What the f**k is BPM ?

BPM no longer feels lucky....

I’ll start by making a bold statement: BPM must die.

There. I’ve said it. Move on.
It’s not a prediction. Well, of sorts it is, because for over a decade it’s limped on and it’s time to put a bullet in the old mare. I’ve spent the last week or two looking over what I wrote two years ago and I could repost them all over the course of the next three months and they’d all still strike home.

So what does this mean ?
It means BPM has never really gotten out the gate as something unique and fell flat on its face at the first hurdle. Why do you think it’s such a hard sell internally or to new clients ? Because there is no real market niche (or to put it in another way, the market niche created for BPM is so vague it shouldn’t exist in its own right between the likes of CRM, CMS and ERM).

Sibling Rivalry

A decade of petty squabbling and in-fighting between BPM and the other process brothers hasn’t really gotten us anywhere, has it ? We can’t win an argument over Lean and Six Sigma because they have a defined faith, they instill the same beliefs on the organisation we do, they set up Centres of Elitism (CoE) and preach process. BPM is still spending its nights up it’s own Mount Sinai and it’s not likely to emerge any time soon with defined Commandments. As a practice and methodology BPM is a mess, it’s nothing more than a weak extension of Lean/ Sigma/ Deming and borderline Enterprise Architecture thrown in for effect. BPM 101 courses and certificates are everywhere and frankly are not recognised outside their own training rooms. It’s awash with self-appointed gurus and wizards. When someone turns up with a Hogwarts Degree in Process Alchemy then I’ll know once and for all we’ve lost the plot.

I’ve tried several times in the past to “unite the [process] clans” but the resistance is incredible. I didn’t want to run it, just broker the conversations between parties but people weren’t willing to even go that far.

Don’t bang on about “holistic approach” and “strategy and customer alignment”, sorry but that’s hype you sell to the Client in a vane attempt to persuade them to buy your product and service. A good CRM system will sort that out for you with a strong process improvement culture. Is that BPM ? No. So why call it BPM…..

Destination Eschaton

So where is BPM really heading these days ? Seriously.

The methodology is dead. Just face up to it and accept that the more established process methods are the right way to go. Right now I’m in the middle of a client with a Lean start up culture. Talk BPM to them and they look blankly at you because you’re using the same terminology they are.

  • Customer: check
  • Process improvement: check
  • Alignment to Customer strategies: check
  • Workforce culture: check
  • Process champions: check

So what is BPM if it’s not Lean or creating a process improvement culture to customer strategy ? Again, stop hiding behind your consultancy sales pitch, there’s nothing more holistic about BPM than what the client is already doing.

“Seamless interactions with customers across all channels will increase sales. In depth customer information/history across all channels at point of interaction with customer will increase sales.”

BPM ? Actually it’s SCM but you’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s in the realm of BPMs aim for Customer and process.

As for BPMS. Well, if we all accepted the fact that BPM is BPMS then we’d all be a little happier in the definition stakes. But again face facts, BPMS is on it’s last legs. The niche carved for it is as grey as the methodology approach. A pure BPMS has so many arms and legs, connectors and integrators, it’s nothing more than The Thing on digital steroids, it assimilates and copies most corporate functions with the promise of workflow, dynamic case management and customer focused processes. But so does salesforce.com so why aren’t they BPM ? I wrote two years ago about how they understood process better than half the vendor circuit when they created their Visual Process Manager.

Don’t go on about how using Social technologies has broadened BPMs appeal. So now we have communication and collaboration channels internally and externally for process improvement and customer engagement…..oh hang on, it’s CRM again…..Social BPM is almost a last gasp attempt to move with the times, the last course of antibiotics before the fever finally takes over but even that is nothing more than an internal CRM system for a more chatty Six Sigma hit squad using Visio. The point of social has been completely missed.

