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How to organize and train your staff for BPM project success

Here's how organizations are setting up their business process management efforts, from centers of excellence to training that focuses on certain aspects of BPM.

Business process management (BPM) is a business-driven initiative that is supported by a technology solution. Therefore, it's imperative that IT project managers receive BPM training on not only technology solutions, but also understanding the needs of the business sponsor and which process improvements can offer the most value.

"IT folks should not be leading a BPM project. That's a recipe for disaster," said Derek Miers, founder of BPM Focus, an organization that explores the impact of BPM software on business strategy. "Unless a BPM program is led by the business itself, then it is not sustainable. It's by the business, for the business and of the business."

At Noresco, an energy services company and subsidiary of Carrier Corp., BPM was originally a technology solution that IT owned. Over time, as more of the business became exposed to it, demand grew and it became a business initiative. "It's now all about making decisions that help the business," said Chris Johnston, director of information systems at the Westborough, Mass.-based company. "If we tried to take it back from the business, there would be anarchy. They're so used to working with us this way now."

So how does an organization set up its BPM efforts and ensure that IT staff receive the BPM training necessary to understand the business goals of BPM and which processes will reap the biggest benefits from automation or remapping?

Establishing the BPM team

The first step in setting up a BPM program is determining who's going to lead it. In most organizations, it works best when BPM is a business-driven initiative with IT support. A position such as vice president of BPM or process is often created to lead BPM. This position is often at the same level as the CIO, and both executives report to a company executive like the CEO.

"This is the ideal setup," said Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "You don't want the CIO squashing budget because he doesn't understand the project from a process perspective."

BPM projects are then often centralized and managed through a center of excellence, which is a BPM equivalent to a project management office or PMO. This center is then staffed by a process architect or process analyst who works with business sponsors to determine what processes should be fixed up or redesigned using business process management. Developers and IT project managers can be called in to work on projects as needed.

"The process analyst or architect should build a map to look at the complexity of the process, how many systems tie into it, and how many departments or units it crosses into," Richardson said. "The greater number of systems, departments and activities, the more complicated the project."

At Noresco, Johnston has his IT project managers and system administrators work with the business owners and legal department on BPM projects. "We all wear a lot of hats in IT. So, many of the IT people fell into the role of being a process analyst," Johnston said.

A key part of this role is understanding processes, not just the BPM tools.

"They need training on how to develop a structured approach for BPM success," Miers said. "They also need specific skills in process modeling and process architecture -- which will help in designing processes and gaining experience."

IT folks should not be leading a BPM project. That's a recipe for disaster.

Derek Miers, founder, BPM Focus

Certifications can help. Richardson recommends CIOs consider BPM certification programs for their IT process analysts, to provide them with a framework for process selection and skills to deal with specific process issues from a 10,000-foot level.

Johnston highly recommends arming an IT BPM team with communications skills. BPM is all about communicating with the business units and asking them the right questions, such as "Is there a reason you want to improve this process and why? Is there real value in this?" He also tells his IT staff to avoid going into solutions mode. The business sponsors want to discuss the process, not the technology.

Richardson cautions that IT needs to build credibility and trust with business users, both by doing more listening at the start of a project and then bringing expertise to bear when appropriate.

"As IT becomes more business savvy, they can offer more feedback to the process, and become a more credible member of the team," Richardson said.

IT can also add value by pointing out potential timeline issues with BPM projects, such as parallel projects or system readiness issues that could cause delays.

In the end, IT's goal is to "force people to think in terms of 'What will give me the greatest value in the shortest time possible?'" Richardson said.

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