Team I think there is a need for this thing called Agility in your organization. You agree? You do? OK. I had a feeling you would. It is a burning need, no? Third degree, even. Now let me ask you this. Of all those people in your organization – CXOs, Business users, process owners, compliance managers, IT, you name it – who do you think has the biggest need for that agility? Clock[sound of clock ticking] Ok, let me pose that question differently to you. Who are those people in your organization who lose sleep over a lack of agility? Clock Is anyone even losing sleep at all? Alright. Let me try again. If agility is such a burning need, what are the damages your organization is experiencing in its absence? Can you put a Dollar value to it? Clock If you had to think hard to answer those, then you are probably just very influenced by some vendor pitch that made agility sound like a big deal (and of course, that it was best supported by their tool). Vendors – your BPM product vendor as well as your Systems Integrator –  will give you loads of wisdom on Agility and soon, before you know it, Agility begins to figure high up there in your list of ‘must-haves’. That’s not bad at all, having  Agility high up in your list. But what is really bad and pointless, is when Agility becomes a Holy Cow for you. That makes you just put it up there in that list without a view on exactly where and how it can really help you. I am coming across more firms that bring it up in the very first conversation about BPM without having really broken it down to see what, how and where exactly agility is going to make a worthwhile impact. Many firms seem to be looking at it like it was some magic pill that could make all their woes disappear, make them happier, wealthier, wiser, fitter, taller and maybe even give a brilliant shine to their teeth. But guess what? After the first automated processes get out that door, all the excitement and eagerness around Agility makes a slow and quiet exit through the other door at the far end.  And no one even notices it is gone, and that fancy strategy fades away slowly. But calm down and wipe that sweat off your brow. Although agility in the BPM world is turning out to be a big farce, the sooner you see it, the earlier you can set things straight and address the real agility needs of your organization. Because first, you have to see that it is not something a tool can give you. I wrote about this a few months ago in a post titled A Reality Check on Agility and BPM where I had argued that it is unlikely that a tool capability alone will make your organization agile. Technology may contribute to an extent, no doubt, but that by itself is not going to cut it. Secondly, you need to realize that at the core of this fancy idea of agility is the degree of inclination (or inertia) an organization has towards being responsive, reactive, alert, adaptive to work, business, markets. In other words, the root of agility lies in the collective consciousness of an organization. The the real secret to agility lies with your people. Your culture. Faun deHenry’s recent post titled Culture “vs” Strategy discusses this important aspect that you need to deal with to put agility in the right perspective. She writes

If your organization is an incumbent in an industry that has a disruptive newcomer, adaptability becomes paramount. Yet, strong corporate cultures are typically less adaptable. To use Edgar Schein’s analogy, strong corporate cultures possess antibodies that protect them from “foreign” ideas or proposals.  Therefore, it is critical that leaders heed Drucker’s warning and remember the lesson of DEC as they attempt to change a corporate culture so that it can function harmoniously with a new strategy. Culture and strategy must fit and work together to move an organization’s performance forward.  Without harmony between culture and strategy, the organization suffers and, eventually, dies.

I couldn’t agree more – and this is really what brings that fundamental quest for agility into perspective. Yet we continue to look towards  technology, while we should be equally and in fact more seriously looking at culture, change, and the harmony between culture & strategy to pull it off. That IMHO is really the disconnect that makes Agility in BPM a very elusive thing.  What are your thoughts? Do you have any experience of a firm pulling it off successfully? Or missing it? What were the causes?


  1. Dave Duggal March 18, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Hi Jaisundar,

    Good post, certainly agility has as much or more to do with enterprise culture and leadership, then technology. That being said, systems can certainly make change/adaptation harder, and that is worth addressing.

    If we look at the modern enterprise, it’s loaded with embedded schemas buried in specialized systems, that make it hard to make change in a single place let alone across the system of systems. This makes even approved/desired/necessary change harder, so hard that people expect system projects to fail, compounding the cultural challenge in a negative self-reinforcing loop.

    Given the dependence on systems technology, it’s important to consider solutions to address this rate limiter. Let’s face it, most change management programs are an abysmal failure. Studies have shown the Centers of Excellence and Continuous Improvement programs lose steam within six to twelve months, this results in lost business value and results in shadow systems.

    We can document this in terms of money wasted on failed IT projects; in customer turnover; in failed companies; in the tremendous ongoing cost of change management and systems integration.

    While I agree that most vendors are blowing smoke, and do little to positively impact the ability to make system-wide change (beyond showing nifty demo of being able to redraw a BPMN flowchart, which, by itself, doesn’t do much from an enterprise perspective), it is still worthwhile to explore new approaches.

    I write about this in an article on InfoQ –


  2. Jaisundar March 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks for the comment . I liked this point –

    “….This makes even approved/desired/necessary change harder, so hard that people expect system projects to fail, compounding the cultural challenge in a negative self-reinforcing loop.Given the dependence on systems technology, it’s important to consider solutions to address this rate limiter. Let’s face it, most change management programs are an abysmal failure… “

    It’s true – BPM or not, the need to address this rate limiter is very critical – and yes, you are right, anything that can dilute the degree of the challenge is more than welcome. In fact it’s good that over here on this side of the lawn we all are in, we’re off in a good direction to address that. But then given the nature of the big picture of this challenge, it is important to introduce the idea right, set the expectations right – especially considering there is already enough vagueness and confusion around features and functionality. Just when everyone is beginning to address the importance of the ‘individual’ and change and culture, it sounds wrong to disrupt that and say “hey look, its all in this tool” it is for sure, but as a enabler – a means to achieve the objective. Not as a silver bullet. What you say is so true – it’s not merely about redrawing a BPMN flowchart, and pushing the ‘deploy’ button.

    I don’t think vendors are evil and devious. I am not suggesting enterprise managers – from either business or IT are gullible to vendors or that they do not have the wisdom to figure out fact from fiction, but it is our collective responsibility to understand things right ourselves first and  suggest, and do only what’s realistically the best for those who spend the dollar. Maybe this sounds too simplistic, but I guess that’s among the big zones for discord. Would you agree ?

    Thanks for the comment Dave, and for sharing the link to your excellent article!

  3. Guri May 29, 2012 at 2:39 am

    Once again, you hit a great topic and the diagram dteinifely helps in understanding what is the minds of the subject matter experts. While the diagram and processes may seem confusing to technologists, this not the case for the business who are the subject matter experts and understand what drives the business and are not silod into specific functions. The business in many ways already think in workflows as they know core processes and structure that impact and drive operations. With the overall responsibility to P/L (Profit/Loss) of a given unit, the business has no choice to understand all the underpinnings to improve operations and maintain a competitive edge. The only issue the continues to be ongoing is the weak communication between technology and the business. As the business takes more control of their data and operations with the implementation of BPM, the relationship will just get even more strained.

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