Posted by: Adam Deane | 25/08/2010

Who should lead a BPM project

BPM ProjectsThere has been some debate over who should lead a BPM project: IT or Business?

I try to steer clear of these kind of debates, but this one hit a raw nerve. Let me explain…

For the past few weeks I’ve been in the midst of a tough project.
I was brought in late in the game, the project is already behind schedule and everyone is a bit edgy.
It would be easy to blame project management, but that’s not the real reason.
The main problem is that the project is not led by the business.

I’m very business oriented.
Most of my projects are with customer’s business teams. Designing together, Developing together, Optimising together. They own the process. They change it. The focus is on solving the business problems.
Even if I’ve been sent to do a project with the customer’s technical team, I’ll go over to the business team, introduce myself, chat with them, get to understand the business pains they’re trying to solve, open up some kind of communication with them.

It’s not only a good practice, it also enables me to meet deadlines. If they’ve requested something that the product can’t do, or will take too long to implement, I’ll pop over to see if it’s a must-have, could it be postponed to phase 2, or if there any workaround. They’re not daft. They understand the concepts of priorities and working with timeframes.
Everyone is always happy with the end-result. The solution solves the business problem. They’ve designed it with me. They’ve built it with me. They own the process.

The current project is led by the IT.
The emphasis is on building a solid technical workflow platform that is rock-solid, yet scalable. It is a technical masterpiece.
Business targets? Business pains? It’s a bit vague. I’ve been given a technical spec.
I can already see the problems that the end-users will have, but I can’t do anything about it. I need to stick to the spec. Business is not involved and I can’t approach them.
It’s a pure IT project. Complete the technical development first, then hope it will actually solve the business issues.

BPM projects that are run by IT tend to turn into complex technical applications, instead of “keep it simple” business solutions.
BPM projects that are created by the IT tend to be rigid processes instead of flexible.
BPM projects that are created by the IT – lose the business “ownership”
BPM methodologies, optimisation, monitoring and simulation – an afterthought.

So I’m a bit frustrated. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. It’s too late in the project for me to change working habits. I just have to slug it through. I can already see where the end-users are going to have problems. I can’t add functionality that isn’t in the spec. Aaaahhhh!

It probably sounds like I’m criticizing the business or IT management. I’m not.
Both teams have skilled managers, structured hierarchy, defined roles and responsibilities.
Everyone is playing by the book. So why isn’t it a huge success?
The project is an IT project, instead of a business project. Technical functionality ahead of business objectives.

So back to the question: Who should lead BPM projects?
The business should lead BPM projects, but the emphasis here is on the word “lead”.
Writing business specs and adding screenshots is not enough.
Leading the IT and showing them the way – is the correct approach.

Related articles:
Who Leads BPM Not as Important as Cooperation Between Business, IT – Ann All
In BPM, “B” Stands for “Business” – Tom Allanson
IT get no respect in BPM projects – Robert Mitchell
Who Shall Champion Process Management? – Scott Francis


  1. Nice post Adam and right on target. That puts you in a very tough position.

    The right answer has to the business with heavy guidance from IT in a symbiotic partnership.

    The article that you list by Ann also provides some good insights into who should lead BPM projects.

  2. Adam, your post has an almost eerie similarity to a project I was working on some months ago. Same situation of IT completely owning a very ‘business’ process, with technical functionality ahead of business objectives as you put it. It took a lot of focussed recurring sessions with the business team to gradually put a collaborative approach and find a balance between the two.

    And youre right about neither being wrong. Like I had mentioned(, taking a stand on this need not be the wisest thing to do.

  3. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for the frankness of this post. I think many of us know the frustrations you are experiencing: when you can see the “big picture” of how a project should really be executed for best benefit, usefulness and success, but have no power to make it happen. Your post is a huge example of why work must change in the enterprise to be more collaborative with all appropriate stakeholders. And there are many enterprise solutions besides BPM that need much better orientation to business needs as well as healthy inclusion of business stakeholders.

  4. Great post Adam (as usual). You can see that is done from a BPMS vendor perspective. We see this all the time. Business made the decision to buy the BPMS with certain business outcomes in mind. IT are generally not the guys who starting the buying process as it may be in conflict with their own development aspirations. They do have the power of “no” in these sales are included in the buying decision. In many instances they take over or inherit the ownership as the BPMS is seen as an IT application.

    Our experience, like yours Adam, shows us that as soon as you put a BPMS in the hands of a developer, they code. Coding for them is like having a hammer. Everything becomes a nail. The fact that a Business Analyst or savvy process owner can configure 80% of a process without coding is irrelevant to them. They tend to turn a simple process into a complex one. Projects led by this type of IT organisation are generally less successful at achieving the originally anticipated business outcomes.

    We have found thought, that there are IT managers and CIOs that understand business and the objectives of the BPMS. We find that these people have KPIs that are business focussed rather than technical. BPMS (vs BPM) implementation projects led by these type of IT organisations have a better chance of success.

    Business should always remain the owner of a BPM project with the veto rights to drive project decisions that will achieve the business outcomes. Business should lead the project if they have the competence to manage project properly. The reality is that some IT organisations are better at leading these projects (if they have business interests at heart) as they have better IT project management competence.

    The fact remains that business should remain the owners and drive their demands of the system, rather than be dictated to developers that thrive on making simple things complex.

  5. […] Who should lead a BPM project soon as you put a BPMS in the hands of a developer, they code. Coding for them is like having […]

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