Records management, content management, case management they all have a process based back end, they might not offer a glossy interface or UIX that looks visually appealing for modeling but they offer things so similar it’s confusing for people. Granted Dynamic Case/ Adaptive Case (FFS we can’t even agree on a new term) is interesting because of the amount of flexibility it creates and I really want to see this run but in order to increase its adoption try to pull it out of the realms particle physics please, remember, you’re claiming to offer BPM…..sit wee Jeannie down at her terminal and explain it to her like you do with the Analyst crowd and watch her go into a coma. Case should go it alone or at least accept it falls into a market vertical that already exists.

Now we have Gartner and Forrester lashing and tying BI onto the BPM mast and creating yet another four letter word for the sake of a few Whitepapers. Business Execution, Intelligent Business Operations, iBPMS…..And we’re back to The Thing again…….

Death of a Salesman

BPM has become almost invisible because it’s a confused acronym. The amount of times I’ve read ‘What is the ROI of BPM in…..’ or ‘Does anyone have a case study for the ROI of BPM in…..’ across LinkedIn groups is getting tedious. For one, if you’re so sure of BPM as it’s own stand up niche then why isn’t this more readily available ? One of the biggest problems with BPM is the fact it’s so goddamn insular. You fail at implementations and business case proposals because you just don’t share the facts with each other. You can’t sell what you can’t see. It’s like staring at those awful 3D blob pictures and expected to see a unicorn dancing in the everglade, yet you expect the client to do the same for BPM. Because BPM has pitched itself out to be a something for everyone, the Jack of all trades of the organisation, it’s turned itself into the master of none. Who’s to blame ? I think we know the answer.

Talking of failed implementations (and I’m talking BPMS here) another big blocker to BPM ever reaching the championship table is the reputation it’s given itself. Like a poor poker player you only ever hear of the occasional win. The sales team do their bit to win the client and throw all in with the analyst buzzword bingo sheet in the hope they hook the big fish, but how many times are they oversold the product for where they are in their process thinking ? Maturity is something which is completely ignored during a sales pitch, as is the audience intended for the tool. Like so many failed companies, vendors have become too close and precious to their product to be able to think outside of their own software packaging. I dread unboxing BPM software for a client, it’s the complete reverse of running home with an Apple product. I’d love to see a parody on YouTube…..

Analyse This !

This wouldn’t be a BPMredux post without taking a pop at my favourite audience; the analysts. I admire them greatly and am fond of a few given our interactions but please take a good look. They’re driving the industry in the wrong direction, purely from a vested interest to keep to niche alive and well so they can write about it and make a quick killing from vendors and clients alike. I was given a cheat sheet by a client for a BPM tender with the usual analyst selected vendors pulled from a report and I debunked them all because they didn’t fit the client needs but the fact they immediately turn to a body of people who are perceived as fonts of wisdom is so so wrong. At what point did we place them on the highest pedestal ? Analysts have become parodies themselves, they no longer practice so rely on second and third hand information, they’re as out of touch with the coal face as the CEO of a large company is. It’s not so much a case of analysis as revenue generation now. Pay to Play is not a viable model in an industry where information is freely gotten hold of and shared. It’s not just BPM this is a problem for but since we’re on the subject the vendor community seriously need to wake up to this. If two thirds of you left their books would you really see your business decline ? If you did then you have to question why you became so dependent on a third party for your business, that is not a good model for enterprise or profit. Break the Hype Cycle and ride the Wave to a different shore.

Speed Dating

Let’s face it, conferences are nothing more that a meat market for vendors masked with the promise of tall stories of success to learn from. This practice really needs to stop, it’s dying already but please give it the lethal injection. In the same way the analysts throw lightning bolts from the heavens (or so you perceive them to…) the conference circuit has grabbed you by the short and curlies for years now. Pay to become a Cubic Zirconia sponsor and I’ll throw you a lead or two. Clients are pulled in with the lure of learning all about BPM and are then accosted by a pack of hungry vendors smelling a kill, it’s like a feeding frenzy for sales sharks. Looked at LinkedIn recently ? It’s become the same. And the conference organisers are tapping you now for a list of who to showcase as a speaker, are you getting a cut for doing their work ? Suspect not…. And then there’s the topics…..it’s BPM….no it’s not, it’s a Lean implementation…..ah sorry, no, it’s a Six Sigma cost reduction project…..just what the hell is the message ? See, IT’S NOT BPM. Even the whipping boy of the UK banking world, the FSA, are trying to tell firms to move to a more customer-focused way of treating their fanbase, but I don’t hear specific BPM messages being sent out by them because they’re already covered by more established ways of looking at process and customers.

