Drawing on the lifecycle chasm concept first made popular by Geoffrey Moore (1), Paul Harmon has spoken of a BPM maturity development chasm (2), as shown below. Surveys of BPM Maturity, including the biennial review by BPTrends (3) , show that most organizations that are undertaking some form of process improvement and management are between levels 2 and 3, with many never crossing the chasm to level 3. This is a serious problem because the significant, whole-of-organization benefits are realized at level 3 and above.
What's it all about? If you google "what's it all about" you get 4.5 billion results. Seems that we are keen to answer that question. Of course, it would be much more useful if there were just one answer. I have a similar experience when I ask people what they understand by "business process management" and related phrases. [2.5 billion, in case you were wondering.] It would be of significant benefit if there were just one answer here also. Good news! There is just one answer. The bad news is we all agree with that but have a different version. The great news is that we can solve this problem — if you all repent and agree with me!
A common scenario is that organizations seeking to gain the benefits of process-based management first invest a lot of time and effort into business process modelling, then develop and use process analysis methods, and perhaps even realize good intentions in some form of launch of the ‘new process approach’. So far, so good. After a short while, however, the process emphasis is waning, the initial enthusiasm is dwindling, and the new process approach is starting to look a bit old. What happened? Maybe lots of things, but a common catalyst is that process performance measurement was not sufficiently emphasized. Bottom line was that there was no bottom line. There was no way to showcase the benefits delivered as a result of the additional effort required to do process-based management. The most important question is “What’s the problem we are trying to fix?” and we must have a detailed, specific answer.
Processes deliver Every organization makes promises to customers and other stakeholders. Such promises are its reason for existence and are shaped as value propositions in the organizational strategy. Traditional management follows the organization chart with most management activity directed up and down that chart. But how do we get work done? How do we deliver on those promises? We work in collaboration across the organization, not up and down. Is there any box on that chart that can, by itself, deliver products or services externally? No there is not, that’s not the way it works. Processes deliver on our promises.
The simple existence of a problem is not enough reason to invest in fixing it, perhaps not now, perhaps not ever. Organizations need a systemic approach to define what good looks like, assess current performance, and make evidence-based decisions about which performance gaps to close. The Tregear Circles replace random acts of management with a metamodel for continuous process improvement. I have recently encountered several examples of the idea that higher process performance target scores are obviously better than lower ones, just because they are … well … higher; that setting a target of, say, 95% is, without doubt, better than a target of 88%, and in striving for improvement we should go 'as high as possible'.