On BPM, Incremental Improvement and Innovation

We had an active discussion on ebizQ and on LinkedIn in Gartner BPM Xchange group on whether we have reached a point in BPM where only incremental improvements are possible.

Peter’s Q on ebizQ: has BPM evolved to a point where only incremental improvements can be made? Does innovation need to be re-introduced to process design?

And Elise’s Q on LinkedIn: Has BPM evolved into just tweaking and incremental improvement? Did we dump the baby with the bathwater and lose the innovation that came from BPR? How do re-introduce innovation in process design?

My reply on ebizQ turned out a little long, so I thought I’d reproduce it here as a post – it reflects some of my thoughts on BPM itself as well as how organizations interpret and use BPM.

So, here it is:

I’m interpreting this in two ways:

- Is it no longer possible to have the big leap improvements like the ones made popular by TQM, JIT, BPR…? And if yes, is it due to the way BPM has evolved or to the point it has reached?

- Has the BPM technology/Discipline/Approach reached a point that it cannot make a big leap? Is incremental (not disruptive) innovation the only way forward?

Answer to both is No.

Process Improvement that can be done incrementally on shorter (and faster) spurts have been primarily enabled by BPM. The way the business has always been run it was always desirable to be able to make changes efficiently and not with huge costs and effort. Business Agility has always been valued. In the pre-BPM era the overheads associated were much higher, so a larger goal had to be often targeted to offset some of those big fixed and overhead costs to do with change. With BPM, came that ability to make incremental improvements, and businesses latched on to it.

But that’s not to say that the big leap improvements are not possible with BPM. I have seen big initiatives involving major turnaround in the processes – enabled at core by BPM. But those are rarely advertised and sold as huge initiatives – with the prying eyes everywhere in these Q-to-Q era. The larger goals are broken down into incremental improvement initiatives and we should be thankful for BPM to enable that. But, it doesn’t mean that we cannot have big leap improvements with BPM (in past, at present, or in future), it’s just that those might not be advertised as such.

Second part regarding BPM itself is relatively easier to refute. We are at a point of time which is most conducive in recent few years for big leap innovation in BPM (as technology as well as discipline). Actually, I feel that major part of the last few years since the first few burst in BPM, technology vendors as well as approaches did not have major innovations. Variety of reasons: milking the initial investments, consolidating their positions, experimenting with caution due to lack of maturity, and as mundane as just sitting as acquisitions targets…!

We’re now in a time when a lot of those reasons are slowly making their way out. Consolidations are happening, and may continue but majority of the potential ones are out of the way. Positioning of BPM related technologies have gotten more stable in Enterprise Architecture. And one of the major aspect being that the converging lines are getting clearer (see my post http://wp.me/pN8i1-30). We see many supporting and converging factors (Emergence of Web 2.0, Collaboration, Social Networking, Unified Communication, CEP, Cloud Computing, advances in analytics) that will almost force such innovation upon BPM ecosystem.

I’m sure such leaps are still possible, and actually will happen. And if Incremental Improvement is so much loved by business stakeholders, it’s not because BPM cannot do otherwise, they just like it that way!

I think we’re in for exciting times ahead in BPM…

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