Want something that works ?
Just organise a vendor shootout and invite people along. It’s transparent, they know they’ll expect a sales pitch but they get to see what you’ve got. It’s worked in the past. It’s more focused. And you don’t have to sit and listen to the same people year in year out congratulating themselves and offering you their CV.

Acquiring Minds

It’s a tough game selling BPM, the inevitable will happen and the small players will be bought over. Some seek it out willingly, there’ll be one or two this year for sure, it’s no bad thing. But in order to survive ditch BPM and concentrate on the verticle that you’re good at. There are players with a strong Oil & Gas reputation, exceptional Healthcare stats, why bother with Financial Services when it’s already saturated ? Stick to what you know and build on it, you’ll be unbeatable, you’ll create and evolve solutions for that market that will be well beyond some capabilities needed for others so why sell the Ferrari to another vertical when the client wants a bus ? Leave the BPM vague brochureware behind and start to become something again.

It’s the same for those who are really just Business Process Analysis tools trying to parade as BPM. If you have a repository, if that’s all you can accomplish, if your workflow is a pseudo-add on compared to the rest, just leave it to those who know how to play better than you instead of struggling on. Become BPA and be excellent at it.

So, the BPM market will die off but the message will become a lot stronger for it because there’s no longer a wooly niche to pitch for growth in. You’ll have a defined area. Players will reduce, those that remain will flounder as the tide swings against them. Change is inevitable. Buy a CRM company and learn more about how to handle the customer than you ever did with BPM.

Space, no longer the Final Frontier

Some advice for BPM start-ups. Don’t. The world doesn’t need you. Run a p0rn website, you’ll make more money and the CEO of every company will probably subscribe faster than they would with BPM. When BPM dies off it’ll leave a space, but this space isn’t infinite and being empty doesn’t mean it needs filled again.

Do Not Resuscitate

Ok ok, I’m getting to the end of a very long overdue rant. Suffice to say, BPM has become a little old and unwanted, it’s like a senile and confused relative you visit once a month out of duty but in the back of your mind you’ve already signed the DNR order. Why do you think there’s so much resistance to new blood and innovation in the BPM industry ? It’s down to the old guard I’m afraid, and you pay for their life support machine.

For while I said BPM needed to grow up and evolve, I was wrong, some evolutionary paths just end abruptly because there was nowhere for it to go, it’s the same with BPM, there really isn’t anywhere for it to go. Perhaps the evolution is the branch into an existing market, and the mixing of two business DNA strands to become something stronger and more adaptive. CRM and BPM should get married and have kids, then let the kids evolve rather than remain overbearing parents clinging to youth.

Don’t give the Customer what they want

Final thought, and one taken from the late Steve Jobs: don’t give the Customer what they want, by the time you build it they’ve moved on and want something else.
BPM is still in that phase, it’ll forever be in that phase. A step behind everyone else.  For all the reasons cited and more.

And for those very same reasons, BPM must die.

Live with it.

Footnote: I received an interesting InMail message from the owner of a LinkedIn group threatening to remove me from LinkedIn entirely. It was disappointing that rather than offer a similarly open and constructive challenge and criticism to the blog post they instead took to cheap threats. I think it proved my point nicely and also showed that without healthy challenge in the industry it will become stagnant.

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31 responses to “What the f**k is BPM ?

  1. I work in the field that calls itself BPM and while self-preservation makes me need to tell you you’re wrong, everything else tells me you’re absolutely right. Look no further than the conferences, as you say, where everyone is looking for a tall, sexy ROI story but instead finding a short, round process pitch.

    In the end, it is about driving an outcome in each and every opportunity, not process for process sake. If UPS wants to create a super call center and stand up a system to support centralized customer service, then that’s what you call it.

