Posted by: Adam Deane | 01/06/2011

BPM: Business Politics Management

Buiness Politics ManagementPolitics is part of every organisation.
People don’t like change. Most see it as a threat, a loss of their power or a loss of the security in the old way of doing things.

They worry how the change will affect them and become apprehensive. These people are prone to defend the old way, some out of habit and out of unease.
Knowing how to deal with these situations is challenging.

Jacob Ukelson coined a great acronym for BPM. A cousin of our traditional Business Process Management definition.
He called it Business Politics Management.

For those that don’t have the luxury of working in an ivory tower, and actually need to go to customer sites and interact with people – Organisational Politics is one of the hardest, yet interesting parts of any BPM implementation.

Every company has internal politics. The bigger the organisation – the “better”.
Sometimes the BPM system has been brought in to help sort out the mess.
Sometimes BPM is the one that causes the mess.

Knowing how to deal with internal politics is a skill. An important skill.

Everyone will tell you the right way to design a business process – is by designing it around the business procedure, not around people.
But in real life you find that you need to “bend” the process around political obstacles.

The task should go to head of the department for his review. But everyone knows that Mister X needs to be bypassed. Sometimes it’s because he is a slacker, he will never do the task, he has been in the organisation for years, he doesn’t care about the “procedure” and there is no one to discipline him. Sometimes it’s because he is too powerful and can get away with murder. In any case, trying to force the process to make him do the task will end in tears. The best way is to bypass.

And then you’ve got the department head that wants EVERYTHING to go past him, or the manager who demands to be included, not because his review is required, but because it makes him look important.

Some of these political issues are quite amusing. Part of the fun. Most can be dealt with by being flexible enough to include these “political requirements”.
Ok.. so the process will not be 100% optimised (no simulation needed here), but you’ve managed to take the thorn out, enabled the process to go-live, to be accepted, something to start with, “a bird in your hand is worth two in the bush”.
Who knows… maybe the process can change later on… (ah.. who am I kidding here..)

But then you’ve got the political issues that can cause a real risk to the project.
Go-live is a time when people get nervous as this is a proof point, therefore the preference is usually to delay rather than progress.
When a Go-Live gets delayed, the delay can add an additional 3 or 4 months plus to the project schedule. In extreme cases, the Go-Live won’t happen as more and more requirements are added to create the “perfect” solution.

And don’t forget the System Administrator. His job is to sit and guard the systems.
He only knows one word in english – “No”
And what about the IT managers that have been working for years using a waterfall methodology. Try explaining to them that BPM requires an agile development approach…

Now to be honest, I must admit that I enjoy participating in some of the political games. Getting a BPM solution implemented in a heavily political organisation is quite a challenge. Succeeding is very rewarding.
I’m getting quite good at it. I’ve learnt to be a diplomat. “The emissary”. Sometimes I find myself as the only person everyone is willing to talk to. Fun and games…

Politics is part of every organisation. Dealing with it is an art on its own.
It’s not part of any official BPM training you’ll ever get, you can’t model it in BPMN and no software solution can ever solve it. … or can it? …


  1. Absolutely spot on Adam… something we always come up against in our case study research too. Of course there are factors that can mitigate against some of these points, such as where there’s a mandate for change from the very top and when the process of change is inclusive and open (and being led by a skilled team). I’ve seen situations where thorny political issues are squashed by “delicate shaming” – ie you use collaborative workshops etc to build an overwhelming case for a proposed change that clearly has widespread backing, and challenge any difficult individuals to counter the proposal.
    The culture isn’t always right for this to work, but I have seen it work. It’s just like the old saying though: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. You can sometimes swap “strategy” for “change” in that saying..

  2. Hi Adam, thanks for pointing out that BPM and BPMS won’t be used to optimize processes. Especially if they are either used as an enforcement tool or as a means to cement existing political structures. Therefore it makes no sense to install BPMS to optmize. You will simply be fighting against ingrained structures and the top-down enforcement of analyzed process is easy to sabotage by ‘civil disobedience’ or as Donnella Meadows called it ‘Rule beating’. In some contries it is even iilegal to monitor individual worker’s performance. Process management must simply make it easy to allow people to work as they want to work but just more supported and thus efficiently and at the same time create the top-down and bottom-up transparency to give everyone a change to optimize.

    In the end we are all lazy if we have half a brain and even that manager who needs to document his importance in the process will be happy if he has ALWAYS the option to step in and interact (interfere?). In the end he won’t do it. Truly, BPM and Social and all IT only succeed through ADOPTION. Do people want to use this? They will, if the get more autonomy, authority, and it makes their life easier. A typical BPMS doesn’t do anything like that.

