Is there an ongoing role for a central process support group, or will it inevitably become redundant? Does working in such a group (a) open many exciting opportunities or (b) kill your career? Is there life after peak support?
TL;DR — yes, (a), yes.
1. Providing centralized support
In this article I'm thinking of a BPM or process team that provides support services to the rest of an organization. I'll call this the Office of BPM (OBPM), but it goes by many names: Center of Excellence, Center of Expertise, BPM Group, Those Annoying People From The 4th Floor, etc. Perhaps the thinking also applies to other types of central support group.
The question of the ongoing role for such a group goes to the heart of what a support group is for and how that role and scope changes over time.
In my view the main objective of the OBPM should be to raise the process management and improvement capabilities of the rest of the organization. It is not the role of the OBPM to do all the process work for the organization. If that is the case, and they are successful, they soon become a bottleneck; they become the OPPI, i.e., the Office for the Prevention of Process Improvement!
There is no need for an OBPM to be involved in all process improvement projects (PIP) or other process-related activities. Keeping in mind that all work gets done through business processes, and we accept the idea of continuous improvement, the OBPM would be impossibly busy and conflicted if it were to be involved in all process activity.
Clearly, it's not the OBPM's mandate or intention to take over management of the whole organization. The CEO thinks she already has that covered. Its objective is to help everyone else improve organizational performance in meaningful and sustained ways through repeatable, systemic approaches to practical process-based management.
Think of an OBPM as an internal consulting company providing support and guidance to the rest of the organization. It has a list of services it provides and a standard delivery model — of course, it will also have (better have!) the best-managed processes in the organization!
In addition to its services role, the OBPM is also the compliance manager for process analysis, improvement, and management work. Some things should be standardized and managed centrally — modeling tool, process architecture, process improvement methodology, etc. However, if the OBPM is known mainly as the 'process police' then it will, rightly, struggle to survive.
2. Reaching peak support
There is an apparent tension between the objective of raising the process management and improvement capabilities of everyone else in the organization and the not-unreasonable desire for the OBPM team to avoid irrelevance and oblivion. If the OBPM continually raises the process capabilities of those they support, will there eventually come a time when the OBPM is no longer necessary, or worse still, a time when they are perceived to be no longer necessary even if they are doing good and important ongoing work? At high levels of BPM maturity, is the organization so good at BPM that it no longer needs support?
Let's first be clear about an important point. If at any time the OBPM cannot point to proven business performance improvements that are coming from its involvement with business units, then it should be shut down. You can't be the public evangelist for process-based management and preside over processes that are not delivering appropriate value.
To avoid this being a very short article let's assume here that the OBPM is helping to deliver proven, acknowledged business benefits by raising capabilities across the organization. Is it possible for them to do that so well that they are no longer needed?
Let's examine what success look like.
For a support group, successful outcomes might be measured in three ways:
- Those to whom support has been provided happily (and frequently!) acknowledge that the support was valuable.
- Those for whom support has yet to be provided understand that valuable assistance is available and can be trusted, know how to access it, and intend to do so.
- Decision makers acknowledge that there is a significant positive return on the investment in the support group.
What do we need to do to get to this happy state?
Communicate clearly and often about the overall business benefits of process-based management. Use real projects to show the process success journey from the process architecture down to lower-level processes, definition of process KPIs, collection of performance data against those KPIs, governance decision making about which performance gaps to close, process improvement project analysis, and finally change project implementation, all the while with continuous process governance in play. A deep dive from the highest level of theory to the nitty-gritty reality of business benefits delivered, tested, valued, and celebrated.
Use every channel available — email, presentations, social media, posters, screens, webpages — to communicate targeted messages to the different stakeholder cohorts. Develop a communications strategy and plan, and track and assess the outcomes. Don't just hope someone reads your tweets and emails. Hope and passion won't be enough; we need a sophisticated marketing campaign.
Enable the use of properly-certified internal or external resources. Support will require skills in many areas including facilitation, modeling, process analysis methods, architecture development, and KPI determination.
It would be a useful (and ongoing) service to accredit individuals at various levels of competency in these required areas. This could apply both to internal staff and to a panel of external contractors and consultants. In this way the OBPM can help assure quality, make trusted resources available, and protect the common elements like architecture, modeling conventions, process improvement methods, etc.
The role of an OBPM should change over time. See Figure 1. If it is meeting its overall objectives of increasing capability across the organization, then the nature of its involvement should change and, as a percentage of an increasing overall effort, reduce. Business involvement is not zero at the start, and OBPM involvement never gets to zero, but there are significant changes in who does what.
If process management and improvement are important, and of course they are, then a deliberate, proactive plan for increasing BPM maturity is crucial.
This requires regular assessments and communication of results along with an OBPM roadmap for achieving the target levels for the next assessment.
Not only is this good practice, it is a powerful way to communicate the process-based management idea and to engage stakeholders in collectively improving.
In all this the worst outcome for effective and sustained process-based management is for the OBPM to be seen to be now 'in charge' of all processes. "It's a process problem so the OBPM must fix it" is a thought that should never exist, let alone be expressed. The OBPM is there to support those who have process governance and execution roles; it is not there to take over.
3. Surviving excellence
What should an OBPM team do to make sure that their good work is appreciated and funded well beyond peak support?
Here are some strategies:
- Focus! Focus! Focus! Decide where the best return-on-process will be and stay focused. Make a difference; don't end up a 'mile wide and an inch deep'.
- Publish info & plans: Tell everyone what you are doing. Use every channel and touch every stakeholder. If you don't explain what you are doing and promote your successes, who will?
- Brief decision makers: Not all stakeholders are equal. Who will you need to make decisions in your favor in the future? Start briefing them now.
- Be a solution, not a new problem. Imagine a busy manager in your organization. You turn up to talk to them about process-based management. Do they groan or cheer?
- It's not about you. Apart from you, nobody is more than mildly impressed with how much you know about process-based management — unless you can give them practical help.
- Prove it! Prove your worth with facts about valued business performance improvements that have been delivered — assertions of value are not enough; show the evidence, show it often.
- Take your own advice. If you evangelize process-based management, and want to be credible, you'd better make sure the processes in which you are involved are very well managed.
- Offer useful services. Think of the OBPM as an internal consulting company. Document and promote the services you offer, including success stories.
- Create events. Produce physical and virtual events that bring some or all the organization together to discuss, debate, and celebrate process-based management.
- Be a trusted adviser. Give good advice. Be useful. Help define and solve problems. Build trust.
The most important factor in a central support group remaining relevant is to be … relevant. Is there an ongoing role for an OBPM? Yes, for as long as it provides valued support. The support requirements will change over time, but the opportunity to be useful is permanent.
 Roger Tregear, "Mind the Gap: Practical Process Governance," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 20, No. 7, (Jul. 2019), URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2019/b998.html
 Maybe. Not really. Well, maybe a little bit annoying.
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