    Thanks for saying the unsayable.

    • I took no pleasure (well, ok, some) from writing this, and a big risk to boot, but I’ve always stood by and stood up for BPM when it was challenged, now I need to do the challenging myself because it’s just never found its place in industry at large.

      I know a lot of people who just can’t write this stuff but think it every day, so your comment means a hell of a lot Chris.

      Next round is on me :)

  2. So what does this mean for the poor schmuck one third of the way through a BPM certificate program looking to apply the knowledge and skills learned in that program to the many organic and dysfunctional non-process areas of his workplace?

    • Depends on the course…….invest in a Lean or Six Sigma course that will enhance your career prospects, you only have to look online at the job boards to understand what will work on your CV and what will be ignored. BPM as a discipline to market yourself with is nothing more than process/ continuous improvement, only it’s a hollow certificate stacked against the others. That’s my opinion, you have free will to make up your own.

      But don’t worry Mike, BPM won’t die for a long time, it has more lives than a cat unfortunately.

  3. Great post. As I still believe a process is a good thing to use to organize things, or better: be aware what I need to make customers happy, I absolutely agree on killing the vague term BPM.

    Actually it is strange. Lean is nothing more than, what I think is, (a part of) BPM, but it is so much easier to sell than BPM.

    Now I said that; It is actually a strange idea to sell BPM.

    Every company is already doing it, but some do better than other (or they are not even aware). But they must be doing process (they probably call it ‘our job’) , otherwise no products or services will come out.

    So isn’t it strange to sell something to companies what they already do?

    So as they don’t buy BPM because they already do it, they probably want to buy something that makes them better in doing it. ( I already have a car, but I would like to buy a chip to make it faster).

    That’s probably why lean is selling. And your suggestion to sell specialist things suddenly makes sense.

    My mind is popping up a lot of more things. But I have to leave now. I have to prepare a demo (of a BPMS (or should I call it a corpseS)) for the Gartner summit in London next week. Wish me luck….

    • Hi Emiel,

      Absolutely process is a good thing, but in order to understand the benefits and be able to educate from top to bottom it’s no bad thing to ditch the nebulous concepts so the messages are clear again.

      Keep that mind popping ;)

  4. Theo – regarding lean startup vs. BPM – there’s a lot to learn from lean startup (and a lot they learned from lean). Cross pollination is a good thing. I’ve written about it several times over the last few years, for example, dating back to 2010. http://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2011/04/what-bpm-can-learn-from-the-lean-startup/ As you say -tons of similarities – isn’t that interesting? (rather than upsetting?)

    But the venom in your post is really surprising. Who killed your dog? :)

    Our business is doing great, and we’re a bpm shop. We could call ourselves a lean shop, or a six sigma shop, but because we use a BPMS, and that’s what the market is used to calling it, we call it a BPM shop. And the market is growing just fine. For us, that’s meant a ten-fold increase in 4 years. But the market at large never exploded like EAI did (then again, it never flamed out the way EAI did either, right?). Is it so bad to have a niche that is a steady-eddy that grows every year but never explodes? To have a niche that DOESN’T turn into a big inflated bubble?

    Maybe I’m off base but as someone who never picked up on your community invite, I’ll first, apologize that I didn’t – at the time I was working 60 hours as week for clients and another 20 to run the business. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who was just crazy busy. And there are efforts to share going on – OMG, PKBOK, etc. And there are more vendor-specific technical issues to share about (which BP3 does quite a lot of). There are so many ways to share that nothing has critical mass as the source for truth :)

    Meanwhile I’m getting back to SXSW – a conference I am making time for because it is a great cross-pollination experience. No talk of BPM for a few days, lots of talk of lean startups, mobile, social, and other things. I’m sure it will energize me when I return next week to focus on BPM – not sure why this sort of broadening experience has the opposite effect on you (based on my read of your blog). I think it is great news that there is more than one way to explain important concepts to customers/users/sponsors/techies.

