The BPM Story: Tragedy Or Comedy?

seven basic plotsReading The Seven Basic Plots on the plane to Dallas for the Finance Summit this week, I fell to wondering what the story line for Business Process Management (BPM) might be.

It’s got elements of all the archetypal plots. There’s definitely a Quest, including a thrilling escape from death (in Global360’s acquisition – just kidding). No disrespect to the ARIS community either, but there’s also an obvious Overcoming The Monster story line. And Nimbus might be the Rags to Riches plot.

But the real question – and it’s one on which my own professional future depends to some extent – is whether it’s a tragedy or a comedy. Is this a tragic tale of darkness gradually overcoming the light? Maybe – but I still prefer to see it as a comedy, a plot whose essence is confusion and dismay until, against seemingly impossible odds, peace and order are restored, and all becomes well again with the world.

The hero in our case is the enterprise, and in particular the COO. Our heroine is the fair Process, who represents all that is sweet and light. She knows that the hero needs his team to be collaborating effectively to achieve anything. And that a BPM platform using the language of end-to-end process is the key to long-term prosperity, to assured compliance, and to making the enterprise a great place to work.

The hero admires but continually overlooks our heroine, seduced by his inner demons: short-termism and ‘I’ll leave that to my successor’. ‘Dark angels’ whisper quick-fix solutions in the hero’s ear: ‘if we spend enough on the new ERP system, it will solve everything’ and ‘let’s outsource it and make it someone else’s problem’.

All the other elements of the Comedy plot are there. The hero’s forbidding father figure, the CEO, casts a shadow across our drama. There is the donning of disguises and the swapping of identities (the Lean and Six Sigma crowd). There are men dressing up as women, and vice versa (BPMN masquerading as a language for business people). Even the Chief Risk Officer and his Compliance henchmen have a role. Everything they touch is petrified and can only be brought back to life by a transfusion of pure gold.

Morale slumps. Results are lacklustre. It’s obvious to everyone except our blinded hero that there has to be a better way. But when will our hero have the moment of recognition upon which the story pivots? When will he see the fair Process for who she really is, and realize her goodness?

Soon I hope, or we’re heading for a tragic ending, more of a Romeo and Juliet tale. Those star-crossed lovers were of course torn asunder not by the hero’s blindness but by their feuding families. Which has disturbing parallels because, in the case of our hero and the fair Process, casting IT as the Montagues, and Business as the Capulets, looks awfully plausible.

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

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