Looking Behind The Curtain

  • April 17, 2010
  • Scott
  • 4 Comments

Neil Ward-Dutton has a great post about BPM vendor results that moves into a discussion of process improvement approaches:

The distinction between “old school” and “new wave” process improvement approaches (I’ve called these “high church” and “low church” before) is just continuing to get stronger. 10 years ago, the vast bulk of process improvement activity used to be driven by the “high church” crowd: lots of ceremony, burning of incense, and so on. Scientific improvement efforts driven by highly-qualified specialists are essential in situations where there’s a lot at stake (for example when you’re reengineering an auto manufacturing line: get it wrong and it’s going to cost you a lot to put it right). And don’t get me wrong: there’s definitely a place for this.

This description and the ensuing thoughts reminded me of our early experiences with BPM at Lombardi.  Lance and I (and others at Lombardi) were often running into process improvement experts with a grounding in Six Sigma or Lean (or less often, IDS Scheer, or Enterprise Architecture modeling).  We were sometimes supported by these folks, and sometimes they resisted our approach (and “BPM” in general).  On the whole, there was a lot of resistance, as our approach to process improvement was somewhat heretical.

So Lance (now CEO of BP3), embarked on a journey to get behind the curtain, to understand the vestments of the Six Sigma and process improvement community so that we could better work with these folks.  After going through the first rounds of training at the Green Belt level, he started to get others of us to go through the training as well.  And what we found was that you didn’t have to adopt the religion of Six Sigma to get the value.  The statistical tools are just that :  great tools you can use.  The “high church” trappings are wholly unnecessary but they do create an aura of authority for those who exercise them.  Lance went on to become a certified Master Black Belt, but we continued to apply what we learned from Six Sigma in an eminently practical way.  The point isn’t to be “pure” – the point is to get to value faster.  If statistics can do that for your business, then you use them.  In our mind, if a BPMS can do that for your business, then you use it.  Make the best of the tools at your disposal to get the maximum benefit.

Still, there are those whose self-interest is aligned with keeping the “high church” ceremonies and orthodoxy firmly in place.  The challenge is to keep it in perspective – scientific approaches can inform the “new wave” way of thinking without slowing things down.

One of the ironies now is that some of the newer entrants to the Business Process space now see BPM as the high church (old school) and their own approach as the new wave.

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