    • Hey Scott, good to hear from you :)

      I wouldn’t call an open critique of the industry venomous, it’s just a challenge to be proven wrong and nothing I haven’t written about before. It’s a strong challenge yes but really, BPM has become extremely apathetic and rested on its laurels for far too long. Have you seen the Star Trek episode “This Side of Paradise” ?

      KIRK: No wants. No needs. We weren’t meant for that. None of us. Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.
      ELIAS: We have what we need.
      KIRK: Except a challenge.

      I’m smiling at the fact you’re at SXSW right now, this is precisely the kind of thing we need to be doing (again, haven’t I written about taking lessons from other industries before ??) but you can’t deny that BPM has turned inbred over the years, it’s scared of its own shadow at times.

      Lean Startup is just Lean, no need to brand it something else. Same as BPM, it’s a Swiss army knife made up of many other tools and those tools exist already only people aren’t confused when they pull out a corkscrew…..

      • Theo, to the last point – it isn’t “just lean”, that isn’t fair to the people who’ve put time and thought into the lean startup concepts. For those of us familiar with lean there is much derivative work (which the lean startup folks readily cite), but there was nothing about iterative development or minimum viable product in “lean” by itself. And coupled with lean startup is customer discovery. I’d recommend reading some of steve blank’s articles on the subject, and on the subject of the lean launchpad. But again, names are just names, it is what is behind them that is interesting, and these guys have done interesting work to advance the understanding of startups (and the processes that ought to govern them). Lean in the old days was never about startups, as you and I both know. Adaptations are interesting. If Lean by itself were all we needed to know I’d expect to see all those lean consultants running startups ;)

        To the other points – saying something “must die” and dropping f-bombs is what I call venomous :) I know you’ve said it before (many times). But the challenge to live or die isn’t really a challenge. Clearly BPM is living on.

        The echo chamber of analysts in any space gets “inbred” oner the years. Who cares? The action is out there/here with customers and software companies. At bp3 it doesn’t feel like we’re being apathetic – but I guess I can’t speak for a whole marketplace :)

      • Hi

        My point about Lean Startup is that’s it’s now part of the Lean culture, a component of the overall approach.

        “Lean startup is sometimes described as Lean Thinking applied to the entrepreneurial process.[4] A central tenet of Lean Thinking is to reduce waste. Lean startup processes reduce waste by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect market assumptions as early as possible.”

        BPM just borrows what it can from other disciplines and then claims its a holistic management approach to process. It offers no such concrete definition or (r)evolution as the above has done Scott.

        Yeah, I may have written about how insular or nebulous the practice is before but was that all ? Nothing about new concepts, collaboration and ideas ? Come come now ;)

        The F bomb is a nice way of getting attention for sure, not venomous, after all there are plenty constructive articles that begin the same in other industries. Didn’t you say to cross pollinate ?
        :D

  5. Theo, have you given up hope on BPM? I know the feeling; been working with BPM for +12 years, had my moments of disbeliefs and still I find it short of a real breakthrough. But the breakthrough hasn’t been this close before….

    This is my five cent to the discussion. I feel that most of you already are very familiar with what I’m going to write…

    I think that BPM is suffering from a couple of things;
    1.There is no clear definition of BPM that everyone agrees on. What is BPM?

    2.It has become software vendor driven. Everyone is trying to get a piece of the action and hype that’s BPM. The vendors also have their own definition of BPM in order to suit their delivery. This of course enhances the problem in bullet 1.

    3.The Analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester etc. tends to push the vendor side with all the different Magic Quadrants for this and that. Have seen to many papers from them on BPM in whole.

    One of the best definitions I’ve seen on BPM is actually Gartner’s from October 2006. It states;

    “BPM is a management discipline that provides governance in a business process environment with the goal of improving agility and operational performance. BPM is a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage and optimize an organization’s activities and processes.”

    This means that it’s not software we’re talking about it’s the M in BPM, management. We’re looking at BPM as being a management discipline. If we have that approach my view is that it all falls into place.

