The BPM Delusion Continues …

I just read an invitation to ‘the most comprehensive, current and pragmatic BPM seminar in the world’. The host is claimed to be the most experienced and highly-rated seminar facilitator and author in the enterprise BPM field, who supposedly ‘developed more agile process-based business architectures and process models that will scale and adapt’ than anyone else. I won’t use a name but you can basically enter any BPM expert you want. They are all the same.

This wonders of BPM seminar should be attended by:

• Strategic Planners
• Business Process Executives, Stewards, Owners and Managers
• Business and Systems Architects, Analysts and Designers
• Business Executives and Managers
• Lean and Six Sigma leaders
• IT Leaders
• Program and Project Managers
• BPM Internal and External Consultants
• Change Agents who must influence cultural and behavioral transformation
• HR Professionals introducing new competencies and organization designs

Well, except for the executives and managers these people are not performing ANY work that produces ANY business revenue. They are all bureaucrats! There are now ten different people who will tell the ONE poor grunt sitting in the customer frontline how to do his job and once they come out of this seminar they will be brainwashed to believe that it will actually improve the way a business works.

The brainwashing starts with a certain amount of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). The invitation points to economic pressures and change and an increasing burden of compliance that are the norm for any business. So what? Well, it says, ‘managers who solve problems on the spot employ short-term thinking and create imperfect patchwork solutions.’ It claims that ‘only those with lean and reliable end-to-end processes will be able to do more with the scarce resources they already have’. Says who? Proves what? The worst short-term thinking perform c-level execs who look at quarterly results only to drive the share price up!

Then it says that ‘process management obviously needs to be aligned across the whole organization’. Does that not remind you of centrally planned communism? In any case they are telling you that you can’t manage your business and you can’t trust your managers and your people are idiots. They tell you that you do not need managers with initiative, experience, people management skills and who act decisive and intuitive. Nope, all wrong! You need bureaucrats who will put the business on track. Right. Exactly!

The invitation further proposes that the business does not need to know how to make a customer happy but ‘business managers, architects and analysts must be able to strategize, architect, define, understand, analyze, improve, and communicate knowledge about business processes for multiple purposes’. What are those purposes? The seminar will supposedly teach you how to manage the politics so that there won’t be any resistance. Basically it says right here two things: The people will hate it, so you need to enforce it and you do that by policing each and every step of the newly defined work processes by exploiting technology to the max! The Brave New World of 1984 is finally here.

It further says clearly that not people are the asset of the business but the processes are! Then there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about scalable methods, models, best practices (a.k.a. copycat ideas) that can supposedly ‘be applied to whole enterprises’. Clearly that BPM expert has never tried that! Then the rest of the invitation is sprinkled with buzzwords about SOA-enabled, process-centric and model-driven, breakthrough BPM technologies! Who believes this crap?

And what will you be able to do with all that new knowledge? Supposedly you will ‘anticipate and respond to changing needs more quickly and deliver better performance faster’. It strikes me as strange that all this new bureaucracy will speed up change. Who will anticipate something? One of the ten BPM-Lean-SixSigma-ChangeAgent bureaucrats who are disconnected from daily operations? They think that the business clerks who are now paternally spoon-fed with process steps like idiots and who hate their BPM guts for taking away their initiative and customer orientation will tell them? That is the true DELUSION. This style of BPM motivation blatantly ignores the most basic, but most important concepts of human resource management.

Finally the course invitation puts the cards on the table by saying: ‘Get all people to change with less hassle’. Aha, the BPM pundits think that they can run the business by remote control. That is what they are selling. No manager in his right mind will believe that this is possible. Corporation-wide BPM is as bad as Outsourcing. It is proof of incompetence. It shows a focus on cost when there should be a focus on people – employees and customers!

My BPM bickering is often misinterpreted as being against process management. Well, the opposite is the case! But process management is about aligning people towards a common goal. That does not happen by nailing down every work step. A service business is not a manufacturing plant. Each customer is an individual and so is each employee. The quality is improved by better communication and monitoring, which is different to policing and enforcement! Employees are responsible for their own work and the quality they produce. Process management must help them to shape the processes how they need them. Managers and process management are ENABLERS. The huge change management overhead introduced by BPM with all its tools, staff, centers of excellence and global process models will drag your agility down. Only when the bureaucracy is cut out and the change loop is short – which means WITHIN the process team – then a business can become agile.

I was told that there are not enough great employees so BPM it is necessary to improve quality. I absolutely do not agree, there are no bad people. They just can be in the wrong place and/or poorly managed. Well, guys – if your management gets BPM to help you, you know what they think of you. Finally, I was told that enterprise wide BPM and a great, motivated staff and street-wise first-line management are not mutually exclusive. Well, that is a dramatic delusion as well. You can only have one or the other. Great people go where they are needed and appreciated. So make your choice!

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of ISIS Papyrus Software, a medium size software company specializing in communications and process management. I wrote several books and hold a number of patents. My quest is to bring common sense to IT, mostly by focusing in human quality issues rather than cost saving, outsourcing and automation. I am also Chief Architect at VIPorbit software which provides mobile relationship management.

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11 comments on “The BPM Delusion Continues …
  1. Todd says:

    As someone who inherited an architectural nightmare from a predecessor who drank the BPM koolaide, I couldn’t agree more. My life now consists of digging out of a mess. And the mess is tangled tightly in a proprietary BPM system that has changed ownership three times in four years. The support is as wonderful as one would expect…

    BPM sounds great on the surface, but under the covers it is always more complicated than it should be. In spite of the BPM “standards” that are touted by the vendors, there is a tremendous amount of lock-in that happens that prevents you from moving to different commercial or open source BPM platforms. They are all just different enough to prevent it from being possible.

