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Is Lean a Viable New Approach to BPM?

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Lean is clearly a 'hot' topic n BPM right now, but some have suggested that it is merely a marketing ploy and not a standalone methodology.  So is Lean a viable new approach to BPM?

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  • I certainly think it's more than just a marketing ploy. While my Lean experience consists of a daylong seminar to get some background, the biggest takeaway was that its primary focus is on the reduction of waste. Is that sufficient for a BPM effort? I think the answer to that question depends on what your BPM goals are. I think Lean is at just as much risk as any other technique for missing the forest while staring at the trees. You may eliminate waste in a process for a given team, but you may fail to see the inherent differences in similar processes across multiple teams because your scope was wrong. Or you may not recognize that some of what you see as "waste" may be required by someone else's process.

    I think the right way of viewing this is that monitoring the execution of your processes is clearly part of managing those processes. That monitoring information can be useful in a Lean event for process improvement, if that's your focus. If your short term BPM goals are focused more on process standardization, then Lean may not be as of much value at that point in time, but it is a tool that should be in your tool belt.

  • Lean is yet another buzz in IT. I do like some aspects of it and can see why businesses would be very interested, the marketing bumpf does sound impressive. However, does it or can it really work to bring real value and efficiency to processes? Well I have my doubts...

    Deploying BPM for very "stand-alone" type processes, Lean could well be the option. However, business processes dont stand-alone, they are interlinked, they integrate with other applications, processes, data sources etc. In these type of situations, it is no good in being able to model a process rapidly and have an interface out of the box ready for use, if the user cannot have everything at their finger tips through integration of systems.

    This is already a big bug bear of mine with BPM in general - that modelling tools are used to help BAs and irradicate IT development, when really, big big gains and impact is only achieved when you use "intelligent" business maps and start integrating everything you need within a business process. Lean simply cannot do that...

    I have posted on using "intelligent" mapps a few times - the most recent is http://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/intelligent-bpm-maps/

    So to answer the question. I think lean is an exaggerated way of using typical BPM map modelling. For me, any solution like this is more marketing than an actual usable BPM solution....

  • Lean is proven as one of the best ways to start to improve, and continuously improve production-line processes. As I have been researching the area and working with Lean practitioners, it has become clear to me that it works equally well in office and services environments, the only difference being that there are not so many reported successes. This is probably because it has taken longer for businesses outside manufacturing to accept the idea that process improvement is necessary, and to start to adopt the BPM tools that can act as the office production-line.

    I have written a lot on my blog about "paving the cowpath" (for example: http://blog.consected.com/2009/08/pave-cowpath-good-and-bad.html ) , the approach of taking an obviously flawed process a company has and laying a tool on top to cut out the wasteful document delivery cart. It also allows the 'as-is' process to be measured, so you can identify how well the process performs. Despite delivering value very rapidly, this is not the end-game though. Lean espouses continuous improvement, with the target of providing more business value rapidly. With the cowpath implementation, any BPM tool worth its license-fee should be able to allow customers (business analysts + IT) to replace a section of the process with something that works better without ripping and replacing the whole thing.

    Quick iterations like this are what can make Lean successful. Tools that need less software development and IT input obviously enable business users to improve their processes faster. This is one check in the box of a tool that is a good fit for Lean. But there is nothing about one BPM tool over another that really helps in removing waste from a process. In fact, many BPM projects represent a huge time-sink for companies, making it hard for them to really get a true ROI in a reasonable amount of time. That's why I really have a preference for BPM tools that concentrate most on enabling the business to deploy a new running process rapidly, with the complexity of many interactions already baked into the solution UI as standard configurations. Less time is wasted on continuously modeling a 15 step process then building all the perfectly pretty software around it. Only with experience of the new process in practice can the company learn what other investments that should make in it. This to me is Lean-BPM: not a separate methodology from all the proven features of Lean Production, just a few extra ideas you should consider when implementing a BPM solution to run your new and improved Lean process.

    Phil Ayres
    http://www.consected.com

  • At Active Endpoints, we are big believers in lean BPMS. With a service-oriented architecture, you shouldn't need to have every possible piece of functionality come from one vendor. Your processes should be able to fit within a larger services infrastructure. This allows the BPMS to be lean and so it can provide an easy to use development and runtime environment that is not bogged down by every technology known to man.

    This means that we look at technologies very closely to see if they really need to be closely integrated with the process engine or they are just as valuable if treated separately from the engine. Examples of technologies that we believe really need to be tightly integrated with the BPMS: modeling, execution, debugging, monitoring, forms creation, worklist management, CEP and others. These are all technologies where the combination is greater than the sum of the parts. Having the technologies integrated by us, instead of the end user, provides more value than the end user could do on their own.

    Equally interesting are the technologies that we believe do _not_ need to be part of the BPMS, not because we don't believe that people should use them, but because they can easily provide their benefit without any specific integration on our part. A big example that fits this is a rules engine. Yes, rules engines are frequently valuable, but it is easy to call a rules engine as a service as a step in a business process. There is no _extra_ value to them being integrated by the vendor. The combination is equal to the sum of the parts.

    With this kind of thinking, we can provide a lean environment, where what we don't include is as important as what we do include.

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    Lean BPM is not entirely new. In my view, It is a more finite articulation of benefits/outcome driven approach to BPM and focuses on elimination of non-value added activities in a process. One of the most common root causes of failure for BPM projects is lack of clarity around the Business value and outcome expected. The other common cause is the application of BPMS technologies without elimination of redundant human effort.

