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Are BPM Systems the “Treadmills of IT”? – Apex Process Consultants

Travelers Tower Art Installation

I read an article recently about low-code development platforms that compared Business Process Management Systems to treadmills. The writer argues that both are expensive investments, frequently acquired at the beginning of the year with the best of intentions, only to fall out of use after a few weeks as the owner realizes they don’t have the discipline to use them consistently. BPM systems end up being used to a fraction of their capacity, while treadmills end up in the basement, used as adjunct laundry racks or gathering dust waiting to be resold at a huge loss. In both cases, there is no question that the owner could gain great benefits from ownership of the asset, what is lacking is a plan, and motivation to stick to it.

This analogy really struck me, particularly because we have an art installation in our building inspired by this common lifecycle of treadmills. The purchase of a treadmill represents an aspiration to be a better version of oneself. The dusty treadmill in the basement is the harsh reminder that we didn’t follow through. Listing the treadmill on Craigs List is symbolic of accepting that we weren’t able to become that better person, and maybe we never will.

Simple motivational techniques for using a treadmill (or any other piece of exercise equipment)

  1. Make a plan
  2. Start with easily achievable goals
  3. Find ways to get visible feedback
  4. Make yourself accountable

To become that person that hops on the treadmill at the same time every day and just gets it done, you need to form a habit. This can take a while -apparently, the latest science says around 66 days! The trick to getting through the habit-forming period is to have ridiculously easy goals — maybe you could plan to run (or walk) for 3 minutes a day to start with. The idea is to make it almost easier to do it than it is to make excuses for not doing it. Once you get on there, you may end up going a little bit longer, but that’s fine too.

Another important motivator is visible feedback on your goal. Just like an agile development team, you want to be able to see your progress as clearly as possible and see when it has stalled. A simple calendar style chart hanging on your fridge can remind you how well you are doing every time you go looking for snacks.

Accountability is a crucial external motivator that can get you to perform until such time as your intrinsic motivation kicks in. You can easily make yourself accountable to a coach or personal trainer. Alternatively, you can try social accountability — announce your goals to your friends so that you will have the shame of explaining why you didn’t stick to them if you fail. (One twist on this is to write a check to a cause you vehemently disagree with, hand it to a friend, and tell them to mail it if you fail to meet your goals).

What about BPM Motivation?

Getting value from your BPM system may be a little more complicated, but the same principles apply.

  1. Make a plan
  2. Start with easily achievable goals
  3. Find ways to get visible feedback
  4. Make yourself accountable

Setting out to model every process in the entire company can be appropriate, but in most cases, this type of initiative is going to run out of steam before any implementation happens. Selecting a specific process area with current issues is much more likely to yield results. If you are worried about local optimization, just remember BPM supports continuous improvement — processes will evolve as their surrounding processes are automated.

Setting achievable goals for implementing processes using a platform where you don’t have 100% familiarity can be challenging. One approach for this is to bring in an experienced implementation partner to help you determine what is possible and how long it is likely to take. Make use of pre-built toolkits, templates, and assets as far as possible to reduce implementation time. (Building these assets is what we do, and we have some exciting new ones available, which you can check out at our website).

Whatever process you start with, make sure some metrics (even if they are simple), are made available to the process owner from day 1. This is the whole point of BPM after all, and simple insights on volume of work, time spent on various activities, etc can lead to better questions.

Accountability can be tricky in the context of an organization— people can be reluctant to publicize their personal goals when falling short could result in a career-impacting moment. My advice here is to find a good mentor, one who can help you to be successful and won’t penalize you for falling short. Another option is coaching: just like a personal trainer holds you accountable for being at the gym and pushes you to work harder, a good consultant or coach can really motivate you to follow through and take action. Often the external perspective of a coach is all you need to help you to figure out the next steps when you get stuck, this is why we always build a mentoring phase into our projects.

The Holidays are Almost Here!

Its almost the end of the year, and holiday season is upon us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get something useful done before the end of the year. Whether you are looking to get on that treadmill and lose a couple of pounds or get that BPMS fired up and build some processes, I hope you find these tips useful.

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