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.
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'.
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.