    In most companies BPM projects create the fear of being replaceable. Meaning the good (epxensive?) people will leave, but maybe that was the intention all along. That is the truth about BPM politics and not dealing with people’s tantrums.

    • Max, I wonder whether you’re reading Adam’s post correctly: I don’t think he was saying “BPM and BPMS won’t be used to optimize processes”. Although I know that fits nicely with your own company’s position!
      BPM and BPMS are tools; they need to be complemented by organisational change management in many cases to achieve the desired outcome.

      Although – perhaps I’m wrong in my reading of what Adam said…?

      • First, what has this todo with my companies position? There is no such thing as a company line I have to follow. If at all, ISIS Papyrus product development is focused on providing solutions that consider my understanding of business reality rather than some idealistic, inhumane BPM theory and methodology.

        Adam wrote: “Everyone will tell you the right way to design a business process – is by designing it around the business procedure, not around people. But in real life you find that you need to “bend” the process around political obstacles.”

        Also: “And then you’ve got the department head that wants EVERYTHING to go past him, or the manager who demands to be included, not because his review is required, but because it makes him look important.”

        How are these statements pointing towards optimized processes being implemented? I totally agree with Adam that this is the reality of business politics. Which is why so many BPM efforts fall by the wayside in terms of actually delivering the benefits promised.

        Clearly we are all interpreting everything based on our convictions. That is human. BPM is as idealistic as Communism. In theory it should work. In reality it doesn’t because of the human element!

      • “Perhaps what we have here is a failure to communicate”.
        If one takes the dictionary definition of “optimize”, then you might be right; that is, making a process *completely* optimal using a BPMS isn’t possible because people’s needs get in the way.
        However what “optimal” means, all depends on what “process” means, doesn’t it? Taking the view that an optimized process is impossible with a BPMS kind of assumes that a “process” is an abstracted idealised version of reality that doesn’t take account of people’s behaviours, surely? Of course if one takes that view, then any attempt to optimize a process that’s not concerning an automated factory line will probably be doomed to fail.
        There are of course methods that lead you down that path, but the approaches that successful BPM projects tend to take are less rigid, and consider real-world effects and issues to be an intrinsic part of the process that needs to be improved. That is, they recognise that real-world processes have to embrace the needs (logical and otherwise) of the human participants – so “optimisation” effectively means “do the best you can while balancing the needs of all the stakeholders as far as possible”.
        I know where you’re coming from Max, but I don’t think it’s as simple as saying “BPM is as idealistic as Communism”. Perhaps some theories of Process Improvement are a bit like that – but I’ve seen quite a number of successful BPM projects now that eschew such views.
        Now I suppose, if you wanted to, you could argue that these couldn’t have been “BPM projects”… 😉

      • Thanks Neil, we most probably have a failure to define what is successful, not a failure to communicate. Clearly, the majority of BPM projects happen with the goal of cost reduction. Therefore reducing manpower is the primary interest which is hardly ever in the interest of ‘people’. It still would be successful in terms of reducing cost.

        I am not defining anything. I am commenting on approaches that try to improve how a business operates. I propose to empower people to execute processes as they see fit and create the transparency necessary to optimize without the “analysis, design, simulate, deploy, monitor, optimize” bureaucracy overhead that disowns the skilled people needed.

        Some even claim to reduce cost while improving quality and increasing revenue at the same time … and completely discounting the immense CoE bureaucracy expense as a necessary side-effect. Standardization is the unavoidable consequence to even make it feasable when what would be necessary is individualization. To take into account and embrace human needs is lost in most CoE standardization efforts.

        But again, I do agree with Adam that BPM can only be successful when it accounts for people and politics, but then it still doesn’t account for the fact that people are different and needs change. So why bother to hardcode processes in any way.

      • Neil, let me add that BPM would need to do no more than defining clearly the business objectives, targets, goals, skills and outcomes while defining authority and means to execute. These are the key elements of empowerment. BPM systems don’t have any of those parameters to be defined. They don’t even allow the definition of all necessary resources, espcially in the area of the content process carrier. The necessary Business Architecture defines all of these and must be an integral part of the BPM solution. Flowcharts aren’t really needed at all, but yes in some cases (especially for backend service orchestration) they can be helpful.

  3. Hi,
    you may want to have a look at this post by Scott Francis, together with the associated discussion:

    I think the two issues are quite related.

  4. Speaking about organizational politics, take a look at the influence mapping tool 😉

  5. interesting the focus here on design-time… jacob has a post very focused on run-time… and david and i were more focused on pre-conditions and post-conditions of a successful program (programme?) 🙂

  6. […] Politics Management June 1, 2011 // 0 Both Scott Francis (Leading from Below) and Adam Deane (BPM: Business Politics Management) did a good job of articulating and demonstrating how important politics are in implementing a BPM […]

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