    This definition mentions methods. Methods could be regular As-Is/To-Be analysis, LEAN concept, Six Sigma or LSS for that. I think this will depend on the organizations preference and maturity of which method they want to apply.

    We need a management practice meaning that we need to setup an organization handling BPM. This means Process owners, Center of Excellence with supporting services and staff, governance structures etc. We need to make sure that what we do within the business processes contributes to the overall strategies and objectives within the company and that they are delivering according to our customer expectations.

    We want to be able to support BPM Life Cycle (design, model, execute, monitor/measure, optimize) in the best way for continuous improvement of our business processes. This is in most cases done by with help of software. Depending on what phase we are at in the BPM Life Cycle we need different tools, like BPA to BPMS/iBPMS to cover design, model and execution, BAM and BI to cover monitor/measure and BPA and/or BPMS/iBPMS to optimize.

    This has been my approach that I have been delivering to my customers successfully. I started off in the vendor driven BPM world and I have shifted to the management driven BPM world due to the disbeliefs that I had.

    I probably forgot plenty of arguments but my time is running out…it’s Friday afternoon for god’s sake!!

    Cheers!

    /Ola

    • Thanks Ola :)

      Not entirely given up on BPM, if I had I’d have blindly accepted what’s going on and just rolled over for tummy strokes.

      Thanks for digging up the Gartner quote, now what does that tell us about the analysts then ? They’re quick to offer definition so they can call dibs on the others but look how quickly they abandon it in favour of everything else afterward. It was almost an afterthought coming out with that in 2006 because they’ve been chasing $$ from the vendors. Only now is Forrester looking at training and BPM courses, why now ?? Any analyst firm worth their salt would have tried to guide the discipline as soon as it emerged and called for a stake in the ground and an authority to continue that guidance. Sadly collaboration has only really turned up as a concept because it’s part of the “social” phenomenon…..really…..

      Any management strategy for process can exist but it doesn’t need an entire “ology” built around it. A recent client has Lean with a robust management practice toward process and adoption around it. You can’t call it BPM in its own right otherwise you confuse what you’re trying to instill as a culture.

      Sure, as the world changes so does what it means to be BPM, unfortunately the world has outgrown BPM entirely. Any management strategy for process can exist but it doesn’t need an entire “ology” built around it.

      Stick it on eBay and see how much you’re bid for this antique.

  6. Hi Theo – Thanks for a thought provoking piece. As someone who has been involved in BPM for more years than I care to think about, your article certainly struck a chord, or maybe that should that be a nerve! :)

    My main thought on reflection is – are you throwing the baby out with the bathwater? In dismissing so completely the whole concept of BPM I think there are some important areas of progress that go out of the window at the same time. For me, one of the most valuble things BPM does is introduce process as a common lexicon that binds both IT and business together to solve business problems rather than to provide technical solutions to the problems that IT thinks the business has. (note I am not saying BPM solutions are not technical – as you know they can be very technical!). Taking this a stage further, through BPM, if implemented well – a whole new type breed of person is born, the Business Technologist (coming from either with traditional business areas or IT) – who maintains, enhances and finds new process areas for improvement. I think Business Technologists will come to be viewed as one of BPM’s greatest legacies.

    Another BPM trait that I wouldn’t want to lose, is the way tackling defined process areas means that business benefit can be delivered incrementally, driving ROI in “baby steps” but within a framework that ultimately can drive significant process transformation. Very different from monolithic ERP projects (or indeed CRM ones for that matter!).

    BPM also facilitates rather than dictates. We always tell our customers that we aren’t McKinsey. They know their business, but through BPM we can facilitate them in understanding it and developing it much more efficiently in the future.

    I totally agree that the whole BPM space has become a little cozy. The massive vendor consolidation exercise of recent years hasn’t helped here. But to my mind the BPM space is still evolving into some exciting areas. Only this week, I have signed up to a Beta programme for a cool Dutch company, that is doing some exciting stuff in the Process Mining space (Fluxicon). The combination of Business Rules and process, event processing, better links from modelling to run time environments – are all examples of areas that BPM is evolving into.

