In the fair dinkum department, the most important question about BPM must be "is it worth the effort?" It works in theory, but does it work in practice? What is the return on process? How should we measure, and report, the outcomes of process-based management? The Wrong Answer Let's deal with the wrong answer first. It's not about the artifacts. No organization has a business problem called "we don't have enough process models." It is not a business improvement outcome to say we've trained 50 people on Six Sigma analysis, or appointed some process owners, or modelled a process architecture, or assigned process KPIs — these are all necessary, but none is sufficient. To the executive not yet fully engaged with the promise of process-based management, all this activity might sound more like a problem than a solution, more like a waste of resources than a successful outcome. And if that is all that is happening, she would be correct. We need good models, architecture, methods, and training — a metamodel of management — they are a means to an end, but not an end in themselves. Just having management tools is not the point; we must use them to deliver real organizational performance improvement. If our process management and improvement activities are not delivering measurable, objective, proven organizational performance improvements — improvements better than we might have otherwise achieved — then our process activity is, by our own definitions, waste.
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.