Is BPM Stalled in Your Company

How to Tell if BPM is Stalled at Your Company (And What to Do About It)

A great many companies suffer from stalled BPM – they are stalled on narrow improvements and are not progressing to transformation or farther still, to strategic alignment and execution. Is yours one of them?

Here is a simple self-test to check.

  1. Does it seem like few really significant changes (transformational) get done?
  2. Are most BPM projects really just improvements on what is already being done?
  3. Do projects challenge fundamental concepts in the way the business functions?
  4. Do business managers think the projects make a real difference?
  5. Are change projects normally considered to be successful by senior management?
  6. Is Business Improvement viewed as an IT responsibility in your company?
  7. Do BPM project benefits really make a difference to the bottom line – cost reduction or sales expansion?
  8. Is business transformation really related to the installation of an ERP package?
  9. Is the head of the BPM group considered to be a trusted business partner by business key managers – is he or she invited to their business operation meetings?
  10. Is the BPM program expanding in the company?
  11. Is the BPM budget adequate to support a growing service group?

In summary, these questions come down to, “Are things in the business really getting significantly better because of the BPM based efforts?” If the answer is “not really”, you are stuck. If the projects the BPM team works on are generally considered to be a success you will have built a solid foundation of benefit and a good reputation. But, do senior managers really think they are getting the return they want from the group?

For those who have been fairly consistent in delivering successful business improvements, getting stuck is OK. It does not mean that the BPM group has done anything wrong. Getting stuck in the improvement world of business change just means you are ready to evolve to the next step and take on bigger work. It is actually starting to look like a normal part in the evolution of a BPM group. However, if the group fails to get “unstuck”, it could face serious problems when management must look at the value that each part of the business operation is providing.

Until recently, many companies were OK with fairly modest returns on their investment in both BPM based improvement and BPMS support. That has been changing and I am aware of several BPM groups that have been cut and some that have been significantly downsized.

It is once again time to honestly look at the value that any BPM group can provide and what it will take to begin moving it along a path to deliver greater ROI and play a greater role in the company. However, the move to bigger and more important projects will seldom happen unless it is backed by a defined vision and specific evolution plan. Without this structure and justification, it will be difficult to obtain the proper sponsorship among executive managers and access to projects at the higher service levels (see the diagram below) that the group could begin to support.

We have found that there are really four levels of work that BPM groups can support. These are:

From experience in helping numerous BPM groups, we have found that there are a few unfortunate facts that begin to apply when the BPM group gets stuck. These include:

  • The real relevancy of any BPM group in a company is related to the benefit it can deliver
  • The group’s budget stagnates or increases very slowly
  • The ability of the group to hire good people decreases and turnover can become a problem
  • The role that the group can play becomes limited
  • BPM becomes a secondary concern with focus shifting to BPMS and IT application generation
  • The group becomes focused on chipping away at small improvements instead of projects that are big enough to make a difference in the ability of the company to compete
  • Management’s expectations are lowered

This is again common. But, it is possible for a BPM group to break out of this stagnated state.

Breaking free begins with an assessment of the current BPM capability and competency

Moving to higher level projects as shown in the diagram above will seldom happen on its own. It requires vision, strategy, planning, and flexible execution. It also requires an open and honest assessment of the BPM team capabilities and competencies and its ability to support an expanded role in the company. This requires a commitment to delivering greater value through BPM and BPMS enabled BPM. It also requires a sponsor and the budget needed to put the group on the right evolution path.

The initial action of the head of the BPM group will need to be finding a sponsor who can visualize the value of an expanded role for the BPM group. Working with this sponsor, the BPM group manager can start to build his or her case.

The first questions in moving forward are “How is the group viewed by business executives and department and business unit managers? What is the BPM group’s reputation? Is it good or does it need to be enhanced?”

An analysis of the answers to these questions lets you build your foundation for transforming the BPM group and its role. The answers cannot be sugar coated, nuanced, or manipulated to look good. The analysis must be objective and honest. If the group is viewed in a negative light, viewed as an IT group, or considered OK for small changes, that perception will need to be the first thing that is changed. That in itself can be a significant effort that will take months to correct. However, here again, correcting a neutral or negative perception will need to be based on a well thought out, planned campaign. The good news is that it can be done.

If the group is viewed in positive terms, the next step in moving to a greater value role in the company can be planned and taken.

Once the perception of the BPM group’s competency has been dealt with, the sponsor and the head of the BPM group can create a vision of how it will evolve and what it will deliver at each level in the four layers of the model above. The focus will, of course, be on the level immediately above your current capability maturity level, but any action to increase the team’s capabilities should be part of a plan that allows capabilities to build from level to level.

While the vision is being built, the BPM group’s capability maturity should be evaluated. This evaluation needs to look at the current capabilities the group offers, the competencies needed to deliver each capability, the skills needed for each competency and the level of skills available from the BPM team. This may extend to the BPMS team in some groups. This evaluation is the basis for determining how the BPM group needs to support its evolution through staff improvement.

A capability maturity baseline is however, complex and represents a multidimensional look at staff and their skills – the capabilities of any organization are really only those that the staff can support. This baseline will focus on those capabilities that exist today in the BPM group.

Vision and future capability needs

While the current capability maturity model is being built and the capabilities assessed, the BPM manager and sponsor can create and evolve their vision of the BPM group. In creating this vision, it will be important to consider both the enablers and constraints in building the operation they envision. Emerging technology and the business strategy execution requirements should also be considered in creating this vision for the BPM group.

