Recently I’ve been reading a fascinating book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, the father of the Palm Pilot.
One section described how the brain and intelligence can be viewed via a hierarchy structure and it became immediately apparent that this could be translated to one of BPM’s age old questions:
Do we begin with a Top Down or Bottom Up approach when starting with BPM ?
I’ve attempted to paraphrase the book’s entry here with a BPM slant which reads quite well given it’s a purely technical slant, but I urge you to read the book itself as it’s truly enlightening.
There’s no right and wrong answer, there’s a mix involved and it really depends on the situation which is why BPM needs to be a flexible discipline going forward.
Trying to figure out how BPM works is like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle. You can approach it in one of two ways. Using the “top down” approach (EWPM) , you start with the image of what the solved puzzle should look like, and use this to decide which pieces to ignore and which pieces to search for. The other approach is “bottom up” (Six Sigma), where you focus on the individual pieces themselves. You study them for unusual features and look for close matches with other puzzle pieces. If you don’t have a picture of the puzzle’s solution, the “bottom up” method is sometimes the only way to proceed. Lacking a good framework for understanding processes, organisations have been forced to stick with the “bottom up” approach. This tasks is Herculean if not impossible, with a puzzle as complex as an organisational structure.
Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with several thousand pieces. Many of the pieces can be interpreted multiple ways, as if each had an image on both sides but only one of them is right. All the pieces are poorly shaped so you can’t be certain if two pieces fit together or not. Many of them will not be used in the ultimate solution, but you don’t know which ones or how many. Every month new pieces arrive in the post. Some of these new pieces replace older ones, as if the puzzle maker was saying, “I know you’ve been working with these old puzzle pieces for a few years, but they turned out to be wrong. Sorry! Use the new ones instead until further notice.” Unfortunately, you have no idea what the end result will look like; worse, you may have some ideas but they are wrong.
The puzzle analogy is a pretty good description of the difficulty we face in BPM. The puzzle pieces are process information and data that an organisation has been collecting for years. Each month, new statistical information, data or process is collected and analysed, creating additional puzzle pieces. Sometimes the data collected will contradict the data from another source, and because it can be interpreted in different ways there will always be disagreement.
Without a “top down” framework, there is no consensus on what pieces to look for, which pieces are more important, or how to interpret the overall solution. Has our understanding of BPM has been stuck solely in the “bottom up” approach ?