BAs in a BPM world – What We Need To Know

If you were to assess the Building Business Capability (BBC 2010) event based solely on who showed up in the vendor showcase, you might rightly conclude, the event was all about Business Process.  The main sponsors for the event are heavyweights in the BPM arena:

Additional big players and tool vendors (Progress Software, AgilePoint, Experian, FICO, etc.) were ubiquitous, showcasing the latest and greatest ways to wire up the enterprise with sensors and nearly sentient real-time sentiment analyzers, to model complex processes and business rules, play out “what if” scenarios, deploy software “agents” into the flow, and then monitor and adapt to change in real-time. We’re far from reaching any freaky Kurzweilian Singularity point (go see the movie), but these platforms are reaching a critical mass, and it’s time BAs really pay attention.  More to the point, with such incredibly rich platforms to wreak havoc (oops, I mean “create change”) in the Enterprise, what questions should BAs be asking themselves?  What do we need to know to be effective agents in this arena?

Well, a good place to start is by getting to know a key industry player who also had a big presence at BBC 2010, and who has been paying attention and literally defining the emerging BPM market over the years – BP Trends Associates and their great online information portal, BP Trends. Incidentally, BP Trends Associates co-founder, Roger Burlton, is also one of the three co-chairs of the BBC event, and a very engaging man in his own right.  Participants at last year’s 2010 conference will long and fondly remember the workshop he presented, Process Says No.

To get a deeper historical perspective on the industry and how it has matured to this point, spoke with another one of the founders of BP Trends Associates, Celia Wolf, who is also a founder and publisher of BPTrends.  Celia provided me a graphic that they use to illustrate the whole end-to-end, soup to nuts, BPM methodology as they define it.  [click the graphic for full detail]

Celia’s point in sharing that graphic was to say,

“This is much bigger than simply automating existing processes. (the green boxes in the graph).”

She goes on,

“Automating existing process is fine, as far as it goes, but if that’s all you do, you’re likely doing nothing more than paving the cowpaths.  The real challenge is modeling, analyzing and re-designing your business processes (pink boxes) and more importantly, developing a business architecture and management and measurement systems at the enterprise level (purple boxes).”

Speaking with Celia gave me the queasy sense I used to get as a kid walking into the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC – the sense I’ll never be able to see everything, it’s too huge.  Celia and her business partners, Paul Harmon and Roger Burlton, have spent the better part of the last 20 years working with organinzations world-wide to enable them to design, measure and manage their processes to achieve overall performance.  I’ll probably devote a whole next article to the above graphic because it really holds the key to what Enterprise Architects (what BAs grow up to be some day) will be up to in the coming years.

But for now, a few of additional nuggets from Celia:

  • Key early milestone, Geary Rummler’s work.  Ever drawn swim lanes and used those in your requirements?  Then, thank Geary!
  • BPM is not new.  It’s as old as industrial processes themselves, but really took off in the 80’s and 90’s with a few companies doing “business process engineering”.  Think Toyota, Motorola.
  • BPMS does not equal BPM.  In other words, automating processes (pick your favorite platform) is not equivalent to doing BPM in its richest sense.
  • Pay attention to what happens with the new Process Knowledge Initiative joint venture between IIBA, BP Trends, the Objects Management Group (OMG), and Queensland University of Technology (QUT).  This will be a new standard for practitioners modeled on the other BOK’s  (PMBOK, BABOK, etc.), but this one is “open source” and will be called the PK_BOK, or Process Knowledge Body of Knowledge.  (I think they need to work on the redundancies in that name!)

To get more of a contemporary, in the field perspective, I interviewed HandySoft’s director of International Sales, Garth Knudson, who told me about his company’s growing awareness of the key role of the BA in their BPM projects’ success.  In fact, HandySoft is sponsoring a webinar on April 28th, 2011 on just this topic.  Garth offered his own perspective on how has BPM matured to the state it is today, and sees the major shift came when we moved from “documenting” process (think tons of Vizio diagrams), to actually “transforming” process (think workflow automation software that penetrates all tiers of an enterprise, busting open silos, and uniting people, products, machines, vendors, customers, etc. up and down a value chain).

Garth puts it succinctly:

“BPM is not just product. It’s really a philosophy stressing operational efficiency and effectiveness through greater control over and visibility into work. In order to have success with BPM you really need to combine management support for the philosophy, a great methodology (where BAs really help), good talent and a solid product.”

Enter a great HandySoft BA: Thea Turay

Thea’s career path reads like a classic “How I Got Into Business Analysis” story.  You’re probably familiar with the theme.  Liberal arts major, (English major in this case,) steps into the big wide world after college and lands a job in corporate America as a technical writer with T. Rowe Price.  From there, she held many titles in the SDLC at companies like UPS, EDS, MCI-WorldCom, Fannie/FreddieMac, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and 15 years later, she wakes up and says, “I’m a business analyst.”  During her run up the corporate ladder, the BPM toolsets mentioned above were evolving, which brings us to January 2011, when Thea’s skills and HandySoft‘s toolsets vectors merged.  HandySoft is betting that hiring BAs is going to make a BIG difference for their business process platform’s effectiveness.

