BPM ~ From Common Sense to Common Practice (Part 3): Back to the Future

Roger T.  Burlton
Roger T. Burlton President and Managing Partner, Process Renewal Group Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Roger T. Burlton

Last time, we took a look at the evolution of process revolution.  In this instalment of the series we pick up with some organizations beginning to recognize the need for integration and experiencing a kind of back to the future revival in their approach to process management.

The Need for Integration

While many organizations were jumping on and off the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) bandwagon, some were quietly applying a range of approaches that fused the best elements of many worlds and practices.  These organizations had learned that processes were the natural synchronizers or conductors of the business and that these processes were assets that had to be conceived, designed, developed, and implemented as well as managed as is required for all assets.

The management of holistic processes was almost like a trip back to the future wherein the best of the pre-industrial revolution was being revived for today's world but as scalable solutions for  flexible products and services that allowed mass customization/personalization and rapid change, as well as a strong customer orientation.  Responsibility for process results became embedded structurally, and measurements became more aligned with process stewardship with the commensurate accountabilities.  Overall, business performance was starting to be tied to the business activity monitoring in near-real time. 

Now, the best practice organizations are using Business Process Management (BPM) in concert with, or to make sense of, the Balanced Scorecard, Customer Relationship Management, Enterprise Resource Planning, Enterprise Architecture, Six Sigma, Lean Thinking, and Reference Frameworks such as the Supply Chain Operations Model (SCOR) as well as a myriad of other programs, techniques, technologies, and management methods, all of which require the synchronizing capability that process management brings.  My integration-oriented definition of Business Process Management is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  Business Process Management Definition

Managing BPM Itself

As I have noted already, Business Processes are themselves capabilities and, as such, must be managed as enterprise assets despite the fact you will not find them on the balance sheet.  From a management perspective, this means planning investments in them, developing and improving them, and governing their performance.

In the days of BPR when processes were handled in isolation from one another, this oversight was not crucial corporately.  Now that organizations are looking at processes as a set of enterprise capabilities, they must deal with the whole set of processes for an organization together.  As such, processes require governance just as financial, human, and capital assets do.  In every case, there is a requirement to remain true to outside requirements (such as regulatory and stakeholder reporting), to be in synch with the strategic intent of the organization, to use resources wisely, to ensure accountability, to maintain alignment, to monitor and gate initiatives, and to consider opportunity costs corporately.

Processes are no different.  They require an integrating framework that does all of this and a governance mechanism based on sound, yet fundamentally different, management principles.

Figure 2 shows a lifecycle process for process management itself.  Its phases (clouds) and activities navigate the progression from the production of a company's business strategy through to the daily monitoring of results from its implemented strategic processes and then the re-connection to the front for renewal.

Figure 2.  Process Renewal Framework

The Process Revolution and Evolution

As an Industrial Engineer with a keen interest in how people, organizations, and societies change, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Industrial Revolution was only so in comparison to historical timescales but not to human lifespan.  Analysis of the move to industrialism that stared in the late 18th century in fact took more than a hundred years to accomplish.  It was not an overnight phenomenon, as we may have believed.  Changing businesses, companies, countries, society, culture, and behavior is a multi-generational proposition.

And it is clear that the Process Revolution that started in earnest sometime in the last half of the 20th century is indeed radical in nature but, like its predecessor, will likely evolve through a couple of more generations of managers and some corporate casualties along the way to become truly universal.  The journey is, and will continue to be, painful.

As in the Industrial Revolution, there will be incredible opportunities for those who embrace it whole heartedly to create new business models and to supplant the laggards who insist on hanging on to the past ways of working and managing.  The evidence is apparent already for the early adopters.

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Roger T. Burlton , "BPM ~ From Common Sense to Common Practice (Part 3): Back to the Future" Business Rules Journal Vol. 9, No. 5, (May 2008)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2008/b419.html

About our Contributor:

Roger  T. Burlton
Roger T. Burlton President and Managing Partner, Process Renewal Group

Roger is a respected pioneer in the introduction of innovative approaches for Business Management. He is a world leader in the field of Business Process Management, having authored one of the most read and followed books on the topic early in BPM's growth as well as the Business Process Manifesto. Roger's leadership is also witnessed by his position as chair of several of the most influential conferences each year on BPM and Business Architecture and by his role as chair of the BPTrends.com Advisory Board. The insights he brings to PRG's consulting clients are thoughtful and pragmatic.

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