Social BPM – Reducing the Cultural Obstacles to Process Improvement

As BPM folk we are well aware that one of the major obstacles to BPM success is cultural. Most organizations are functionally orientated, organized on a vertical department basis; R&D, Manufacture, Customer Support, Marketing, IT, Finance, Sales and HR. Many business processes like warranty repair, complaint handling and order fulfillment however cut horizontally across many departments. As staff report to their individual department leaders naturally this is where their loyalty and commitment lies. Business process owners, if they exist, thus have the responsibility for the success of their process but none of the authority to ensure it is delivered.

A cultural as well as IT change is required if successful business process improvement is to be achieved. Organizations must begin to view the organization from a process rather than a departmental perspective.  Staff must perform the mental shift to realize that the department is there to support the process and understand that the business is in effect is the sum of its individual processes.

Outside of complete reorganization, businesses make regular attempts to facilitate this mental change. From goal setting to team building organizations attempt to forge stronger bonds between departments in order to improve process performance. In many cases despite initial good intentions to foster improved cross departmental bonds over time departments drift back to the norm.

This represents the big opportunity for Social BPM. Many commentators view Social BPM from the context of collaborative process design or the ability to trigger processes from social media events. While interesting use cases the major opportunity for Social BPM lies in its ability to support business process improvement initiatives by fostering closer alignment of the organization along process lines. Enhanced collaboration between departments facilitated by enterprise social networks help to blur the lines between departments, building trust and supporting the rapid sharing of ideas and problems. While organizations remain in their department structures enterprise social networks will help to improve interdepartmental collaboration ultimately improving process performance and the likelihood of process improvement success.

Social BPM thus represents an opportunity to eliminate one of the key barriers to success for many BPM projects, organization culture. Social BPM will allow organizations to deliver not only process change but mental change at the same time.

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6 thoughts on “Social BPM – Reducing the Cultural Obstacles to Process Improvement

  1. Interesting article and agree that enterprise social networking tools used in the context of process will help to break down silos. However I think there are other barriers that block or obscure a true process view of the organization for most participants in those processes. The current approaches to BPM tend to be overly technical or the domain of specialist analysts. This creates the perception for many workers that ‘process’ is something that other people do.

    I’ve written about Social BPM before and my view is that for it to be social it must be much more than a ‘micro-blog’, ‘activity stream’ or whatever term the analysts have come up with for a Fadebook for the enterprise. BPM should be accessible to everyone for it to be social and that means more than being able to post messages to each other.

  2. As we look at collaboration across an organisation, people are invariably asking themselves ‘how can we do this better! And not what is our current process, how can we map it and how can we improve that process? BPM tools do not need to be licensed enterprise wide, they just need to be accessible to those who can utilise them to tease out “how can we do this better” and the real purpose and need behind doing it better.
    As you say Peter, “In many cases despite initial good intentions to foster improved cross departmental bonds over time departments drift back to the norm.” Fundamental people will be consistently who they are and not who they are not. This is the same for the departments and their perceived identity.
    The cultural change and understanding of why that change is required is paramount before implementing the tools.
    The enterprise social network will as you say help to improve the interdepartmental collaboration, though mainly for the few. The success for the few here may well demonstrate to others how change can be achieved and how the utilisiation of Social BPM has been instrumental in that change and the improvement in process. To the delight of customers!

    • Karl I would disagree that “BPM tools do not need to be licensed enterprise wide”, unless you specifically mean BPA tools. You comment that “people are invariably asking themselves ‘how can we do this better!’. Indeed they do and I believe part of the challenge, and benefit, of SocialBPM is crowd-sourcing that knowledge. I’m not talking about every person in an organization drawing process diagrams, I agree that is for the few, but in order to capture the ‘improvement’ knowledge of the crowd they need to be able to visualize the processes they participate so that they can contextualize and articulate how they believe things can be done better. Otherwise they will continue to ‘ask’ themselves how to do it better without actually ‘doing’ it better. Only with a well managed, engaging and easy to understand approach to process will achieve this. I must concede though that tooling does not change culture and that is often not recognized/understood.

  3. Hi Craig, I find the concept of having people visualize the process they participate in in order to encourage them to ask themselves “how to do things better” but in a process mindset. Do you have any examples or suggestions of how to make these procesess evident and engaging to company personel?

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