When I asked Thea about the skills needed and attributes of an effective BA, given her experience and work with HandySoft, Thea describes and prioritizes those key attributes as follows:

  1. Communicative & Open
  2. Conversational
  3. Curious
  4. Strategic
  5. Detail-Oriented

Thea’s list kind of turns the BABOK’s priorities (which lists the Analytic/Problem Solving skills ahead of the Behavioral Characteristics) on its head.  In Thea’s experience, those “analytical” tools and methodologies run a distant second to the first order skills of communication and relationship building.  She said,

“Because, if you don’t build a trusting relationship with the business stakeholders, your other efforts at elicitation and solution assessment, scope, etc. will be compromised.”

Of course, that’s a truism in our field, but perhaps it’s even truer as we move up the “food chain” and start addressing VP and SVPs in process re-engineering work, and engaging these folks on some serious business change processes.  If we’re gonna rock their world by upsetting “how things are done”, they’re going to push back, ask us some tough questions.  We need to be able to go toe-to-toe with them and creatively challenge and engage them, in a warm and friendly way of course.  From my interview with Thea, I can tell she has that ability in spades.

Bottom line, process improvement, business intelligence and predictive analytics tools are here to stay, and they will continue to insinuate themselves more and more, not only into enterprises, but into our personal lives and interactions as well.  Whatever the philosophical implications, the business implications are clear.  With stakes this high, and the ability to do perhaps as much harm as good, you want to have really quality and smart folks working in a BA capacity on these sort of initiatives.

Or the way I like to say it…

“Technologies are like race cars; only as good as their drivers.”

Am I biased?  Yes, I’ve drunk the KoolAid.  I’m a card carrying IIBA member.  So, I will trumpet the role of BAs in emerging disciplines from the rooftops, or the blog posts.

But what do you think, am I over-evangelizing or over-selling the role of the BA here?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Curtis,

    I agree that after a platform has been selected, it is extremely useful for BAs to learn the toolset well. And prior to that, the BA learning about the various tools can be helpful when the organization is in the process of selecting the best tool for their particular needs, for comparison purposes. The problem happens when the actual requirements for process management take a backseat to a discussion about tools at a point in evaluation process in which there is no benefit in restricting your choices to a particular vendor or platform.

  2. Curtis Michelson says

    Adrianna, Anup,

    Let me offer a counterpoint here, and this is something that came up for me as a real tension while writing the piece. The reality for someone like Thea who works for HandySoft (a platform vendor and integrator), is that, she is a better BA precisely BECAUSE she knows the toolset so well. In a certain sense, her creativity and capability at facilitating stakeholder gatherings is constrained (and therefore in some sense enhanced) by the toolset’s (BizFlow in this case) limitations and capabilities. She told me that, to keep a project scoped and in budget, she has to be well trained on BizFlow, because she can steer the client in the right directions during the early creative process modeling and analysis stages.

    So, I know that’s not the ‘pure’ approach which I agree is ideal; namely, an approach that picks the toolset AFTER the requirements and high-level work. However, the reality in the field is, customers often come to projects with particular toolsets in mind, for a variety of reasons. For example, HandySoft does tons of government work in the DC area. So, Department ‘X’ tells their neighbor Department ‘Y’ that Handysoft’s platform worked great for them. So, Department Y is pre-sold on the platform, they just want the consultants to come in, facilitate the high-level requirements, and then run the implementation.

    So, ideal vs real. Plato vs Aristotle. And perhaps sometimes a combination of the two.

  3. Yes, Curtis and Anup, it’s encouraging to see IIBA make an effort to keep the conversation focused on the underlying concepts, with tools coming later, when you already know your requirements for process management and can then research the best tools and platforms suitable for your specific needs.

  4. Anup Mahansaria says

    Adriana, couldn’t agree more. Most of the time people get hung on the tool so much that they forget that at the end of the day it is a tool and should not be given more importance than the underlying concept.

    Curtis, thanks for pointing out that BPM existed much before the tools came by. What these tools are doing is making it easier and faster to implement business processes. This calls for greater understanding of the approach. Unfortunately, most of the industry focuses on the knowledge of the tool rather than the understanding of the concept.

    I wish IIBA is successful in getting the message across.

  5. Curtis Michelson says

    Amen Adriana. IIBA, to their credit, is doing their best to strike a balance at a conference like BBC between vendors/tools (which let’s face it, their sponsorships make the event possible), vs methodologies, philosophies, business and process management skills. For example, I was encouraged to see that the 2011 conference coming up in Fort Lauderdale will feature an additional Business Architecture track, and if you look at the description, it seems specifically designed to move the conversation squarely where you rightly suggest it should stay.

  6. Curtis, thank you for your great overview of what’s happening with BPM. I was glad to read, in the interview with Geary Rummler you linked to:

    “So, we’re in agreement that what’s necessary is a sound underlying methodology for looking at, understanding, and managing processes. And that there is a process improvement and management methodology that is distinct and separate from technology. And that the methodology might cause you to apply technology as part of what you’re doing (…) It’s not all about technology. In fact, I would say it’s not that much about technology at all.”

    I once went to a meeting with the president of the consulting firm I worked for before moving from NYC to Austin, in which she presented me to a client as someone who had been working with business process management. His first question was, “Oh, really? What tool are you specialized in?” I had to explain that the only tool I was using was Visio. It’s unfortunate that the excessive focus on vendors and tools end up shifting the focus from what BPM truly is — a disciplined approach to defining steps, decision points, and intended results so you can manage processes systematically to ensure you are achieving the expected results.



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