Will 50% of BPM Programs Fail?

Scott Francis
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David McCoy of Gartner recently commented on Elise Olding’s prediction that 50% of BPM Programs will fail.  This is initially a fairly stunning prediction when you are as aware as I am of all the BPM project successes out there, but the interpretive notes matter in this case.  As David points out:

  1. The failure potential is at the program level and not at the project level.
  2. The main cause of death will be failing to create a credible Business Process Competency Center (BPCC).
  3. We published this research in our annual Gartner Predicts piece on BPM.

My thoughts:  item 1 is spot-on.  Project success is not enough to assure Program success.  In fact, I’m surprised the 50% number that Gartner predicts for program failure isn’t higher based on this notion alone.  In some circles the prediction of success for any one project isn’t higher than 50% (My experience with BPM projects is that the success rate is much higher). But getting out of the “project” box and into the broader spectrum of a Program is harder.  It takes real, effective, leadership.  That leadership must be accompanied by effective tools and methods.  And these in turn have to be adequately funded for the program to succeed.  As an example in another space informs me:  I’ve seen SOA programs fail after having project success because the SOA team is underfunded, understaffed, and as a result, is perceived by the business and the rest of IT as under-responsive and ineffective (friction to project success rather than grease). Item 2 – that the main cause of death will be a failing to create a Business Process Competency Center – I have to disagree with that assessment.  A BPCC is an outgrowth of a successful program, rather than a cause.  The causes of success are leadership, tools, method, funding, staffing.  The organizational side-effects are secondary effects. For example, any center of competency (BPCC in this case) without adequate leadership will get pulled apart by competing demands and inability to prioritize. A BPCC without adequate funding can’t satisfy enough of the demand – so either projects will happen without the blessing and expertise of the BPCC, or projects will be delayed for lack of support from the BPCC, or projects will go a “non-BPM” direction due to lack of BPCC support.  We can look to SOA competency center experience for guidance.  When the enterprise integration or SOA competency center couldn’t provide resources, projects would resort to ad-hoc point-to-point integrations.  When those P2P integrations weren’t allowed, projects were delayed or canceled while waiting for Competency Center support – often forgoing large Return on Investment opportunities. A BPCC without the tools and methods will fail to deliver consistent, measureable success. Of course, one could argue that the very definition of a Center for Competency would be that it includes good method and tools! Having said all that, Sandy Kemsley provides a very good summary of Elise Olding’s webinar on the first 100 days as BP director – and in that summary, Elise gives very sound advice on the topics of staffing, strategy, governance, and getting results.  Its a lot to chew on in 100 days, but if your title is BP Director, I think you had better figure 100 days is the time frame in which you can start reporting measurable progress as well as a plan for the remainder of the year.

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