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Published 26. April 2021 in

Three reasons why BPM implementations fail

In the summer of 2020, Sindre Suphellen, an MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship student at BI Business School in Oslo, worked as an intern at ShiftX. And as he was, he dived into the business literature to find out why so much Business Process Management (BPM) fails. This is what he found.

A picture of Sindre Suphellen, former summer intern at ShiftX

Research has shown that 60 to 80 percent of business process management (BPM) projects fail (Trkman, 2010). We wanted to understand why this number is so high, and what can be done to get this number significantly down. So, we dug into the latest research and literature on the topic to identify the main reasons why BPM projects fail.

In 2020, Castro, Dresch, and Veit published a paper on the key critical success factors (CSF) of business process management implementation. Their research is based on a systematic literature review of 25 different articles on the subject from 12 different countries. In addition, through a survey, they consulted 113 BPM experts to verify their findings.

Their paper highlights three main reasons why BPM implementation fails:

1. Lack of support from top management

The study strongly argues that the top management must be committed and willing to change the organization's culture. It can not just be limited to support. «Support from top management» is the CSF found second most frequently in the literature, and all of the 113 BPM experts participating in the study agreed that this support was essential for successful BPM implementation (Castro, Dresch & Veit, 2020, p. 246, 248). Also, the support of the managers is found important since they naturally manifest more active participation. If this involvement happens at all stages of the BPM cycle the authors say, it creates more available resources and generates less resistance by other participants (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2019, p. 241).

2. Little or no BPM(N) training for the end-users

Some of the literature argues that the main reason for not succeeding with BPM implementation is human resistance to change. This explains why «investing in human capital» is the most cited CSF in the literature. 96,5 percent of the respondents agreed that human resistance is a major problem, almost all stating that not investing in human capital might cause the BPM implementation to fail (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 248). Therefore, the literature claims that the end-user has more access to BPM information to stimulate motivation and create a sense of empowerment. Castro, Dresch, and Veit state that «…Tacit knowledge, experience with project management, change management, and full knowledge on BPM are human factors and prerequisites considered crucial for a proper implementation» (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 242). An action that can mitigate resistance is an investment in training: «Training aiming to disseminate the concepts, methods, techniques, and tools of BPM in the organization and that allows the collaborator more access to information helps in the development of its knowledge» (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 248).

Perhaps there is another reason why many employees struggle? Can it have something to do with the system that is used?

Business process model and notation (BPMN) has become the leading standard for process modeling in the last decade. However, in the past few years, serious questions have been raised about the usefulness and quality of BPMN from an end-user perspective. Leopold, Mendling, and Günther (2015) looked into this and said that: «… A challenge of BPMN is its complexity: the specification offers a huge variety of different elements and often several representational choices for the same semantics. This raises the question of how well modelers can deal with these choices» (Leopold, Mendling, Günther, 2015, p. 1). They argue in their paper after analyzing 585 BPMN 2.0 process models that, even though BPMN 2.0 practices are widely used and in many cases somewhat functional, they still have quality issues due to their complexity (Leopold, Mendling, Günther, 2015, p. 8).

Even though the literature sees extensive (and expensive) training as one way to lower the failure rate of BPM projects, one could also argue that there might be time to start rethinking how BPM systems should look in the future. It may even be time for a new standard BPM notation.

3. Lack of communication between departments

All BPM implementations involve several departments. Stark and Steward (2019) argue that if there’s not established a common shared understanding between departments and different teams of the organization's strategic direction, it can result in chaos. When a process mapping is performed, indicators are created to track its performance. If these indicators are not related to the company’s overall goals and vision, the processes won’t pull in the same direction. This is a problem because one of BPM´s main goals is, as the authors put it: «… to extract the best performance from each process to encourage efficient work and link to encourage it to the company’s overall goals» (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 249). Therefore, the article stresses the importance of having an adequate definition of responsibilities (Minonne and Turner, 2012). For this: «… the hierarchy must be modified so that the owners of processes are seen as superior and are respected by the others» (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 242).

When there is a lack of communication between departments, it will also be hard to achieve a strategic alignment in the company. «Alignment of objectives and goals of processes with the strategic planning of the company» is the fourth most listed CSF in the literature (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 246). This is important because when there is no alignment, the BPM goal is not reached, and then the implementation is considered a failure. Among the experts in the survey, 91.2 percent fully agreed, and 8.8 percent agreed in part that strategic misalignment is a barrier to success (Castro, Dresch, and Veit, 2020, p. 249).

With a 60 to 80 percent failure rate on BPM projects, it is easy to argue that we need new innovative, modern, and more agile BPM solutions to tackle the increasing and rapidly changing business environments globally. Maybe we also need to take a step back, look at BPMN with fresh eyes, and start reshaping it for the future?

ShiftX is a new way to do Business Process Modelling, emphasizing usability and collaboration, to enable everyone in the company, organization, or unit to participate and share their insights, and close the knowledge gap between the different groups and sections at your workplace.

Have a look, and try ShiftX today at shiftx.com

We recommend these articles if you want to read more about BPM implementation:

  • Trkman, P. (2010), “The critical success factors of business process management,” International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 30 №2, pp. 125–134.
  • Castro BK do A, Dresch A, Veit DR. (2020). Key critical success factors of BPM implementation: a theoretical and practical view. Business Process Management Journal. 2020;26(1):239–256.
  • Minonne, C. and Turner, G. (2012), “Business process management-are you ready for the future?”, Knowledge and Process Management, Vol. 19 №3, pp. 111–120.
  • Stalk, G and Stewart, Sam. (2019), Fast execution need fast strategy, BCG Henderson Institute. Hentet fra: https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/fast-execution-needs-fast-strategy.aspx
  • Leopold, Henrik & Mendling, Jan & Günther, Oliver. (2015). What we can learn from Quality Issues of BPMN Models from Industry. IEEE Software. 33. 10.1109/MS.2015.81.