Performance Management Starts with the User Experience

Originally published July 10, 2006

Most well-executed business performance management (BPM) initiatives start with confirming that the business requirements are clearly defined on paper. Parallel to defining requirements, project leaders need to assure that the end-user experience is high on the priority list. Delivering a positive user experience requires selection of a technology platform that aligns with business needs, not the other way around. Therefore, the specific actions expected from end users must also be clearly defined. For example, in a dashboard or scorecard application, if an alert tells the user that performance is outside of a predetermined band, what is the expected next step? What additional tools would the user need to access to address the situation that caused the alert? Users should feel that the BPM initiative is not just another IT project from corporate – the end users need to feel empowered by the overall business performance management approach. Translation: Be sure the BPM system is usable by the majority of the company’s employees.

The Cost of Discouraged End Users
The risks associated with overlooking the end user can be quite significant. We have seen IT-led initiatives that missed the mark because the end users (who are closer to the day-to-day business) did not have a chance to provide their input both early in the process and during implementation. Business requirements do shift over time, so it is necessary to walk the line between overreacting to every little wind shift and neglecting major business changes that would alter the approach to the business performance management initiative. We have also seen business end users who never fully “adopt” a BPM solution because they simply do not feel empowered by the approach. They don’t see how it helps them. It may be the technically correct solution and it may address some of the business needs; but if the end users do not trust and embrace the solution, they will continue to rely on a shadow spreadsheet solution on their desktop to perform similar tasks. They will only use the enterprise system when required. Even worse than paying for software licenses that don’t get used is deployment of a solution that is partially used – meaning the organization is effectively operating at about 75% efficiency compared to competitors. The biggest risk is not just the sunk cost of the software (and its implementation); it is the cost of operating at less than full efficiency.

Offer the Right Tools for the Right Task
A key part of the requirements process should include an assessment of how end users will interact with the system. Some users prefer to conduct effective analysis both within and outside of the BPM application in a consistent Excel-like interface, while others prefer a customizable form or Web-based experience. Some will be hard-wired to the office network, while other may be accessing the system from remote locations. Knowing the end users and their preferred approaches to certain tasks is critical to the successful adoption of the BPM solution. Fortunately, there are a wide range of choices available on the market. Many vendors offer several end-user alternatives for accessing the same application. Select the solution that aligns with the needs of the end users.

Don’t Change Proven Business Workflow
There are times when a company’s business processes may be suboptimal, and it is possible to build off of workflow that is embedded within a BPM solution to improve effectiveness. The generic approach provided by software vendors has typically been developed from best practices from other clients – particularly if the solution is mature with several rounds of software improvements over at least two or three years. But there are also times when internally developed workflow has been proven to work for the company. Maybe the end users have worked hard to optimize it. In this case, the chosen tool needs to align with the existing workflow and be configurable to address the nuances of existing internal business processes. In this scenario, if change is forced, it will often result in end users being uneasy and may stall broad-based adoption of the end solution.

Consider Vertical Solutions
Another way to help improve end-user adoption is to select a solution that has industry-specific content or processes that demonstrate knowledge of the business. This is true not only for the technology chosen, but also for the training and reference materials that will be used. If users can see the practical implementation attributes that align with their industry, there is a comfort level that will ease adoption pains. This can also be very relevant during the technology evaluation phase because end-user evaluation team members can see a “real world” example of a successful deployment that is similar to their industry.

Communicate and Communicate More
One more thing for the list of tasks – rarely have we witnessed too much communication to the end-user community. Unfortunately, the opposite is more common. In addition to making the end users aware of the overall initiative and providing opportunities for the end users to voice their needs and concerns during the requirements definition phase, it is necessary to regularly communicate to them as the implementation progresses. Generating excitement not only creates enthusiasm for adoption, but it also helps users feel they are part of the end result.

Good or Great?
Paying attention to the end users can make the difference between a good BPM project and a great one. Neglecting the end users can be a primary reason that a system goes unused – a risk that no one wants to take. Keep in mind that it is not just the cost of the software and implementation – which is already expensive. When a business performance management system is not embraced by all end users, the company will be operating with a handicap compared to its competitors, and that is very costly.

  • John ColbertJohn Colbert
    John, Vice President of Research and Analysis at BPM Partners, is responsible for market trend analysis, services development and technology vendor relationships at BPM Partners, the leading independent authority on business performance management (BPM) solutions. Prior to BPM Partners, John was Senior Director, Product Marketing at Hyperion Software, responsible for directing Hyperion's OLAP Business Analysis financial software products. Earlier in his career, John was an end user of performance management solutions while a product manager at Raychem Corporation, a Fortune 500 company that has since been acquired by Tyco. John has contributed to many publications including the New York Times, BPM Magazine, Information Week, Business Finance and eWeek, and he is a regular presenter at performance management related conferences and web seminars.

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