Business Brains

Want to change a business process? Think like a politician

Posting in Technology

At least one-third of business process management projects are doomed because IT managers failed to seek organizational buy-in, according to a new prediction from research firm Gartner.

Every logical person will admit that one logical way to help a company become more efficient or to drive new revenue is to introduce more discipline into its business processes. Business process management (BPM) applications can help facilitate and formalize those changes through technology, but organizational politics often prevent BPM software pilots from making it beyond test deployments, according to a new proclamation from research firm Gartner.

Gartner figures that at least one-third of BPM projects will fail to make it out of the proof-of-concept phase; that's a disheartening percentage when you consider the rapid pace at which smart, social businesses are evolving. The reason for these failures is that the people beyond those efforts have failed to account for a very important success factor: ensuring that the right teams and influencers outside of the IT organization support the initiative.

Notes Gartner research director Elise Olding:

"BPM as a discipline requires an organization to change its culture and its work practices. However, very often, this change can lead to power struggles between functional units or an unwillingness to adopt new ways of working, sometimes from senior individuals. These organizational politics can kill a BPM initiative if they are not managed effectively."

There are several ways that project leaders can help improve their chances of success when it comes to inspiring the sorts of organizational changes often needed to support BPM software deployments.

  1. Establish a common, identifiable goal. The more metrics, the better. It could be as simple as showing that the new workflow cuts cycle times or that it frees up people to concentrate on more meaningful work. In the case of one group of the company demonstrating how other divisions can benefit, it is important to make it less about individual improvements and more about the collaborative opportunity.
  2. Find vocal champions. While it is certain important to win the support of senior managers, building grassroots support is also important. After all, these are the people who have to actually use this stuff.
  3. Solicit feedback and address it, for real. If the people intimately involved in the process being changed feel like your team is giving their ideas and complaints more than just lip service, you will increase your chances of success.
  4. Make it a game. One trend that Gartner continues to trumpet is the idea that the same sorts of behavior motivators found in popular computer games can be applied to applications within a business context. An example would be simulations used for training purposes. I'm still wrapping my ahead around this, but stranger things have happened in business IT -- and much more quickly than anyone anticipated. Apple iPad anyone? Why not business process changes?

In any event, the Gartner prediction is another reminder that it is short-sighted to try to dictate the use of some game-changing (pun intended) software application or technology if your team has failed to woo the right constituents deep in the heart of the business. Someone to ponder over the next four years as post-recession businesses consider collaboration and social business applications that promise to rewrite the way we all work.

(Thumbnail image by Carlos Sotelo, courtesy of Stock.xchng)

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure