The Role of Corner Cases in BPM

Scott Francis
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In a previous article, the Six Barriers to BPM Adoption in the Enterprise, #4 was “The Bus Brake Effect”.  The short version is that anyone on the bus can pull the break and stop everyone’s progress.  For many organizations, that is true of their BPM efforts (and indeed, most IT efforts).  The problem is especially acute for BPM programs because BPM touches so many different parts of the organization. I recently read Steve Blank’s article on killing innovation with corner cases, and it really struck a chord for me.  He correctly points out that this problem is even more acute when you have a lot of smart, confident people in the room.  His take on corner cases is almost perfect for either exceptions or corner cases for BPM:
A corner case is an objection that may be:
  1. technically reasonable
  2. may have a probability of occurring
  3. its probability of occurring is lower than your probability of running out of money.
In the context of Steve’s article, discussing startups, his point is that running out of money is more important than any number of corner cases.  We could look at BPM a little differently, because we’re not going to run out of money – but how about the probability that your project runs out of budget?  or that your process improvement project doesn’t achieve positive ROI? Steve’s suggestion, with which I concur, is:  Listen to the objection or corner case.  Ask the objector to calculate the odds, and estimate the damage.  When you multiply the two together, you get your expected economic impact (a 10% probability of a $100 event is a $10 expected outcome…). The beauty of the approach is that it can help keep your meetings productive, and once people see your tactic, they’ll anticipate it and save you a lot of wrangling in front of 20-person meetings. It also is a teachable point of view on how to handle objections – something people can do for themselves even when you’re not in the room or in the discussion.  It sure seems like a good way to mitigate the bus-brake effect!

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