Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Lean + BPM = no big surprise

As I have been working more with process improvement professionals that practice lean methodologies, I thought I would put down my thoughts on what 'lean' means to the office / services companies that are typically customers of business process management (BPM) tools. I'm sure for anyone involved in 'lean' already this will sound like a very rudimentary definition; for that I apologize. This is really an attempt to try and communicate the value of applying lean manufacturing techniques to BPM projects, for customers that have not yet delved into one or the other. To me it seems that the combination of lean and BPM is really nothing new.

Lean Production / Lean Manufacturing has been refined by manufacturing companies, building on decades of experience running ever more efficient production-lines. Without the constraints of a physical production-line, office and services businesses often struggle with improving their business processes, typically falling into the trap of deploying ever more complex enterprise software. The benefits of lean methodologies can be experienced by businesses without a huge software investment and lengthy implementation projects; of course, a solution is required to help guide work as it flows between the activities performed by different people in an end-to-end business process.

As some vendors start marketing the benefits of Lean Business Process Management (Lean-BPM), it is important to remember that the design of new and improved processes with BPM and workflow tools has always incorporated aspects of lean methodologies:

Remove waste from the process

  • convert manual delivery of paper documents to automated delivery of electronic work cases
  • prevent repetitive email of requests lacking appropriate information to template work requests guiding the entry of all information
  • handle manual allocation of work by supervisors to team members automatically, allowing supervisors to focus on delivering value as experts rather than task-masters
  • reduce the time-lag between activities especially for priority work, by instantaneous delivery of work to the next available person in the process, allowing a critical series of activities to be completed faster
  • remove the need for rework by implementing solutions that guide people to completing their tasks correctly first time, also improving quality of the work product and customer perception

Continuous improvement

  • provide the capability to measure the performance of processes with real business metrics
  • identify issues and areas of waste in a business process with easily reviewed information
  • allow business users and analysts to make changes to a process without burdening IT or requiring software development skills

Lean-BPM is a marketing term, not a standalone methodology. A company almost certainly needs software to help improve an office- or services-based business process. If you follow the advice of experienced lean practitioners you will avoid committing to over-complex BPM and enterprise software tools and their extensive software projects at the outset, until you have a better idea of whether they will offer real business value to your to-be processes.

A post from the Improving It blog

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