    Lean BPM brings a tangible approach to the goals that BPM promised vis-a-vis traditional platforms. It is neither a standalone methodology nor a marketing ploy but a more fundamental concept that ties together the BPMS technologies and the Business process reengineering leading to a tangible business outcome. Lean BPM is definitely viable and must be followed as a part of any BPM initiative.

  • My dissertation advisor used to say "everything that's new is either not new or wrong." Lean is not new, and neither is its application to BPM. Those outside the techno-centric BPMS area have encountered lean in the works of Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno in the early 1980s.

    Lean can be applied to both process structure and process content in a BPM project.

    Applied to process structure it works like this:
    When you analyze any activity, ask "is the customer willing to pay for this?" - if yes, it's a value adding activity. If not, ask "does this enable a value-adding activity?" - if yes, it's a business-necessary activity. If not, ask "is it required by law?" - if yes, it's a regulatory activity. Everything left over is potential waste and is candidate for elimination.

    Applied to process content, you want to minimize work-in-progress through techniques like Kanban. Keith Swenson wrote a great blog post on this here: http://kswenson.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/kanban-for-software-development/

    Bottom line: Lean thinking is a good approach in BPM projects. But it's not "the new new thing". And it's not the only thing.

  • "Lean" has become one of those awful buzzwords that means everything - and nothing. We can thank Forrester for that I think. As Michael above says, the idea of "Lean thinking" as a process improvement methodology dates back to the 1980s. Now, we see "Lean" being applied to everything as a synonym for "lightweight" or "low cost".

    As Michael says, in the context of process improvement, the idea of "Lean" is quite specific - and it can be very valuable in scenarios where the goal of process improvement is to drive efficiency.

    However - as Todd Biske mentions above - that's not the only reason why you might be investing in a BPM initiative or BPMS technology specifically. Many times it's about process efficiency, but in our research we come across many other goals. Sometimes it's about business integration (perhaps as a result of M&A activity, or delivering on a multi-channel strategy); sometimes it's about product or service innovation; and sometimes it's actually as a precursor to outsourcing. These are just some examples.

    So - think of "Lean" and BPM as overlapping circles. Yes there's an intersection. But Lean is certainly far from a new idea and it's not all of what BPM is about.

    As for the buzzwordification of Lean - as usual, I'm both really annoyed about it and resigned to it. It seems that this is the way of things these days as industry pundits fall over each other to grab "thought leadership".

  • This is a good question! I have never heard it before, neither as a Forrester analyst serving business process professionals, nor in my previous experience as transformation manager.

    For more than twenty years Lean has been one of the most popular methodologies supporting improvement initiatives in a variety of firms from hospitals to car manufacturers. Lean is process-oriented and operates at two levels: 1) At the strategic level it focuses on value through overriding processes such as end-to-end operations, life-cycle costs and quality-through innovation; 2) At the operational level it is about applying a variety of tools to eliminate waste from processes and ensuring broad participation across the organization.

    Similar to Lean, BPM focuses also on process improvements to boost business performance. So Lean is not a new but rather a mature approach to BPM.

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    I agree Lean is not a new concept for development. Most developers have gone through different types of Lean thinking all along. Anything that focuses on improving the process. Keeping things simple, continuously improving, and moving quickly is what lean is all about. I have given several talks about Lean BPM, EA, and BPA. You can find them at the following web site:http://www.metastorm.com/library/ondemand.asp

  • Alex,
    You can't say you haven't heard of it from Forrester when Clay and Connie are advocates ;)

    "Similar to Lean, BPM focuses also on process improvements to boost business performance. So Lean is not a new but rather a mature approach to BPM." ~ I disagree with this, essentially you might as well lose the 'BPM' moniker altogether with this statement.

    I agree with Andrew on this, BPM is far more than simple process improvement which Lean is grounded in, it doesn't take into account the intricacies and external dependencies that a process can contain in a holistic style.

    But I'm not getting where this is coming from or where it is leading. Lean has been established for decades as a methodology in its own right. If anything it's a sub-component of the larger BPM picture not a new driver of it.

  • I have to admit I don't understand which part of the "viable new approach to BPM" seems to be the issue.

    Lean has been, for decades, used for goals of waste reduction, which, when drilled down to the specific actions on the ground, are directly aligned with BPM goals.

    BPM (in the sense of business value) and Lean have been used together almost from the advent of BPM. That's also because many of initial adopters of BPM on business side were already practicing methodologies in Lean, Six Sigma et al.

    So, I don't think Lean can be termed as a "New approach" to BPM. They are actually both approaches used for business optimization and business performance improvement and they do align at multiple points. Depending on the determined goals from a particular BPM initiative, one may need to undertake some lean as well. In some cases, you may do the other way round where the presence of BPM platform makes your life easier while practising Lean for a larger business goal. So, I see them as mutually complementary approaches/philosophies.

    Agreed, you still see certain implementation of BPM that are purely technology oriented (BPMS implementation, actually), where practicing a business oriented approach of Waste Reduction in processes may look a little alien, but it's not. One problem though is that Lean doesn't directly get practised on the BPMS Tools. If there's an attempt to market a particular tool that way, and the methodology adopted for implementation doesn't yield the promised results, may be that leads to such questions.

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