    As Scott mentioned there is also a ton of stuff to learn from the wider world – the likes of Eric Reis and the Lean Start Up Movement being one great example – but surely this is a good thing!! Critically I still have faith that by acting as facilitator to help Business Technologists understand and improve their businesses through process – BPM has a place in the world and will continue to thrive.

    Anyway – keep up the good work. If there were no alternative viewpoints the world would be a very dull place!!

    Nigel

  7. Two years on…? more like 10 years on! When I first heard the BPMS pitch it reminded me of a similar one I heard from a company called Data general, I think in the late 1970s….just as naive. History repeats itself….

    • Hi Laurence,

      2 years was reference to a lot of the writing and collaboration I did in 2010 within the industry, trying to push for unity and definition as well as real innovation.

      I know full well after a decade or two BPM has failed to provide any real definition for itself and just continues to plagiarise and consume in the hope it’ll grow so large people will have to accept it.

      But then even Steve McQueen defeated the Blob, and the rebels destroyed the Death Star…..BPM isn’t too big to bring down either.

  8. As I flick through my rolodex of metaphors, your post best aligns with the card that says: “The Emperor has no clothes.” I find myself agreeing with your enumeration of facts and interpretations thereof, but vaguely disagreeing with the conclusion. Why the dissonance, I ask myself?

    Certainly it’s true in the US (where I’m from, though I’ve spent time in other parts of the world) that process improvement “methods” have largely been dominated by Six-Sigma, Lean, and now Lean-Six-Sigma practitioners; largely thanks to the exporting of senior managers out of GE (and to a lesser extent, Motorola). However, there’s also a healthy dose of Sarbanes-Oxley process documenters as well. These are the “generalist” process improvement types (more on the IT documenters below). Then we have the more specialized that focus on (say) SCM, CRM, HRM and the like. We also have technology-oriented (bottom-up?) practitioners that favor UML (and more recently SCRUM and its variants). Like doubtless many who read this blog, I have friends in the profession that are in each of these camps. And, when I dialog with them, I find the conversation quickly narrows — much like tracing the outlines of a Venn diagram. Six-Sigma lean types are generally clueless about the possibilities of using technology-enablement down the road (if at all). The VOC is limited in its scope. Services are a weird kind of SIPOC-style process. The SOX crowd is mostly interested in audit-chart representations of process to discover lax controls, poor regulatory complance, etc.Few of the preceding process maps or diagrams reflect a notion of a client/customer trying to solve a problem, let alone their metrics. The specialist domain folks (CRM, SCM, HRM, …) know their domain and “best practices” well (very well) but can’t deal with “next practice” (i.e., what if the SCM is “core” to the business, as in the cases of, say, Walmart). The IT folks too often see the world through DB’s and code solutions, sometimes through service integration, and rarely as a process problem that might benefit, at some point, from IT-enablement.

    To me, then, there’s something more generic about “BPM.” As an aside, I don’t really use this term myself, preferring to think of this as services that have underlying processes associated with them, that clients/customers invoke to solve problems. But I need a “matchburn” phrase in some settings, so BPM is it for now. Anyhow, I find the other terms used to be too limiting in their outlook and scope.

    In a previous post you also rail against incrementalism (continuous improvement). I believe change management (and the issues associated with it) are the major issue in effecting BPM in any of it’s value-adding forms. What I like about BPM (and BPMS) is that it should, in principle and good practice, allow for such incrementalism, and the organizational learning that’s necessary to achieve organizational acceptance. And, BPMS has a lot to contribute to this. (It also has a lot to contribute to the performance data needed to provide data support for a Six-Sigma or Lean-style process improvement effort). We know from the days of BPR that the wholesale displacement (the “Don’t automate, obliterate dictum”) of processes can easily cause wholesale disruption and rejection of process improvement efforts of whatever stripe.

    What I believe you have correctly captured are the “vested interests” of the various parties that are under the umbrella of BPM (and BPMS). And, I would also agree that things like ACM, Keith H-B’s HIM and others variants represent quite different versions of what process management is or can be when the end-to-end process isn’t known at the start.

