previous support and interest ? we look forward to the opportunity to work with you again.

Regards,

David Lyneham-Brown

CEO

They have some of the original people on board, including Mark McGregor and Jim Baird (who offered to provide BPMG courses for free to people who had paid for them). A lot of people are unlikely to trust Steve and Terry after the stunt that they pulled — I don’t know the whole story, but it appears to be pretty unprofessional behaviour — but they were two of the very visible faces of the old BPMG, and it’s difficult to see if BPTG will be able to regain the momentum. I don’t think that it’s necessary to have visible faces for an online community like this; certainly there’s others, like BPMInstitute, that are run by very competent people who choose not to put themselves in the spotlight, but to show off the content instead.

BPTG is offering a free membership right now, and I have no idea if they plan to go back to a two-tiered model that drew such criticism in the past. Personally, I don’t think that there’s any place in the market for a paid site for most of the content that they offer; there are a lot of other content sites related to BPM that get their revenue from advertising, vendor-sponsored content such as webinars and white papers, and live training and conferences.

Ex-BPMG contractor makes good

Jim Baird, who had organized the Toronto BPMG chapter meetings that I attended previously, also was a contractor to BPMG for delivering courses. With the recent demise of BPMG, Jim has stepped up to the plate and offered to provide courses for free to those who got stiffed by BPMG. From his recent comment on my original post about BPMG’s closure:

Hi folks. I would like to confirm what you have seen in this blog and thank Kevin and Sandy for bringing it to my attention. In the next couple of weeks we will be announcing the formation of the Business Process Transformation Group which will be available at www.BPTG.org. A new course schedule will be posted and anyone who has paid for training at BPMG will be offered the course that they have paid for at no charge. Please keep in mind that I was as surprised as everyone else with the demise of BPMG as I was contracted to train for them and was not a shareholder of the organization. Although we did not receive any of those funds that were paid to BPMG we find that the situation is deplorable and feel that this is the honourable thing to do. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

Jim also contacted me to see about organizing a non-partisan BPM interest group meeting in Toronto, tentatively scheduled for September 21st. Stay tuned for more details.

BPMG goes boom

Received this afternoon from an email address at processperformance.com, unfortunately substantiating my prediction of a couple of weeks ago:

Subject: BPMG / BPMV Ltd Chairman’s Final Statement

I communicated with as many of the BPMG members as I could a short while ago about the unfortunate position with regard to the company. As I said in that e-mail I took over the running of the company in an attempt to resolve matters.

I must unfortunately report that I have been unable to resolve these matters and Bennu Group LLC continue in their refusal to reinstate our websites or release any information that would give BPMG access to those sites. According to public record information Steve Towers is a director and officer of Bennu Group LLC. At no time did Mr Towers declare his Bennu status to his fellow directors on the board of BPM Ventures Limited or BPM Group.

The report that I have presented on June 29th 2007 is confidential to the board and shareholders of BPM Ventures Limited but I can indicate that it identifies certain matters that may well become the subject of legal claims in the future. My task in this matter was to try to resolve the matters as quickly as possible in the interest of the members and clients of BPMG. Having provided my report to the board and not being able to resolve the position I have no desire to continue in this role and I have therefore resigned my directorship in the company although I remain a shareholder.

At the same time our Administration and Finance Manager Rose Butler has also resigned. She will no longer be able to answer BPMG members or clients queries. In addition, David Lyneham-Brown has also resigned his roles and directorships of BPMG. With David being the prime technical developer of the BPMG training and development approach this is regretful. Imre Hegedus has stepped down as our Global Director of Chapters and the principal organiser of our autumn conference having done a sterling job in both these areas to date. We have already advised people that we cannot run the conference because like our other web sites Process2007 has been entirely under the control of Bennu Group LLC and we have had no access to it. As of June 30th 2007 Stephen Bernard Towers is the sole remaining director of BPM Ventures Limited and the BPM Group and all enquiries should be directed to him.

I would like to wish Imre, David and Rose the best for the future and I am sure they will continue with their very effective contributions to international BPM training, development and practise. I would also like to thank the many members and clients of BPMG who have contacted me with information and best wishes over the last few weeks. I can only regret that we have been unable to resolve matters in their best interests.

I would expect to see some commentary on all of these things on the BPMG and Bennu web site as I feel it is likely that the BPMG web site will be quickly reactivated. I will have to leave it to your own discretion as to your belief in any commentary in relation to my actions.

Kind Regards

Stewart Ashton

BPMG… I mean, BPEE Conference in London

I received an email this morning about the upcoming Business Process Excellence Exchange (BPEE) conference organized by IQPC in London this October — obviously replacing the BPMG conference that they used to organize. The only problem is the speaker list, which has both Steve Towers and Terry Schurter listed as being with BPMG:

BPEE 2007

You’d think that the conference organizers would have figured out a bit of what’s happening (or not happening) with BPMG these days, since they had to actually change the name of the conference from last year…

Is BPMG imploding?

