By Mark Butler | Business Process & Organizational Change Management

The topics of BPM and Organizational Agility might be two of the most frequently discussed topics in the arena of business today. Only in the recent past have I observed that these two topics have been discussed as tightly coupled concepts… but even then, not often. So, I’m excited to share some ideas on Business Process Management with you from a perspective that I hope will stimulate some thinking, and which you will find to be of significant value and insight.

Let’s begin by first establishing a baseline definition of what BPM is, and then a brief review of the Value Proposition of BPM. So what does this term “Business Process Management” mean?

For the purpose of this post, let’s begin with a simple definition.

BPM is a methodical and structured approach to improving business performance by optimizing:

  • the governance
  • and efficiency
  • and the execution

of both core and administrative business processes.

And yes, of course, there is no doubt much more to it than this, but this should be sufficient for now.

The point here is that BPM isn’t just some feel-good touchy-feely exercise. It is, or at least should be, a serious discipline that can readily be laser targeted on improving business performance. This definition with the word “optimize” in the middle then leads us right into the matter of the value proposition of BPM. It certainly is a fair question for a decision maker to ask, “How does BPM help our bottom line?”

Fortunately, the answer to this question is fall-down easy. We share a fairly common set of goals or outcomes we expect from Business Process Management related projects; and these certainly will not be news to you. Much like everyone else in this business, we always focus on achieving cost reduction, quality improvement, decreasing cycle times (or increasing speed), and improving customer and employee satisfaction.

When you look at the math behind those terms, it is easy to see that every one of these four aspects has a direct impact on the bottom line of the income statement. BPM really is all about improving the profit margin, which naturally results in the fifth aspect of improved revenue generation.

That said, it is our opinion that perhaps the most important purpose or outcome of BPM is actually enhanced Organizational Agility. Now this may not be an idea or concept most folks would expect to hear in relation to this topic of BPM. So hopefully, this particular spin piques your interest.

We feel this concept is mission critical, so let’s take a minute or two to explore what we mean.

Along with other thought leaders, we’ve been saying for awhile now, that, due to disruptive factors at play in today’s business environment, companies must be able to…

  • recognize
  • embrace
  • implement

…changes in their business operations quickly and effectively on a continuous basis in order to remain viable and competitive as an entity. And we don’t see this ever going away.

Recognize is about being observant. Embrace is about having the courage to commit. Implement is about having the skills to design and lead change initiatives.

The pace of and demand for adaptation and change in business organizations (either company transitions or transformations) is only going to increase at an increasing rate over time.

An organization’s ability to do this – that is, recognize, embrace, & implement change efficiently and effectively – is a clear indicator of their Organizational Agility (we might call it their Agility Quotient!) As obvious as that may seem, the fact remains that this agility does not appear to be a common or competitive characteristic of most organizations.

We believe Organizational Agility will be a defining characteristic between winners and also-rans in the years ahead. The landscape of business history is littered with the ashes of companies that didn’t understand this and were eliminated by more nimble and change-active competitors.

The need to respond effectively to the current rate of change can be a daunting challenge for most companies. It has been, and currently is for many of our clients.

I wish I could say that this can happen overnight, but clearly that is not the case. If it were, a whole lot of folks writing best-selling books on the topic would be much poorer today. No, it’s not rocket science, but it isn’t a simple game of tic-tac-toe either. It does require some time, resources,  sponsorship, and skills… but this really isn’t optional if you want to remain in business and thrive.

And since you can’t boil the ocean, clearly there are ways to get started on a smaller scale with this important work; then you can scale up as you get some traction and establish a baseline upon which you can build a broader BPM mentality (dare I say culture) that will enable the organizational agility needed to realize a brighter future.

Operational Agility

Operational agility is defined as:

“That condition which naturally results from the specific mixture of and the alignment between a company’s interdependent people, process, and technology dimensions of business operations.”

Further, it is our opinion that this agility is the natural and cumulative outcome of all projects undertaken under the umbrella of improving organizational performance honoring this commitment to deliver balanced solutions – solutions where the project teams gave appropriate and sufficient attention to all three disciplines. What we most often observe is that the lion’s share of projects are seen and approached as purely “technology” plays with insufficient attention paid to process, and even less to the people dimension.

People, Process, Technology

The people, process, technology dimensions of this triangle must be fully addressed as a whole in any given initiative for the project to achieve optimal adoption and usage.

This adoption and usage thing is very important to us because the level and pace of organizational adoption and usage is usually the single biggest determinant of whether or not the project will be considered successful by both the front line and executive stakeholders.

Thus, the rate of organizational adoption and usage is the real KPI of an organization’s agility – the ability to implement change quickly and effectively. Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan refers to this as being “Change Friendly” in his most recent book, “Change Friendly Leadership.” So the question for you to consider is this: “Is your organization Change Friendly?” Are your processes, people and technologies “change friendly, or are they brittle and resistant to change – even when the very survival of a company depends upon it?

Brittle and resistant cultures are not able to observe, embrace, nor implement change when they need to, or at the speed necessary. I recently read that as many as 52% of companies that were in business 10 years ago no longer exist today.