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The problem with BPM Solutions….

Blog: Process Cafe

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BPM software is big business today. There are, literally, dozens of companies on this particular software space. Gartner classify some of them on various different magic quadrants. Forrester classify them on various different waves. Every day companies are pitched at by software vendors to put in the latest and greatest tool to help them.
But are they any better than people?
At a fundamental level, the answer is – obviously – yes. Software well designed to fulfil a particular task will always beat a human doing the same task (providing the task is something that can be automated or computerised – I wouldn’t want a computer performing open heart surgery on me – although computers are now driving cars by themselves). A machine which is programmed to deal with workflow simulation is always going to be able to simulate thousands of transactions through a workflow better than a human.
But do we need them? Do we need to purchase a BPM system in order to be able to implement BPM in an organisation? Is it necessary to spend outlandish amounts of money to make BPM part of your everyday workflow? No. It isn’t. 
BPM – at a fundamental level – is the analysis and implementation of ideal process flows. These can be repetitive, or on a case-by-case basis. But they do not HAVE to be implemented via a computerised system. 
Working on basics it is simple enough to perform process analysis using pens, sticky notes and brown paper. This can then be documented in a workflow drawing, or a process flow, or a procedure. Employees can be trained and the new procedures can be implemented. All of this can be done without a dedicated BPM system.
But why would you?
Well, for one thing, you would do this to determine whether you have the right mindset to implement BPM It is wrong, in my opinion, to think that implementing a tool to solve a problem will solve that problem. Time and time again we see examples of computer systems being put in place to solve problems that don’t actually solve those problems.
The problem itself, is, of course, that the problem under consideration is the wrong problem. (There were a lot of problems in that last, sentence, heh?). By this I mean that identifying a problem that needs a tool solution is the wrong problem. It’s similar to saying “This patient has a heart problem that needs a stent”. NO. The problem is that the patient has blocked veins. The stent is a solution for that problem.
Likewise companies become enamoured of the software solution to help them become more efficient, more effective, more responsive, whereas the problem may not be that the company is inefficient, ineffective or unresponsive in the first place.
This is why the first step in deciding whether to implement a BPM solution is NOT to decide to implement a BPM solution. It is to decide what the issue is that you are trying to address. Remove the system from the equation. Ask yourself  “If I was doing this manually, what is going wrong?” Understand what is the fundamental underlying item that needs to be changed to make your problem go away.
Losing customers? The problem might be that you need a CRM solution to better handle them. But it might also be that your product doesn’t give them what they want or you aren’t selling it right (See Jeffrey Gitomer for more about that) 
Manufacturing not fast enough? It might be that you are wasting time on a particular piece of the process and creating a bottleneck. But it might also be that your line is old-fashioned or your employees aren’t trained to operate it correctly.

In the examples listed above, knowing what the actual problem is can lead to a completely different solution to the one first anticipated.

That’s a good thing.


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All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
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