And One Ring to Rule them All

Scott Francis
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processblueKeith Swenson embarked on a somewhat Sisyphean task in attempting to get the BPM community at large to agree on a common definition of BPM.  As a practitioner and entrepreneur, I’m less concerned about the specific definition in use.  If the definition suffices as a decent short-hand catch-all for what BP3 does, then it is useful for how we go to market to our customers.  If the term “BPM” has significant meaning to our customers, and our market, then it useful for us to go to market with it.

And if the term “BPM” stops having significant meaning, that doesn’t mean that BP3 will stop delivering business value via business process implementations, it just means we’ll be lumped in with a different buzzword-compliant industry umbrella.

But for the philosophers and full-time gurus in the BPM and ACM space, this lack of specificity has been maddening as it results in arguments that can’t be resolved: “oh no, what you just described as BPM isn’t really BPM”.  These folks (Keith included), hope to avoid such problems in the future by having a good definition.

As a cautionary note, I would point them to the Lean Startup movement, which has many parallels to BPM, not least of which is a bit of controversy about “what is a lean startup”.  It turns out that Eric Ries has succinctly defined a lean startup in his book, The Lean Startup.  But that doesn’t stop the argument among entrepreneurs and those that hang around startups to either invest in, write about, or harangue the startups.  Instead of arguing about the definition, they argue about whether company XYZ is really an example of a lean startup or not.  Are they pure enough, did they stray too far, are they papering over their journey to make it look more lean ?

And so, if the debate in BPM circles moves away from the definition, I think we’ll still see people picking apart individual case studies and stories as “not BPM enough”.  This is a game I just don’t want any part of, and I’ll take a page from Eric Ries who said in an interview [paraphrased] “I’m not going to tell you what is or isn’t a lean startup, I’m going to point you to case studies companies are willing to share that they think are lean startup case studies”

Back to BPM.  Here’s the definition Keith and company arrived at:

Business Process Management (BPM) is a discipline involving any combination of modeling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimization of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

I contributed to the discussion, and while this isn’t the definition I would have chosen left to my own devices, I don’t have a problem with this as an operating definition, and we can support it.  Of course, everyone will approach BPM in their own way, and identify BPM opportunities in their own way, and that’s where the definition doesn’t necessarily offer much guidance (many approaches are consistent with this definition, and many “opportunities” are consistent with this definition, but not all approaches or opportunities are created equally!)…

Let’s hope the BPM community can now move on to more interesting subjects!  We’re going to continue to focus on customers, partners, and our team and deliver the best BPM solutions we can.