The Lean and BPM Combo


The classic conflict

Lean and BPM teams are often found to be locking horns with each other. Very often, one comes across stories about serious conflicts and miscommunications that take place between Lean and BPM (Business Process Management) practitioners.

Lean professionals are of the view that the “real process improvement” takes place under Lean while BPM teams believe that BPM leads from the front in terms of the approach that should be followed and Lean should follow the path suggested by BPM.

While commuting to the office the other day, I initiated a discussion with a fellow passenger on the bus, who happens to be a Lean expert. Surprisingly, he was also of the view that Lean and BPM professionals, working for the same project, in a large organization, often can’t gel with one another, leading to total chaos and utter lack of co-ordination.

What could be the issue? I mean, both Lean and BPM are aimed at gaining process efficiencies, both aim at finding the customer pain points and the loopholes in the AS IS processes and both provide ways and measures to fix the business process related pain areas. Both Lean and BPM are used to make an organization’s processes more nimble and robust. It’s hard to imagine the reason behind the disconnect between the two.

Time to dissect!

Let’s try to look at Lean and BPM as separate entities for a clear understanding.

Lean is a methodology that focuses on reducing wastes and streamlining business processes and resources. According to Lean philosophy, any activity that is not adding any value to the product or service is considered as waste and should be eliminated or at least minimised. Lean aims at providing higher quality, reducing overall cycle time, lowering costs and hence, improving overall efficiencies.

Let’s look at BPM now. BPM is an approach that is process-centric and aims at delivering operational improvement by providing a process based view of an organization’s day to day processes. BPM uses its suit of process modelling tools and notations to draft the business processes of an organization.

Process models created in BPM provide a holistic view of people, process and system. “People” denotes the actors who perform a particular process or operation. “Process” denotes the actual business process that's been performed and “System” denotes the tool or the application (e.g. SAP, PeopleSoft etc.) being used to perform the operation.

So what’s the difference?

According to APQC, BPM is the “way of looking and managing business processes”. BPM is a business strategy, it’s a management approach used to improve business processes whereas, Lean is a technique used for process improvements. BPM is macro, the bigger picture whereas Lean falls under micro, and it fits into the bigger picture.

To cut a long story short -- BPM is an overall management and process improvement umbrella and Lean is one of the process improvement techniques that fit into this umbrella. Lean is one of the techniques that are used to implement BPM.

Lean (and Six Sigma as well) generally looks into dealing with very specific business processes. The focus always remains on eliminating the non-value adding activities in the business process. But here is a caveat -- if the processes are not specifically defined, then neither Lean, nor Six Sigma can be effectively used to derive benefits.

That’s where BPM comes into picture. The process information captured in BPM Process models help consultants to pin-point and adequately measure performance across different process steps of a business operation.

The other differentiating factor between Lean and BPM is the time taken for implementation. Typically, a Lean engagement often takes a considerable amount of time to gather information and implement Lean based improvements. BPM provides a speedier environment, in terms of process modelling, change management, process governance and process simulation.

The Combo effect

Many organizations implement a blend of Lean and BPM to analyse and improve their business processes. In this Lean and BPM combo approach, BPM takes the lead and is used to define the way how Lean will be implemented. It is more like linking strategy to operations where BPM dons the strategy hat and Lean looks into the operations part.

Lean, as we know, is an amazing technique to address the root-cause of a business problem. BPM’s fundamental values of Process quantification, Process visibility, Process control and Process Improvements complement the core techniques of Lean. KPIs, Delegation of Authority, Task Lists and Standard Operating Procedures that come out of BPM provide the “strategic” flavour to Lean.

So, BPM provides the framework and the method to improve the business processes and Lean principles provide the technique and the tactics to achieve process efficiencies. Combining Lean and BPM together helps organizations in taking the best out of both the approaches, thereby bridging the gap between the overall business strategy and the actual on-the ground operations.

This reminds me of a very popular quote from Henry Ford:-

“Coming together is beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”

That’s precisely what the organizations are looking at today. BPM and Lean go hand in hand!