    The other problem with BPM is that they are complicated enough that getting started usually entails bringing in a squadron of professional services staff to get everything working. And since their livelihood depends on the propagation of the platform they have aligned with, they tend to believe (or at least pretend to believe) that EVERYTHING should be implemented in the BPM platform, even if it makes no architectural or business sense to do so.

    Eventually, those professional services types have to leave and the permanent IT staff are often left to maintain mass amounts of misapplied technology. At that point, the best IT staff become disheartened by maintenance headache left to them and perform a mass exodus. That leaves the mediocre staff behind. They don’t know better so they continue to misapply the technology.

    So, maybe at the end of all this, the technology does begin to be better than the people. Because the people that are left are mediocre.

    And, the vendors can blame the problems on mis-application of the technology. Maybe more prof services would help… “would you like me to pull a quote together?”

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  2. Thanks, Todd. I am sure the problem is that you have not been to the seminar I wrote about … ;-)

    A short quote that I am allowed to use would be absolutely great. I am glad that you also comment on the ‘open standard’ subject which is another pet peeve of mine. I would like to put your comment on the front page as post, would that be ok too?

    The problem and the solution are people! The vendors sell silly ideas, but if executives and managers would be more people oriented it would never get to this point. Thanks again.

    Like

  3. Bine Zerko says:

    Amazing!

    Please don’t get me wrong, but your comments are exactly my thoughts.

    Like

  4. Steve Robert says:

    I agree with you statement about current BPMS marketing. I agree that most “experts” think BPM is an “easy solution” rather than a process management philosophy or approach. And yes I agree that a lot of the technological support currently offered sends companies down a bureaucratic path.
    But I believe your message is too strong against BPM (aka Process Management supported by IT). Our current environment is already a bureaucratic mess lead by incompetent managers who do not understand the concept of leadership. As technology advanced, more and more power will be given to individuals that will be able to do enormous destruction (terrorism) unless we (those who wish to see society progress) start to collaborate. To me collaboration is the sharing of work. Work is process. In today’s environment, process must be supported by technology.
    I believe that more and more research is going into this type of support. It may not be called BPM in the future – and I don’t care. What is of importance is that we work together for a greater society defined by the people that we must serve.

    I think I drank too much kool-aid… I better go lie down.

    Steve

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  5. Steve, thanks. I am not in disagreement with you but I think you might interpret my statements as being against process management or information technology. If that is so, I need to clarify that I do believe that technology should be used to empower the individual in a positive but manageable way. Social networks are a good example (See my post on Facebook/Twitter). I am FOR support of process by IT but it is not by controlling the user but supporting/serving him. The problem is that BPM is ignoring the human aspect as you can read in this seminar. What we do at ISIS Papyrus is to offer software that can be used to empower the user. As it happens, many still implement fairly rigid processes …

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  6. Steve Robert says:

    Thanks Max for the answer.

    Rigid processes indeed do not support us. What you seem to be working on is part of what I am hoping for.

    Like

  7. Robert Quinton says:

    Spot on critique. I could not agree more. The issue of “rigid” BPM and for that matter ECM/DM applications with proprietary systems pervades all aspects of the industry with vendors creating solutions on their perceptions of what the market needs and clinets using the systems because they are not aware of wht is really possible. On the bright side there are some small companies that are begining to create truly configurable solutions that promise to revolutionize the future. So hopefully the poor economic environment over the next couple of years will allow companies that provide solutions that truly deliver an ROI to grow while the large laggards in the industry wither.

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  8. Off topic praise: “Green initiatives are mind-soothers.” You, Sir, are a genius.

    On topic: Bad economy usually equals innovation and growth for the best of the best and a slow painful death for anyone who is outdated, not reinvesting properly in their company, or putting a pretty facade over a crap product. I’m actually really excited to see the changes that will crop up from this downturn!

    A few good shysters will also thrive in the downturn, but they don’t survive afterward since the downturn is normally part of their scam.

    Like

  9. Ian Ramsay says:

    Great outburst Max. Thanks … I feel better, knowing that I am not the only person wondering how and why the BPM juggernaut can fill mindless seminars daily, fuels a massive software industry of mediocre functionality but still finds it hard to define exactly what is meant by BPM.

    Unlike the overly excited BPM marketing types, I think we need to keep BPM principles and tools in context.

    BPM is NOT a technology or a new management method or a silver bullet. It’s just another, hopefully more profitable, way of understanding & improving all the same business issues that we have been doing for centuries.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the inability of IT to understand processes, operational staff split their time between mind numbing procedural work and high-value adding knowledge work. We still owe it to them to fix the former.

    Like

  10. George Blake says:

    Thanks for all the information. My team is in a swirling funnel of death. First we’re being slammed by ITIL and SDLC, now next week we get 4 vendors coming in to sell us on BPMS and SOA. I’m attending a 3-day seminar with our HR department as this company called Enwisen is trying to sell us a $500K ASP service to front-end our HR/Payroll system! Wow, I feel like the dream of my 25 year career has turned into a nightmare!

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  11. zansal says:

    I’ve just taken over a software application project were the business and technical processes were modeled in a well known UML compliant BPM SW Tool. The previous PM even went to the trouble of documenting detailed sequence diagrams as an attempt to show how the application system would be coded.

    The client paid for all this work, but did the client read the models? Did it help them understand how the system worked?

    No. In fact it made them confused, very confused indeed.

    Now, are models correct, complete and reflective of what was coded? No way. Completely unusable.

    The client is now saying “I thought we modeled the system? So when we ask you to estimate the impact of changing any of the processes we are very surprised you tell us you don’t know.”

    What does my company want to do to solve this problem? Evaluate more BPM solutions.

    Like

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Max J. Pucher
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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
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