What comprises the Definitive Core of BPM?

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What’s the Core of BPM? This may sound like a rhetorical question, especially in this blog. But, seriously, what’s the definitive core of BPM right now? I’m not looking for the definition of BPM, as we have spent sufficient time debating it (as Gary brought to our notice again) and realizing there’s no one single (please all) approach to defining BPM. I just wanted to reflect upon it a little, without being suggestive of the answer one way or the other as I have often tried to do in the past. A prominent answer could help. May be any skepticism around BPM being a bubble could be then erased, apart from help from some other learning that Adam also hinted at from CRM example.

So, What lies at the definitive core of BPM?

Is it the workflow? There’s no doubt in my mind that the workflow (whether you define it systemically or as a concept) has been the core of BPM since its inception and has been. But, then, we had this intriguing debate on EBizQ on this!

Is it the Process mindset? Process mindset – Know the Objective, Define the process, model the process, execute the modeled process, monitor and optimize the process through execution; met huge debates through the last few months with the advent of Agile, Adaptive, Ad-hoc flavors of process management. While we could still debate that an agile or adaptive process mindset also requires respect for the “process” in the first place, what is at the core of this process mindset that BPM cannot do without? Is it Adherence to a defined process or visibility into the executing process or adaptively navigating through the process whichever way the gravity takes you?

Does the answer lie in “a Way of life”? Now, this is a philosophical refuge for most hard core BPM practitioners, including me, since it actually brings out some irrefutable arguments in favor of BPM as a Discipline. But, then the question arises as to what, “in that BPM way of life”, is at the core. What is it that BPM bring out that a traditional Six Sigma approach or even a functional domain such as CRM or SCM is not already practicing “in the sense of a way of life”. Which way of life does BPM dictate that nothing else can bring forward on its own? I have myself pointed out earlier that it’s the culture/mindset, and not which tools or technologies you use, at least between Case and Processes. But, what would be at the core of BPM vis-à-vis all these various ways of life?

Is it the Outcome-Orientation, as Outside-In or Adaptive approach or ACM suggest? I’m completely in line with the importance of the same, the fact remains that it is a very pragmatic approach to “practice that core thing that BPM is composed off”. It all starts from the ultimate need or want of the end customer, and finding out how a particular process or set of actions need to be orchestrated to achieve the same. I’m just trying to figure it out what that “core” is! What seem common among all approaches are People, Interactions, Outcome, and a combination of tools/technologies, but that would be true of any technology that has an interface for the humans. What differentiates BPM?

We have had many peripheral distractions along the way: Social BPM, BPM(S) in the cloud, and blurring with many other disciplines & technologies, but I guess we have had an opportunity to synergize all these and focus on what the BPM as a discipline had to offer. But, when it comes to the core, while I tried to capture in the picture, the multiplicity of these combinations on offer for those who look for a solution have the question staring in their face again. Do I label my initiative as BPM based on what the vendor or the solution provider calls it (Mike calls it the confusion due to the unnatural acts that hijacking of BPM by vendors causes)? Do we, then, elevate BPM to culture sensitive Business Architecture, where depending on how you bring it about (hint: discipline or way of life again) will determine whether we practiced BPM or not? But, then it goes back to where the core would lie again.

At this point of time, what would be the definitive core set which needs to exist in my initiative to call it a BPM, and without a vendor or a solution provider or an analyst requiring to label it as such, and exclusively so?

I would go ahead and say,… er… um… (almost tempted to blurt out something, but may be later). Whatever I say would meet with some debates anyway! (Hint: For my blurred PoV, look at my attempt from last year and update it a little for the last few months, but that is not an answer too as you can see in the picture as well!)


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  1. #1 by Neil Ward-Dutton on March 9, 2011 - 9:51 am

    This is a great post that frames the conundrum very well Ashish. I need to go away and think about this! Which is always a good sign 😉
    Thanks for the link to my post, too.

  2. #2 by Sandy Kemsley on March 13, 2011 - 8:25 pm

    For an academic view, you can see the paper “The Six Core Elements of Business Process Management” by Michael Rosemann and Jan vom Brocke at http://www.springerlink.com/content/t78h73518w65g174/ In short: Strategic Alignment, Governance, Methods, Information Technology, People and Culture.

    This refers to BPM as an overall practice and methodology, not just BPM technology implementations.

  3. #3 by William Evanikoff on March 30, 2011 - 3:55 am

    Your graphic is very interesting, but I wouldn’t put software at the center. I would put the BPM activity at the center. Also, workflow is an artifact of the BPM activity which facilitates the process being optimized – it is not the BPM activity, nor is it the process itself. It does facilitate and partially document the process.

    Here is a definition for BPM that forms the core of my understanding:

    BPM is an approach to organizing that focuses on the optimization of critical processes for purposes of efficiency. It is a management-driven activity – a key distinction from other process improvement initiatives. -Dean Walsh, PhD

    Please permit me to explain what that means to me. It’s an approach to organizing… implicit in this is that BPM can be transformative to a company. The critical processes that are mentioned drive value, are usually interdepartmental, sometimes extend beyond the enterprise, and if they are flawed processes they cannot be improved with better people or technology. The focus must remain on the iterative improvement of the process, and the inclusion of more processes into the process optimization (or BPM) universe. Ultimately, organizational units and even performance incentives are aligned with processes instead of organizational function. It is a transformation that is incremental and iterative. Business Process Organizations (BPOs) usually have a Center-of-Excellence as in other process improvement initiatives. That’s what I’ve been taught, anyway.

    I think BPM software can add value in modeling, especially if simulation of a highly automated and complex process is needed (although it’s seldom been as helpful as I thought it was going to be). It has obvious advantages in automation of tasks and monitoring, but that’s only part of the BPM activity. The assessment and design phases use many tools that could easily be manual or software based even if it is Excel, Word or SmartDraw. That doesn’t mean that you should look at BPM as a software-focused activity, but as a software-assisted activity.

    I agree with Mike Gammage completely that the BPM term (much like the SAAS term) has been hijacked by software marketers. So, it’s no wonder that business technologists have difficulty defining BPM because technology is only part of the picture for BPM. IT departments are usually concerned with automating systems, but BPM transforms systems. You will probably have automation in the transformed process, but the automation is not the BPM solution – it is the process design to be automated that is the BPM solution. Someday, maybe we will have BPM-in-a-box, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon. Can we have Six-sigma-in-a-box? Sarbanes-Oxley in-a-box? CEO-in-a-box? I think I just heard a resounding “Yes!” from Oracle and IBM. I remain doubtful.

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