I’ve attended and spoken at a couple of BPMG conferences, as well as attending the new chapter meetings here in Toronto. I’ve never really understood the organization; some people refer to it as a “buyer’s club”, where membership just gets you discounted on their proprietary training and methods, and I since I’m not interested in their 8 Omega methodology (the name of which still makes me laugh), I haven’t found any reason to pay for a membership since my first time around. The quality of their output can be a bit uneven, and most of it appears to be driven by Steve Towers and Terry Schurter, both of whom I have met at the conferences (in fact, I wrote a review for Terry’s recent book).

This week, some weird things started happening. First, the usual weekly BPM email arrived from Steve Towers, but with a statement “I can’t point you at any articles on the bpmg.org site as it has been down for several days (more on that very soon)” — with no explanation, although the email came from Steve Towers’ address rather than BPMG.

Then, an email from Terry Schurter announcing that he has resigned BPMG, lengthy but no more informative:

Today ends almost 3 years of work with the BPM Group for me and I have many fond memories that I will cherish over the years.

I feel it is important and necessary to share with you a few things about my resignation to help you understand why this change has occurred.

I leave the BPM Group under duress. I will simply say that things have come to the point where what I get from the BPM Group won’t buy any “bread” and I’m not an “open-source” thought leader/CIO.

I retain my positive relationship with Steve Towers and will continue to work with him on the latest hot BPM concepts including CEM, the CEM Method (CEMM), Outside-In, SCOs, etc. CEM, CEMM and much of the other latest insights into the customer focus in BPM are the intellectual property of Bennu Group LLC, Terry Schurter and/or Steve Towers. These resources will no longer be available through the BPM Group but they will remain available…

Because I am not “going away” in fact; I see this as the trigger to take the best concepts forward without the chains of “inside-out” thinking placed on me by some of the directors in the BPM Group (not including Steve Towers of course). The place to visit me and have access to these resources is www.bennugroup.net. I hope you have the chance to stop by and visit.

Of course, I’ll be out there speaking at conferences (visit www.terryschurter.com for more on that) and I will be doing lots of other things as well. Whatever I am up to, you’ll find more about it at the sites listed above.

I hope that during my stay at the BPM Group I have helped to enrich some of your lives in some small way and I hope to have the opportunity to stay in touch with as many of you as possible.

Finally, in closing I wish to apologize for anything that the BPM Group may have promised you that they have failed to deliver on. If I could have left the BPM Group without duress my departure would have been carefully structured to help ensure an orderly exit from the business. Unfortunately that has not turned out to be the case.

As we say on the internet, WTF?

Then yesterday, a missive from BPMG (or what’s left of it):

I am writing to you to inform you of the official company position regarding issues with regard to BPMG and its web site.

I have been a non-executive director, director and shareholder of BPM Ventures Ltd the holding company of BPMG for some years. Recently a dispute has arisen in the company about some invoices and payments that have been claimed to be improper. A board meeting was called to consider the best action for the company until such disputes had been resolved. I have have been appointed managing director and the executive authority of David Lyneham-Brown and Steve Towers have been suspended whilst due enquiries can be made. I must emphasis that there is no implication of wrong doing at this stage by any party but it is normal in these circumstances to suspend individuals until due enquires have been made.

One of the disputes involves a company called Bennu, run by a Mr Terry Schurter. This company had the responsibility, amongst others, of running and maintaining the BPMG web site. One of their invoices has been claimed to be improperly submitted and is in dispute. A matter that I intend to resolve as quickly as possible. However Bennu have taken it upon themselves to re-direct the BPMG web site to their own website. We would like all parties to know that they are improperly doing this and have no grounds or authority for this redirection. We will of course be taking appropriate action but that will take time.

The training that BPMG have so successfully delivered over the past few years has not changed and we intend to continue to honour all training course and responsibilities. To this end David Lyneham-Brown remains involved in the day to day activities of the company and along with our colleague Rose Butler, will remain available for any questions you might have regarding the delivery of BPMG services. In addition both he and Rose will be your contact points for any new bookings. All training materials and IP remain the property of BPMG but customers need to be aware of possible improper use of materials in the future.

It is most regretful that a subcontractor to BPMG has seen fit to take such actions over a minor invoice that has been questioned in its validity and will be resolved in a short time if the submitted invoice is genuine. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience that this may have caused and we will take all and any actions necessary to protect our customers position and ensure that all services are delivered to the usual high levels of standard that we have always delivered.

Finally, I wish to assure you that the company is solvent (as agreed by the board yesterday) and remains in a position to honor any proper financial commitments made by the company. We will be doing our very best to get normal service resumed as soon as possible.

We will be setting up a web site in the near future where further information will be available.

Stewart Ashton

As a temporary measure you will find us at www.processperformance.com along with details of how to contact us.

The BPMG site is still redirected to Terry Schurter’s Bennu Group website, and Ashton’s letter and the BPMG logos are on the site that Ashton mentions at the end of his letter. The BPMG.org domain registration is private, but presumably Terry has control over it if he was able to redirect to his own site — an action that appears to be in tremendously bad faith, even if not illegal, since I assume that BPMG owns its own trade name and domain name, even if Terry was managing the website and domain records.

Given that the two key visible people at BPMG are no longer on active duty — Terry has resigned and Steve has been suspended by the board — it’s not clear how BPMG can continue to do business.

