I receive questions literally every day from companies that are looking for workflow software and/or business process management software to automate workflows and automate web-form processing. Most of my team tell me that I am the worst sales person they have ever seen. You see, after 10 minutes on a phone call I will often tell a potential customer that his/her process cannot be modeled in workflow software and cannot be automated using business process management software and bpm technology. And then I will often recommend another type of software and another software company.
Most companies can’t afford to turn away leads. But the fact is that as a successful open source company, we cannot afford not to turn them away. Open Source is a brutally honest profession – we don’t hide anything. All of our internal technical discussions are online, all of our manuals and screencasts are online, and yes – all of our code is open source. So, it only comes to follow that we should be just as brutally honest in helping our potential users figure out if business process management software is the right solution for them. So, here are a couple of questions that I like to ask to quickly figure out if the person/company on the other end of a phone call should bother looking at BPM software as a solution to his company’s problem.
1) How many employees do you have? If the answer is ” under 25 employees,” then I can be 90% certain that you don’t need BPM Software, Workflow Automation Software, or anything similar. Smaller companies value flexibility and agility much more than they value control, stability, and repeatability. After all, if you are a small company, you are still trying to figure out your recipe for success, right? If you already had the recipe, you’d be much bigger. And as is the case with most recipes, there is no sense writing it down and passing it on, unless you are darn sure it is the right one. Nobody follows grandma’s spaghetti sauce recipe unless it is good! With that said, you will notice that I don’t say 100% certain but rather 90% certain that you don’t need Business Process Management Software. The 10% of small firms that do need it usually offer/sell very high value add, very specialized, and very highly paid niche services which unite several disparate parties in a very industry specific workflow. In other words – not a local bakery. Finance boutiques, specialty insurance, risk analysis, etc. – these may be small teams but they are run using very specific and formal processes, hence they are an ideal candidate for BPM.
2) Can you send me a diagram of your workflow in any format (PPT, word, PDF, excel, etc.)? If the answer is no, then the company has not yet reached process maturity. Again, this is highly related to #1. Your process needs to be mature and successful enough to warrant being written down. I know of almost no exceptions to the following rule – A company must have first written down its process before attempting to model it in Workflow Software.
3) What is unique about your process? If the person on the other end of the phone describes the need for a CRM software to manage their sales process, and they are selling widgets just like the rest of the world, then I am not going to tell them to start trying to build a CRM package inside their BPM. They could – but WHY?!? CRM is a particular process, i.e. a subset of what is covered in BPM Software. However, it is an extremely popular and well used process. As a result, there are a lot of vendors that have fully built this process into a software exclusively dedicated to the process of CRM. So – USE IT! No need to re-invent the wheel. The same goes for ERP. About 15-20% of the customers I speak to really need an off-the-shelf CRM or ERP software, and I can usually figure this out in about 10 minutes.
4) Are you looking for Project Management Software? – This is the other question I am asking in the back of my mind as I am talking to a potential customer. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but there is another high percentage of people out there that think they are looking for business process management software or workflow automation software but they are really looking for project or team management software. And, truth be told, most of the project management options around are total garbage (especially MS Project) so it is probably no surprise that everyone is looking for a better option (hint hint -big opportunity). So, again, you could build this in your BPM – but there are some tricky issues to deal with here that most BPMs don’t do well. The reason here is that Project Management is often more about communication and collaboration than process flow.
5) Do you say “process management,” “order,” “control” but mean “collaboration,” “”messaging,” and “negotiation”? Lots of small business owners think they have a process. But in reality, they have a loose collaboration or conversation and without that conversation there is no way that they can get the customer what he/she needs. Again, this tends to be true with small companies, primarily because only small companies have the liberty of selling something so unique that it can only be resolved with lots of collaboration and conversation. Larger firms don’t have this luxury and smaller firms that want to scale also don’t have this luxury. It all goes back to the idea of the recipe – all businesses when they start out are looking for a recipe for success. Once they have it, they will tend to institutionalize it, and then hire people to repeat the process over and over. This is called “growth.” BPM Software or Workflow Software or whatever you want to call it is ideal for mid-sized growing companies or larger companies. There is really no secret as to why. BPM Software is all about favoring convention over freedom and repeatability over flexibility.
By the way, I love my local bakery and am very happy they don’t use BPM Software!