BPM Voices: The Catch-22 of business agility


How to approach agile change

Most discussions amongst CIOs and CEOs these days focus on how to accomplish agile change. Organizational change, business process change, IT change--all of these and many more are top of mind when discussing how to succeed in the post-recession landscape.

While it’s critical to strive for agile change -- in fact business and IT agility is a high-stakes component of most modern enterprise strategies –- the key is to go about it in an effective and sustainable way. Are all approaches to agility equal then? No, definitely not! The wrong approach to agility can in fact cripple your company. That’s the Catch-22 of agile change!

Don’t do it fast, do it right

Reading recent blogs, articles and reports one could easily think that being successful in the post-recession business environment is all about being fast, but does agile really equal fast? No, not at all! The underlying premise driving towards business agility is that such agility delivers superior business value. But what if haste to achieve agility results in low quality? Or what if speed of change is unsustainable from a business operational perspective, thereby leading to deteriorating efficiency? These are just two examples of the fundamental challenge that doing the wrong things in the wrong way very fast simply means ruining your own business very fast.

If your core business can’t keep up with the changes and therefore loses efficiency, if quality suffers resulting in significant loss of customers, or if you mortgage your company’s future by over-investing and taking too many risks, then what? What’s the point in preparing for the future if in the process you ruin your current business? There are two fundamental premises for agile change to be both valuable and sustainable:

Agility is not really about speed, but about doing the right things in the right way in a timely fashion. In other words, don’t do it fast, do it right! Figure 1 illustrates the need to balance efficiency and effectiveness.

Figure 1. The smart enterprise--balancing efficiency and effectiveness for sustainable agile change
The smart enterprise
The smart enterprise

For agile change to be sustainable it needs to carefully plan and maintain an appropriate balance between effectiveness and efficiency. Large scale change is based on continuous business re-engineering to achieve strategic objectives (effectiveness). However, while on that strategic journey an enterprise needs to apply small-scale change to continuously adjust and optimize the current state and ultimately maintain business integrity and performance (efficiency).

The case for doing BPM and EA together

Planning for change is a necessity for most modern enterprises, but plans that are never executed have little value. Continuous business performance and services optimization are derived from proper coordination between planning and execution. This in turn requires a firm understanding of the lifecycles of the enterprise as well as the establishment of appropriate collaboration and governance processes.

A good, scalable approach to coordinating planning and execution is to combine Business Process Management (BPM) and Enterprise Architecture (EA). While each has value on its own, the two are also naturally synergistic. From an organizational perspective, the enterprise needs to leverage the synergistic powers of robust architectural planning and agile business optimization represented by EA and BPM respectively. From a technological perspective, the enterprise needs to establish a platform that will enable the appropriate collaboration by creating visibility, traceability and integrity between targets and solutions across all roles and tools. Both are required components for a sustainable approach to agility.

Figure 2 illustrates a scalable approach to coordinating planning and execution.

Figure 2. Coordination planning and execution through the combination of BPM and EA
Coordination planning and execution through the                             combination of BPM and EA
Coordination planning and execution through the combination of BPM and EA

From tribes to nations

If we accept the fundamental premise that BPM and EA need to go together, this raises the natural question of how? How do you identify the right changes, how do you find the optimal time for implementing those changes, and finally how do you execute change in the right way?

Plenty of literature addresses these three questions, but depending on viewpoint (BPM, EA, Business Architecture, software engineering, and so forth), each paper or book provides different answers. What this illustrates is that different people have different objectives and different opinions on what constitutes the right changes, often based on the discipline with which the authors are familiar.

How do we overcome the tribal nature of a complex organization and evolve to a nation, working together towards common goals based on each of our specialties and skills? Especially since often these different enterprise “tribes” don’t even share a common language base, and don’t share the same concepts as a foundation for understanding? The first thing to do is establish a common and recognized landscape for change; only then can you discuss how to collaborate and govern within that landscape. The landscape analogy is chosen on purpose because I believe that the first pre-requisite for building a nation is to map and understand the various tribes living within the borders of that future nation – once you know who’s out there, maybe even understand some of their languages and goals, fears and concerns are immediately reduced and challenges are more tractable. You have in fact progressed from an unknown void full of dangers to an explored and known landscape – admittedly still with many challenges ahead, but now these are challenges that you can identify and address, as opposed to simply fearing the unknown, often irrationally.

I’m of course not suggesting that a modern enterprise is the same as a tribal environment full of fears and superstitions. Still the analogy holds in that something known and recognized is much easier to address than something unknown and not recognized. With knowledge and recognition it becomes much easier to set up appropriate collaboration patterns for guiding and governing change.

Downloadable resources

Related topics

  • Continuous improvement with BPM and EA together: Smart work in the smart enterprise (developerWorks 2010): This article describes the principles for aligning and interconnecting BPM and EA from a business perspective. The primary audiences are leaders and architects who need to understand how to effectively combine BPM and EA as a key differentiator for successful enterprises in their drive toward continuous business improvement.
  • IBM BPM & SOA: Better Together for Achieving Business Agility: This whitepaper series describes the principles for the convergence of BPM and SOA. While BPM and SOA each have value on their own, IBM believes that they are naturally synergistic, and best when done together for business and IT agility, optimization and alignment. From an information systems perspective, combining BPM and SOA yields excellence in business execution through horizontal transaction processing from BPM and scaling brought by SOA. Both BPM and SOA are fundamentally dependent on a reliable and robust infrastructure upon which you can deliver solutions that ensure the integrity of the information, processes and tasks that serve the core of your business.
  • Actionable Business Architecture (PDF): Experience in the field in a variety of industries, including government, suggests that the best way to achieve the goals of business and IT convergence is through business architecture. This whitepaper provides a new perspective on this important subject as a confluence of strategy, operating and IT models. It also poses and answers the question of what makes Business Architecture actionable, and discusses three specific perspectives: strategy and transformation (S&T), business process management (BPM) and service oriented architecture (SOA).
  • Stop copying, start linking: The next generation of model management (developerWorks 2010): This article describes a linking approach to effectively interconnecting modeling artifacts across different modeling domains, tools and repositories with the goal of providing coherent visibility and traceability throughout an extended model-driven development environment.
  • developerWorks BPM zone: Get the latest technical resources on IBM BPM solutions, including downloads, demos, articles, tutorials, events, webcasts, and more.


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Zone=Business process management, WebSphere
ArticleTitle=BPM Voices: The Catch-22 of business agility