Respecting the Business User

Gartner recently released seven guidelines for business process management (BPM) success, all of them being conceptual priorities and strategies as opposed to technical specifications. The recommendations, led by VP and distinguished analyst Bill Rosser, are designed to help companies determine which BPM projects to pursue.

Of these seven guidelines (summarized here on eBizQ), amongst them “limited scope,” “high value,” “clear alignment to goals,” “the right metrics,” “goal agreement,” “enthusiastic business sponsor” and “business user engagement,” I want to focus my discussion on the last two.

Gaining the support of a “business sponsor” and engaging “business users” is integral to the success of any BPM project, but for reasons beyond those listed in the original press release. An enthusiastic business sponsor shouldn’t just be the senior executive who will benefit from the project – he should play a primary role in authorizing it, allocating budget for it and implementing it. Rather than be a “cheerleader” for the IT team presumably pursuing the BPM project in the first place, the business leader should be, well, leading it.

The second point of contention is the idea of engaging business users for BPM project success. In the press release, Gartner phrases the advantages of this course of action: “getting them on board typically means offering a fresh perspective on how to look at what they do in their jobs, and making a process view easy to understand and intriguing.”

The idea of encouraging IT to see things from a business user’s perspective is commonly advocated by a variety of BPM experts, not just Gartner, and on face it seems like a very civil, collaborative means of moving forward. My issue with IT trying to make things simpler and more “intriguing” for business users, however, is that it elicits at the very least a mild sense of condescension.

Forgive me if I’m examining this from too granular a perspective, but the vision that comes to mind when imagining IT professionals trying to position the jobs of business professionals in an interesting way is that of a big brother guiding his smaller, less experienced sibling and showing him how to tie his shoes (except in this case, the younger brother is 37 with a master’s degree in marketing). Ultimately, the idea of asking IT users to design a process view so that business users – those who directly drive the creation, implementation and successful resolution of business processes (and therefore BPM) – can understand them is patronizing.

This is the counter-productive result of putting one group in charge of addressing the needs of an entirely different group, and by no means is attributable to any one organization or influencer. I have a special appreciation for business users and their needs because I see the level to which they’re disenfranchised; it’s why my company’s focus is on serving the needs of business users by letting them build and automate every process, saving IT from having to pay a house call and letting both groups focus on their own jobs. The presumption that IT should influence BPM in any way is damaging for both IT and business users because it’s convoluted. Those who need the solution should be able to create the solution. IT professionals will welcome the freedom to focus on things that actually affect them.

In implementing BPM or any sort of organization-wide project, please remember that “business users” are simply professionals whose expertise is in a subject other than programming.

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