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7 steps to a workable business process management strategy

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor

If you ever thought business process management (BPM) was too complex and time consuming to prove successful in your midmarket business, think again. Even with a smaller pool of internal resources,

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a midmarket IT organization can develop a business process management strategy that will help the business streamline processes and become more efficient, just as their larger competitors are.

Due to their size and nature, midmarket organizations may actually be better positioned for process management success than larger enterprises, said Dennis Drogseth, vice president of Enterprise Management Associates Inc., a Boulder, Colo.-based IT management research firm. "The smaller the organization, the more favorable the environment for achieving big changes," he said.

"The thing about smaller businesses is that the political issues are somewhat smaller and the opportunity to make great strides forward is greater," Drogseth said. "Awareness and documentation doesn't need to be bone-crunching to deliver some strong ROI and fast results."

And sometimes, you may not have to go as far as you think to achieve a successful process management plan. According to Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., midmarket organizations may have already succeeded in effectively changing their processes without the use of a BPM strategy, per se. That means if they want to go further, they won't need to start at square one. "Smaller firms are generally more flexible, and this may work to their advantage when it comes to process improvement efforts," he said.

Here are some steps from Vollmer to begin and eventually build a business process management strategy:

  • Identify a business/IT team that has historically worked well together.

  • Have them brainstorm a cross-functional process that needs improvement. That doesn't mean a massive project; an initial effort should aim to improve one or two processes at most, Vollmer said.

    "A lot of the early time will be eaten up in training and familiarization with process improvement techniques, so they should not plan on getting much further than that," he said. "Companies need to learn BPM basics before they tackle the 'mother of all projects,' so start small and grow on the success of early efforts."

  • Conservatively estimate the potential savings of the improvement, and use this estimate to support acquisition of a BPM tool.

  • When attempting to gain funding, ensure that the team provides management with a list of follow-on projects that can also use the proposed tools. This way, the first project won't have to support the total cost of the software.

  • Execute the process improvement project with the best project manager you can find to lead the initial effort. This is important because getting staff members on board is often a more difficult task than choosing a BPM tool because both business and IT have to be comfortable and willing to follow the new policies and processes.

    "You need to have people who are patient and skilled at listening within the organization," he said. "I can't stress that enough."

  • During the project, watch for bottlenecks. For example, Vollmer said many organizations spend too much time modeling their processes before optimizing them. "A mistake," he said, "because it delays optimization."

    However, it is important to insist on some modeling, using a tool like Microsoft's Visio or even big sheets of paper with sticky notes, which Gartner Inc. analyst Janelle Hill recommends.

    "Generally speaking, we would not recommend process optimization without starting with process modeling, the reason being you need a clear understanding of the 'as is' situation and also the 'to be' situation," Vollmer said.

  • Document lessons learned and use this information to guide additional efforts. Then, project by project, build a culture of continued process improvement and increased business efficiency that fits your organization's BPM maturity level, Drogseth said.

    "I liken it to ITIL in this respect: It's not a fun read, but it's a departure point for having improvement conversations," Drogseth said. "Leverage the insights without taking them as religion."

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchcio.com.

This was first published in October 2009

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