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BPM and The Language of Process

IStock_000023250571SmallThere’s a ferment of ideas about the meaning and future – even the very existence – of Business Process Management (BPM). 

Side-stepping those impassioned debates, I want to offer what seem to me to be some simple truths. 

Every successful organization – every sustainable success – is built upon effective collaboration.  That may sound fluffy. But we can see all around us the failed projects, the waste and the missed opportunities whose root cause is ineffective collaboration.  And its consequences will escalate in a future that is faster-paced, more loosely structured and multisourced, more intricately automated – and more regulated.

Effective collaboration requires many things – vision, teamwork, leadership and so on. But it’s also true that any rich and productive dialogue – any effective collaboration – depends upon a common language. Process is that common language.

It’s the language of process that best enables effective collaboration between all the stakeholders, across functional silos, cultures and organizational boundaries. 

But which process language? 

The vision of the BPM pioneers was that BPMN could be the universal process language. “Don’t bridge the business-IT divide. Obliterate it!” was the rallying cry. In the long run, it’s the right direction. Re-reading ‘The Third Wave’ ten years on, it’s visionary but still essentially sound.

But BPMN hasn’t worked out in practice. It’s a stretch too far for most business people. For the foreseeable future, there’s no single process language that can fully reconcile the vital need of the business for a common collaborative language with the equally vital IT need for the rigour required to build applications.

BPMN looks set to progress – it’s a valuable standard from the IT perspective – but it has to be a generation at least before it could hope to realize its vision and become the universal process language.

If not BPMN, then what?  It seems to me that are three sets of questions to ask in defining the process language that best enables effective collaboration:

Is it visual and intuitive? Does it fully harness the power of visualization? In a hundredth of a second, we can scan an image and understand what it would have taken a hundred words to communicate.

Does it support real work? Languages die out if they are not useful.  It has to be rich, engaging and valuable. It must enrich understanding at every level, from the operating model down to the factory line or call centre, from Finance to IT and Logistics.

Does it enable sustainable innovation? Is it easy for users to feed back improvement ideas to process owners? Is it easy for process owners and stakeholders to collaborate on the design and implementation of change?

Note that IT is not left out in the cold here. IT may use BPMN for systems development but a universal process language that delivers in these three ways has huge benefits to IT as well.  It’s the business engagement that every CIO craves and the perfect framework for requirements capture.

Effective collaboration matters, and it requires a rich common language. Process is that language. Its force multiplier is something I’ll have to pick up next time.

Related Posts

25 Feb 2013    The Hidden Costs Of ‘Normal’ Process Management

28 Aug 2012    The ROI On Process Visualization

© Text Michael Gammage 2013

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