As some readers will know from my previous writing, for example here, there, and everywhere, I take a broad view of BPM, seeing it as a management philosophy, preferring the term process-based management over business process management. A brief summary of that view is as follows. An organization's resources are managed 'vertically' via the organization chart. Value is created, accumulated, and delivered 'horizontally' across that chart, i.e., via cross-functional processes. Value is accumulated across, not up and down, the functional organization as the various parts collaborate to create, accumulate, and deliver value in the form of a desired product or service. It follows that an organization executes its strategic intent via its business processes. In this context, where cross-functional processes are key to the delivery of value and execution of strategy, the improvement and management of processes is critical to the optimization of an organization's performance. BPM is not a one-off project, nor an IT system; it is a management philosophy.
For nearly two decades I have worked with many organizations in different countries, cultures, and corporate structures to understand and advance the theory and practice of process-based management. There is a common problem, a change of mindset and practice that many organizations fail to make. Process improvement alone is not enough. Successful process-based management also requires … management.
Continuous process improvement is a common organizational aspiration, and it is one of the most difficult things an organization can attempt. The continuous aspect is quite a challenge, as is realizing business performance improvements—especially once the easy and obvious changes have been made. Organizations need an ‘internal improvement engine’ that replaces insistence with evidence.
In my working life I spend a lot of time working with client organizations to discover and capture useful models of their process architecture. In every country, industry sector, organization type and size, there is a common problem that bedevils every project. We all, and I include myself here, can too easily slip into the habit of the last 100 years (or you might argue 1,000 years) of visualizing the organization as its organization chart. Comments such as “What about the work they do in department X?” might just be a useful test for a developing process architecture, or they might indicate a lack of understanding of what the architecture represents.
There is often a tension between process improvement and innovation. Improvement is seen to be just fiddling around at the edges, rather than making the massive gains offered by radical transformation. Continuous process improvement is important, and we also need discontinuous innovation. However, process improvement needs a performance boost; as well as counteracting weaknesses and threats, it needs to focus on opportunities and strengths. We need to work beyond the tangible current state to discover and improve non-existent processes.