Once the vision for the role the BPM group will play has been finalized, the capabilities that will be needed can be defined. A comparison of the capabilities needed to support the envisioned operation against the current capabilities will clearly identify what must change and what must be built. The creation of these future capabilities will need to happen over time as an evolution that is tied to budget and the ability of the group to absorb change.

This information will be used to create a capability maturity evolution plan. This plan will break the creation of the end state vision and its operating design into a series of annual capability development targets – aligning the move to each higher level in the BPM service model to the capability/competency/skill development needs for the new operation. The new baseline for each annual capability and service level target will then be used to predict the future BPM staffing model. This will allow the team to understand where they rate and what they need to improve for each of the levels in the services model.

The identification of the BPM group’s capability evolution will provide a solid foundation for service improvement. The first use of this evaluation is to improve the basic competencies of the team so it can better support the types of projects it currently focuses on today. This support needs to become consistently successful – as measured by the BPM group’s internal clients. It also needs to deliver measurable benefits.

Increasing exposure and services

With this foundation in place and the capability level of the BPM group expanding, the head of the BPM group and the sponsor need to begin an outreach program to establish a new type of relationship with the business unit and executive managers. This relationship can now shift to one of being a business partner who is focused on making the improvements needed to deliver significant results. These results should be tied to the delivery of a business unit’s targets for the year.

This will be a transition for many BPM/Six Sigma groups where the focus is on chipping away at the current operation to improve it. However, to increase the group’s relevancy and thus its value, the group will need to embrace this transition to more mission critical support.

In this transition, improvement becomes a secondary consideration to effectiveness. While this effectiveness first focus is really not possible for small improvement efforts, it is critical for mid-sized and large, transformational projects. The goals at these different levels are different and the scope now becomes wide enough to consider changes that have a much greater impact. The attention here will also shift to fundamental questions on the need to do something as opposed to how I can do this task better.

Service level evolution

This change in scope and focus starts when the group moves to Level 2, the business unit wide “workflow” scope level. Here the teams start to look at change and performance against metric targets across an entire work flow in a business unit. Capability improvement in moving to this second level and all higher levels will be guided by the capability maturity evolution plan. Although you may be anxious for the BPM group to make each move to a higher level of service as quickly as possible, the move will fail if the team is not ready to support the types of services at that level. This is where an honest evaluation comes in and a possible adjustment to the capability evolution plan. An overriding consideration should serve to guide the timing of any attempt to move to a higher service level – “A reputation for success is hard to win and easy to lose. If you lose it, it will take a long time to gain back.” So make certain the group is ready for the move and increased role.

At Level 3, the team will move to redesigning end-to-end processes. This now becomes political and requires collaboration, persuasion, and confrontation management skills. The process level transformation will be divided among the multiple business groups that perform a part of the process’s work. Each business unit and its managers will have their own worries, timing issues, constraints, needs, and targets. Obtaining agreement among all of the different managers is not easy. It first requires an ability to look at change from the perspective of each of these managers and build to a consensus based solution. It also requires arbitration skills – you cannot take sides and you need to bring the managers together promoting their individual benefits and contributions to the company. At this service level, the BPM group manager needs to focus on business benefits and personal benefits, aligning benefits to help each manager succeed while eliminating their big problems. Here the BPM group has an opportunity to partner with the business unit managers and become “trusted business advisors.” The whole game changes as this happens. The role of the BPM group also changes as the need to independently look for transformational opportunities now comes into play. As you can see, the level of difficulty increases significantly with each higher level of the capability maturity model. Shared services opportunities and process streamlining are often quick wins at this level.

As with previous moves to increasingly more difficult projects and more challenging roles, the move to Level 4 “Strategy Execution” services will require an honest readiness evaluation – aligning capabilities and communication skills with the capability requirements for the level you are moving to.

In a move to Level 4, the conversation will again change in moving to the impact of potential strategy on the business operation and how quickly the different business units will be able to change. This role is advisory and deals with the preparation needed to implement strategy and the probable cost of implementing it. It requires the BPM managers and senior internal consultants to take on a collaborative relationship with the strategy group, the planning group, and the different business unit managers to look at what will be involved in implementing the changes needed to deliver strategic goals.


As the BPM group evolves and plays a greater role in the effective and efficient operation of the company it will need to continue to provide all the services from the lower levels in the “BPM Capability Maturity model.” This evolution thus means that the staffing and budget for the group will need to both consider all support at the lower maturity levels, and reflect the staffing and budget needs of moves to greater levels of responsibility and services.

It should be remembered that the business is changing constantly and the ability for each process and business unit to operate effectively and efficiently will require constant attention. This fact also means that your BPM capability and service evolution plan will need to be flexible and change with the operating needs of the company. However, throughout these changes it is suggested that BPM management focus on the capabilities and services that will keep the group highly relevant in the ongoing movement to optimize the business operation.

It is clear that the role and the types of considerations and discussions will change in each level of the BPM capability model. It is also clear that moving from level to level requires an honest assessment of capabilities/competencies/skills and a well thought out plan that is supported by at least one senior level manager.

Equally clear is the fact that as a BPM group moves to greater roles in the company, it cannot abandon the roles of the levels below where it currently provides services. This evolution thus represents an expansion of the roles, the capabilities, the competencies and the number of staff in the group. It also represents a significant change in perspective and an ability to build collaborative relationships.

This move is a journey that will take time, thought leadership, and an ability to deliver consistent success in progressively more complex projects. All of this is very achievable, but it will seldom just happen. It will require a formal strategy and perseverance.

Dan Morris

Dan Morris has over 30 years of experience in business and IT operation transformation and management. Dan is a member of the ABPMP International Board of Directors, a member of the PEX Global Advisory Board, and the former US Practice Director for Business Transformation at Infosys, Capco and TCS.