Processes (sometimes referred to as workflows) are extremely important design elements because they define, very specifically, how work is executed. They are the sequences of discrete tasks in organizations that, when joined together, create value. The more effective the process, the higher the resulting value. It’s important to note that all organizations have processes, whether they have been thoughtfully designed or not. Process ideas and methods have been at the forefront of business improvement programs for many decades (e.g., TQM, Six Sigma, ISO, ITIL, value chain). Two of the most common approaches to workplace improvements are business process management (BPM) and business process re-engineering (BPR).
Business process management (BPM) is based on the idea that optimization is reached through design iterations. That is, business processes go through a series of re-designs based on data from work outcomes of the previous version. BPM is less disruptive and this tends to result in process changes that are more fully adopted. An iterative approach also adds some degree of flexibility by allowing for changing business conditions. The popular concept of continuous improvement is deeply embedded in BPM.
On the other hand, business process re-engineering (BPR) is concerned with the complete and sometimes dramatic replacement of an existing process. It’s a kind of controlled workplace disruption. At the core of BPR is a nearly singular focus on maximizing value for the customer (internal or external). This can lead to significant workplace changes, including interpretations of the role of lower-level management. While there are challenges to properly scoping a BPR project, the results can be significant.
The process improvement market can be confusing with its various diagramming ‘standards’, must-have certifications, modeling languages, and automation software. While they have their place, none of these are required to improve a business process. A sound approach and the involvement of knowledgeable workers are far more important than any specific set of tools.