What’s more important in business process improvement initiatives – spending money on the technologies that enable them, or spending time changing the behavior of those involved in the process? And what are some best practices for doing the latter?

– Question from Gartner Symposium

Good tools just allow bad processes to fail faster and more efficiently. I’ve been part of a number of BPI/BPM initiatives and those that have tried to drive a process with the tool have ultimately failed (usually blaming their failure on the tool) while those that have built the processes and behaviors independently have been successful. In addition, tools come and go. Once the tool is gone or changed, the organization will backslide if they don’t understand and embrace the underlying processes and behaviors. Just ask any CMM, CoBIT or ITIL consultant.

The most pleasureable and smooth projects that I’ve worked on have been “bottom up”, allowing the people that do the work to be part of the process definition, analysis of the pain points and ultimately driving to a consistent set of processes that they feel pride and ownership in. Then the tool becomes just that; a tool to implement “their” process. We broke this down into a 6 step process:

-Develop Awareness – Explain why BPI and what’s in it for them. VERY IMPORTANT to be honest and direct as to why you want to do this. A lot of people assume that it’s a precursor to outsourcing/offshoring.

-Understand – Identify how they do things today and what their “pain points” are. Document the processes as they are and any issues. Don’t solve the problems. Just listen and document.

-Envision – What would make things better? In a perfect world, what would be changed? Define the ideal processes, procedures and workflows. Focus on what they can change and don’t let the group descend into complaining about things that they *can’t* change.

-Focus – Stress the goals of the overall BPI initiative and work with the workers to prioritize the proposed process changes.

-Implement – Implement, measure KPIs and publicize the successes. Address issues as things to be resolved, not as failures. Make sure that the team continues to be recognized for their improvements.

-Automate – Bring the process into a tool. While it’s generally easier to drop in a tool and use it to drive process, there is a bad habit of making the process fit the tool rather than the other way around.