Yes, it happens, and it isn't that rare. Companies with talented IT and finance people expend a lot of energy gearing up for business performance management (BPM), then commit to a BPM software solution or an approach that just does not work for them. The result is a performance system that either doesn't deliver on the original goals and objectives or is simply not accepted and adopted by the employees at large. In addition, it probably took much longer and cost much more than anyone had originally planned. Let's analyze the origins of these unwanted outcomes.

Business Requirements are Not Adequately Defined

BPM is concerned with tying business execution to the organization's strategy. Defining the requirements for BPM projects should begin with that strategy in mind. This helps balance the multitude of agendas that will be proposed once the project gets noticed.

If the strategy isn't clear or is too narrow, a group of participants is brought into the project or technical priorities are weighted too heavily, the business requirements may refuse to come into focus. When the business requirements are clear, the next step is to prioritize your pain points - where your internal systems and processes are challenged in addressing your determined requirements. Involve a range of participants in a structured discussion and don't rush it. It is key to keep politics out and make sure different areas of the company are adequately represented.

Too Focused on Technology

If the IT department dominates the selection phase, there may be much attention given to data structures, while business functionality gets overlooked.

The best results come when a company sets the business requirements, finds a vendor that can satisfy those requirements and conducts a technology review to ensure compatibility. If there are some ironclad technical requirements, they should be part of the initial vendor-screening process.

Inadequate Due Diligence

Products are too often chosen on the basis of slick demos and good vendor marketing. A common error is to invite vendors to give a demo and permit them to run their well-polished sales pitch instead of telling them what you need in order to address your specific business requirements. Your group may go away excited about capabilities and functions that you don't need or can't afford, instead of having answers to the nitty-gritty questions essential to improving your organization's performance. Be a dictator. Control the demos.

Due diligence can be lacking if the project group operates in an insular fashion - not looking for best practices and benchmarks and failing to learn where other companies have succeeded and failed. Lack of due diligence can also be the result of a company rushing to meet its own deadline with great pressure from above to nail down a decision and get on with it.

Inadequate Budget - Looking to Spend Too Little for the Requirements

Companies poised to adopt BPM often start with a misconception that it is an add-on module, priced more like a reporting tool than another enterprise system. In addition, organizations often try to make up for a budget shortfall by reducing the spend necessary for correct implementation of the product after the software is purchased.

These companies may see BPM as a slightly different kind of reporting or a way to beef up Excel analysis. As a result, BPM suffers from inadequate sponsorship and poor support from senior management. The budget won't match the task, and BPM ends up as a small IT effort, relegated to remote, backwater cubicles.

To get the system they need, the project group must accept trade-offs, and it is important they choose the right ones. Usually, this means sacrificing functionality to keep the number of seats required for the adoption of the system to be successful.

I have been in the position of helping companies cut their BPM requirements to fit their budget. Generally, they understand the need to involve a wide knowledge-worker population in using the system. Thus, they are more open to cutting down on the functionality they start out with in their original plans. For example, they may give up consolidation in favor of getting planning and budgeting into action.

Favoring Entrenched Solutions

IT sometimes wants to jump into BPM by expanding their current enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite rather than seeing if a BPM-focused software vendor can deliver a more robust solution.

The ERP vendor's BPM software can be expected to integrate with existing systems and work with a unified database; the IT staff already knows the underlying technology. Understandably, this is more comfortable for IT.

However, the business users will see it differently; they generally don't care about the underlying integration. They are focused on ease of use, depth of BPM functionality and reduced dependence on IT. In our experience, while integration needs to be addressed, the requests of the business users must be met or the system won't get the acceptance it requires to succeed.

Business users typically put the best-of-breed BPM application vendors atop their list of favorites. If IT gets to do what is solely best for IT, the system may never be fully embraced by the end users, so it ends up being underutilized. If you have a cold war between IT and finance over what BPM solution to choose, bring in a referee (a senior executive or neutral third party from inside or outside).

If you have been reading this column over the months, you know that I always recommend a structured, thorough approach: define requirements, control the demos, ensure requirements are met. Talk to any company that chose the wrong BPM solution and is experiencing the painful consequences, and you'll have all the motivation needed to follow my advice. 

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