Finding Value with BPM, Part 1: You Won’t Always Find Productivity Gains in Spreadsheets

Just about every conversation about business process starts with some promise of “increased productivity” and ends with at least one party frothing at the mouth in anticipation of a demonstrable improvement.  (“Just how much productivity improvement did we see?”)

There are all kinds of formulas for deriving a metric for business process improvement (BPI). Just as numbers and percentages can be impressive, so, too, can they be deceiving. Each organization operates with its own set of goals and relies on performance indicators to determine its success. As a result, it is difficult to provide a specific number or percentage that indicates better or more productivity. (Remember the old adage about the shady accountant who, when asked to do the books, said, “Just tell me what you want the numbers to be, and I’ll make sure they add up that.”) We all can identify impressive numbers however they will probably not be defensible, nor appropriate, for making reliable business decisions.

Surprisingly, we find that the same principle applies to many vendors who will show prospects a ‘25% increase in productivity or a 31% decrease in redundant processes.’ Those numbers are likely to be unique to a certain industry or to a specific organization.  Applying the logic, process and BPM software for an auto manufacturer doesn’t automatically equate to identical success with a chain of donut franchises. This isn’t news to anyone who has ever scoped out or implemented an automated workflow process, yet it is still how software is often sold!

We, on the other hand, believe that making decisions regarding how you develop your BPM system requires knowing what you ultimately want to achieve — and the results you will use to determine your success. To start, there has to be agreement within your organization that using BPM software begins with a specific mindset.  We initiate BPM with one fundamental understanding:   when we talk about automating any set of processes the result is, often, changes in the way those processes are performed. The hope (and goal), is that the automation alters things to a point where the organization recognizes and eliminates waste, reduces and eliminates redundancy, and identifies a “better way.” That is not necessarily a Holy Grail, but if anything ‘should’ be derived from a focus on business process management (BPM), it is that a “better way” inherently brings with it an increased sense of how to achieve increased productivity.

With this new mindset you can truly begin to apply business change management to what you are doing. Some organizations leave this aspect of business change to training (and to pleas about “working smarter.”)  That is a tall order for any organization – as businesses do not (and cannot) come to a grinding halt while we figure out how to change the way we work. BPM tools institutionalize this new way of doing business – and automating business processes is probably the simplest yet most impactful aspect of a BPM system.

If your organization’s mindset is geared towards thinking through its processes in a thoughtful, rational way, then in automating these processes you will start to see tangible changes to productivity: fewer people required to perform certain tasks, less time needed at decision points, greater transparency and more flexibility.

Consider implementing a BPM framework at Lucille’s Global Widget Corporation and another at Fred’s Fish Hatchery. The decision points and actions for effective widget production are completely and totally different from what is required to hatch fish (or breed fish… I’m not altogether clear on what hatcheries do.) Lucille sees a 17% increase in productivity that is saving her $5.3M over her closest competitor. Fred, meanwhile, is increasing his company’s productivity by 38% which, as it turns out, is ‘average’ for those in his industry. Both are reaping huge benefits and both require constant attention to the methodologies and management of their BPM tools. Both are feeling positive about the improvements to their businesses — and both can point to automation of processes as the main reason for these improvements.

There is no doubt that the value in implementing BPM is real.  Ask any of our customers! They are saving real money; money they are re-investing in their businesses and distributing as increased profits.  Part of that “real” value, however, lies in knowing they have a solution that fits their needs and is specific to their businesses.

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