Second BPMG Toronto chapter meeting on March 2nd

After the successful first BPMG chapter meeting here in Toronto, there’s a second one planned for March 2nd. It would be nice if BPMG actually made some space on their site to advertise chapter events; you wouldn’t find this information if you weren’t on their mailing list (or one of my readers 😉 ).

There is a description of the event in a PDF file on the BPMG site, and I posted it on upcoming.org. It’s free to attend, but you need to register in advance.

BPMG Toronto: Implementing Pega

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the first BPMG Toronto chapter meeting, along with 25-30 others: pretty good attendance for an initial meeting, although I think that 3 of them were from the host, webMethods, 2 were the speakers, and 1 from BPMG. Based on some later conversations, the split between vendors and practitioners was around 50:50, and the split between business and technical people was around the same.

Jim Baird, who is organizing the North American chapters, gave a brief introduction to BPMG; as usual, this left me with the burning question “Is 8 Omega just a silly pun on Six Sigma?” as well as wondering how the BPMG process maturity model differs from BPMM and others. There was also a weird bit taken from the Australian chapters that states that presentations from vendors and consultants can’t be more than 5 minutes; since I get slotted into that “consultant” category, that implies that there’s no perceived value in what I might talk about, and that it would just be a sales pitch. As a fairly regular conference presenter, I beg to differ.

The main event, however, was a presentation by TD Bank on their BPM projects. Like any other large financial organization, TD has 100’s of systems, a ton of manual processes and procedures, and an expectation from management that they must “do more with less”. A few years ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem, since there was plenty of low-hanging fruit for implementing some degree of automation and gaining some benefit; that fruit, however, is long since plucked, and the benefits were used to pay for point solutions (like tactical uses of Visual Basic and Adobe Acrobat) that can’t grow with the business. What they were left with were ad hoc existing systems that were “good enough” for the job at hand, and no easy business case to replace those with systems that provided both agility or reusability.

They did have one big thing on their side: an executive-level vision of continuous process improvement, which led to the establishment of a corporate competency centre in business process modelling, an enterprise licence for Pega BPM, and a workflow team within the IT group. The CIO had the insight to provide the time, money and air cover for a production proof of concept within 4 months, and it was the workflow team’s challenge to find the right first project and get something from the drawing board to production in that time frame. By applying some agile programming techniques, which I found pretty remarkable for a large financial services organization, they were able to go from concept to production in 4 months, including a month of QA, and have only had 1 defect reported to date: amazing on all counts.

Of course, there were challenges. First, a problem that I often see in projects, was the business users’ desire to include everything in phase 1 of a project, which makes it difficult to select a project and also to control scope creep. Part of the problem is that the users can have a hard time envisioning how they could do their job with only part of the functionality that they think that they require, but a big part of it is a (historically supported) dread that this is their only chance, and that the workflow team is never coming back again after phase 1. Second, they had to shift from data-centric thinking to a process-centric view in order to get the focus on process improvement rather than data processing, and found out that not everyone “gets” process thinking. Third, they didn’t fully understand the capabilities of the Pega product before they started, so likely did things less effectively — and possibly with less reusability — than they will in future projects. In particular, they’re not using the rules engine that lies at the heart of Pega for anything other than basic validations, but they recognize the need to take a closer look at that for future implementation.

Some great lessons learned:

  • Define and publish common terminology (“process”, “workflow”, “agile”, etc.) for use in all project communication. It doesn’t really matter if you use definitions put forward by a standards group or by your BPMS vendor, it only matters that you’re all communicating consistently.
  • Understand the capabilities and limitations of the selected BPMS, so that you don’t end up building something that you can’t grow with. I’ve seen many, many cases of over-customization of BPMS because the core capabilities of the product were poorly understood, which can lead to un-agile and non-reusable systems as well as masking many of the key functionalities of the BPMS. I’ve written (ranted) about the dangers of over-customization many times before.
  • Start small but deliver value. They didn’t try to do a complete process rework, but settled for some incremental process improvement that could show some benefit.
  • Understand corporate culture and how it impacts team dynamics and development approach, then pick an approach that can be blended into your culture. You’ll want to check out a couple of different approaches to see what fits best.
  • Accept that you’re going to make mistakes; this requires team members to live with some degree of uncertainty, which is difficult for many people within large, conservative organizations.
  • Choose team members who have a commitment to doing what’s right for the organization. I find this one to be particularly important, since it drives the decision-making on a project, but also difficult, since you need to find people who are not necessarily influenced by popular opinion or corporate politics.

A couple of odd comments along the way: it was stated that BPM is “new in Canada”, yet the project that I heard described is not different in nature from what I was implementing at Canadian financial institutions in 1994 (although the tools are much, much better now 🙂 ). Also, when I asked if the process modelling at TD was being done as part of a larger enterprise architecture modelling effort, EA was positioned as being “under workflow”, which implies that they actually mean IT architecture and don’t have a sense of enterprise architecture at this level. Because they’re using Visio for process modelling, which has a direct link to Pega, they’re not using more rigorous modelling tools that might tie in with EA modelling efforts.