    I’m not quite willing to throw in the cards, so to speak, and simply align with the Six-Sigma-Lean crowd, as compelling as the professional certification and future employment prospects argument might be. Nor to abandon BPMN for SIPOC or audit charting or some other flavor of process diagramming/mapping such as Rummler-Bache, UML Activity Diagramming. Nor am I prepared to completely detach process improvement from IT-enablement and all of it’s associated viewpoints (e.g., rules,, Decision Management, BAM, event processing and CEP). In short, I’m not quite willing to give up my “rich picture” of BPM for a lamer, narrower viewpoint (e.g., Six-Sigma) simply because it’s the fashion.

    All of this said, in what I would view as a “seminal” blog on the state of BPM, I thank you for publicly sharing it, and for forcing me to challenge my subconscious, and surfacing why my belief system won’t allow me to immediately capitulate to your line of argumentation. And, since we’re all wearing our badges on our sleeves, I, like you will make my views public as well.

    Cheers, Theo; and thanks for the post.

  9. I have not studied BPM closely but I have not found anything distinctly useful / usable from BPMN. So is the case with UML Activity Diagram which I have used more closely. In the meantime I see revival and promotion of IDEF0, IGOE…which look more promising.

    I would be glad to see the plug being pulled on BPMN & UML Activity Diagram. Soon enough their place should be taken by “expandable / collapsible Comprehensive & High-Precision Process Modeling Methods and Conventions”. I would be glad to join any one on this path.

    kenablersys@yahoo.com 11MAR12

    • BPMN 2.0 is an “expandable / collapsible Comprehensive & High-Precision Process Modeling Methods and Conventions”. Do you have any idea the goal, purpose, and value of BPMN?

  10. Hi Theo – I too would like to thank you for the post. It takes guts to put those words to paper. I also feel your pain as I too have been fighting the “good fight” for the past 12 years with some, but in truth, little progress.
    But I’m not too sure that that this failing is not just “BPM”‘s fault. I have seen BPM as the “next practice” because I think that our society is moving towards a major singularity which will shake the current power structure. But until that time comes, our efforts are an uphill battle.
    When I look at LSS efforts, they get off the ground faster put almost always peter out once they start working at the enterprise level. And in the financial industry where I work, sub-optimization is everywhere. Everyone is patting themselves on the back for a well implemented improvement but overall customer satisfaction is stagnant and overall costs keep going up.
    I hope, like Ola, that we are closer to our goal than ever before. I motivate myself by saying that I’m going against over 200 years of ingrained education and rewards from the current system. I might be living in a dream world, but when you don’t want to live in the actual one, that’s all I’ve got.
    It’s not BPM for BPM’s sake. It’s the promise of a different system. This is a revolution. Revolutions are tough. Many fail. But for now at least, I will soldier on.

  11. Theo:

    I think the difference is who can deliver something or will continuously delivering power point presentation. It’s like BPM = BPMS and other barnyard oddities.

    I would put in other way BPM is slow moving (it can take around 4 years or more to a company start feeling it exists) and it can start to petrify like it happened with other movements.

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    • I’ve replied Ola, let’s see whether Jim actually publishes it…..

      But for those interested, here it is

      “It’s not “how come” it’s “since when” Jim
      Since when did BPM become completely driven by vendors ?
      Since when did methodology take a back seat with the analysts ?
      Since when has the analysis of BPM simply become a sales benchmarking exercise ?

      Perhaps you need to return to your own Hype Cycle reports and examine just what is the message you’re trying to tell the industry at large, there is so much jargon and unnecessary terminology that people coming to BPM, whether completely fresh or moving into advance stages, haven’t got a clue where to start.

      Process is for people, BPM is for everyone. Speak their language.

      I’m all for BPM (r)evolution and it may not be completely dead, but the necrotic parts still need cut out…..”

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  16. And now it seems you don’t believe your own hype, as only a month after you’re banging on about how BPM must die you’re joining Pega? Hilarious!

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