3 ways to Start a Competency Center: #1 Top-Down

on April 11, 2011
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In a recent interview, in preparation for Gartner BPM Summit, David McCoy reveals what is keeping his customers awake at night.  Very appropriately so, David points out the challenges of those technologies: they are not just technologies!  They are disruptive technologies in the sense that they force organizations to change how they operate.

With that in mind, it is no wonder that one of the top challenges of modern organizations is to set up BPM Competency Centers.  Acquiring and nurturing the talent needed to deploy the right Business Processes successfully is no simple task.

You have heard my rant on the learning curve hurdle quite a bit so I won’t indulge myself in this post — although Competency Centers are prescribed as a palliative for that very symptom — and will rather focus on the various approaches I have seen to launching and managing a Competency Center.  David is focusing on Business Processes of course.  In this post, I will focus on Decision Management which is similar but certainly not exactly equivalent.  In particular, most Business Processes span by definition across various organizational divisions, which is not necessarily the case for Business Rules or Decision Management yet.

I have seen over the years different patterns.  The most important part I believe is the drive and leadership of the team in charge of the effort.  A talented and resourceful team with thrive in most environments.  With the insights and lessons learned of those different set-up, I hope that a few gotchas can be avoided.

Tools can help you too in the process.  Whether you have invested in a full-blown talent management solution, leverage an Enterprise Social platform or simply have a shared repository on the intranet:

  • Skill Inventory
  • Enterprise Architecture deployment guidelines
  • Design Patterns & Best Practices
  • Established Vendors Contracts and/or Assessment

Let’s look at a few real life examples…

The Top-Down Approach

The disruption caused by design by the adoption of BPM often leads to risk management initiatives endorsed by top management.  I think we are still behind on that front for Decision Management technologies.  Their adoption remains initially focused on a single department.  As a result, BRMS and Decision Management technologies do not initially get the same visibility at the top.

That being said, since Business Processes and Business Rules / Decision Management are joined at the hip, BPM Competency Centers are slowly extending to Decision Management as well.

Upper management support is certainly invaluable to allocate the necessary resources and rally the various involved groups under the banner of a single cause.  Like for any approach, it is critical to know what you are after and communicate it clearly.

One Financial Services company I worked with in the past identified very early on that they needed Business Rules technology and made a strategic investment on day 1: they acquired enterprise licenses after a global team evaluated and visited the key vendors.  They looked at the current and future needs they could anticipate.  They staffed a center of excellence, led by employees but including external consultants as well.  I visited the center a few times and was invited to present and advise them.  It was an impressive effort to leverage the technology the right way.

The lessons learned:

  • BRMS technology spread effectively and quickly within the company with multiple projects developing in parallel
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) went down as the enterprise licenses were reused across multiple projects

What I would have done differently:

  • The emphasis was put on spreading information on the available technology.  Educational materials were put at disposition of the interested parties.  This was a great start but they did not capture “expertise” per se that could have accelerated the success of subsequent projects.  I think they were true to the word “Center” but not so true to the “Excellence” part.  Each project started with a little jump-start as they had internal training classes and people to call internally but they had to figure out on they own how to apply the technology to their specific project.  The “best practices” samples they initiated in the dedicated center of excellence were typically not robust enough for the new project and there was not enough energy applied to capturing the lessons learned at the end of the project to improve those best practices.  The effort remained top-down, one-way mostly.

I have seen the same dynamic on a couple of BPM Centers of Excellence.  I am sure that many are doing it well but I would watch out for this natural tendency if I had to start a “Top-Down” competency Center.

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