Five Signs that a BPM Project is Going to Fail

Scott Francis
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Over on the BPM.com forums, Peter Schooff asked the question: “What is the first sign that BPM project is going to fail?” – it is a good discussion to read, but I also wanted to share my thoughts more directly with our readers of this blog.

Sign #1: Deeds do not back up Words.

We know a project is in trouble when the project team or the sponsors start engaging in revisionist history or fail to back up their words with deeds. One example:  “This is a critical project” followed by “we’re going to need to reduce the budget to fund an overrun in the Omnibus 21 project in another group” … BPM projects and programs largely succeed through leadership and expertise – and leadership starts with integrity and commitment-keeping – including sticking to the plan on the budget.  Usually the reason one group is over budget and another group is under budget has more to do with the teams than it does with the funding. Starving your top performing teams to fund your lowest performing teams is a recipe for disaster.

Sign #2: We’ve Always Done it this Other Way

Another bad sign is when we give sound advice to our customer, and they say  “I know you’re right, but I can’t do it that way, because that’s not how we do things here.”  How it is done here is a horrible reason to ignore what you know to be good advice.  Show some leadership and overcome the organizational objections or let us help you to do so.  If there’s a better way, and you’re convinced it is better, seize the moment.

Sign #3: The Scope is Fixed

“We have to deliver all of the scope in this requirements document.” Rome wasn’t built on a fixed-scope basis.  Great projects can be built on a fixed budget, but fixed scope is the antithesis of the kind of give-and-take that is required to make business processes work for a business.  Fixed scope says that we have nothing left to learn over the course of a project – so it had better be a short project!

Sign #4:  can’t make decisions about trade-offs of scope, budget, and time.

Alternately we hear: “I know you’re right, but you’re describing the gold standard and I just need ‘good-enough’ solution.”  If you’re other solution partners don’t know what the gold standard is, how can they possibly help you get to “good-enough”?  We want our customers to know what is possible, and then make intelligent trade-offs for scope, time, and budget, in order to create reasonable project successes.  We’re not in the habit of polishing cannonballs in BPM.

Sign #5: Thinking “B” Developers are the Path to Success

Worse yet:  “I don’t need the A-team, I just need some developers.”

Wow. Those statements are death to BPM projects. The mistake that these customers are making is thinking that “B” developers just take longer to write the same solution, at a lower rate per hour. “5 B developers is better than 1 A player.” What they’re misunderstanding is that every line of code is an obligation of maintainance in the future. A future cost.  Do you want 5 times as much code to be written by your B-class developers to produce the same business value, and thus obligate you to 5x the maintenance cost?  5 B-class developers will write a lot more bad code than one A player. And all of that bad code will cost you in the future – not just for the current project but for the future.  Not to mention, those 5 B-class developers may never get you over the finish line.  There are no points for 60% of a production solution that adds value. 

A good test of this attitude about how commodity technical talent is, is to ask if we could get 5 b-player PMs or directors or VPs to replace them. Surely that would be better for the business, right?

Getting on the Right Path

These pitfalls are surprisingly easy to avoid for customers.  Don’t let bad habits get in the way of leading and doing the right thing for your business.  Be prepared to fight for budget by having your business case well-understood. Be prepared to make smart cuts if needed by having your scope prioritized by value and delivered in sprints.  Be prepared to deliver to production by making intelligent trade-offs along the way, knowing what the future might hold if more business case can be made for the gold standard.  And be prepared to deliver by having a great team doing the work for you.  Five bad plumbers won’t get your pipes fixed.  Don’t let 5 bad developers try to fix your business processes…

 

 

 

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