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Can you cure a bad business process with BPM software?

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  • Can you fix a crooked door with just a hammer? A tool is just a tool, the door is crooked because something changed in the structure holding the door up. The frame needs to be reset before you can straighten the door. If you don't look holistically at the problem, you may be able to band-aid the problem, but it won't be eliminating the root cause.

  • JP Morgenthal has it exactly with the hammer analogy.

    I also do find it strange that how over the years, vast sums of money have been freely and widely spent on hammers (Analytics, BI, BPM etc.,) but when it comes to budget times for new "door frames", the barriers come down quite quickly.

    Another analogy is, don't get on the bathroom scales if you are not prepared to go on a diet if you don't like what you see. i.e. don't measure what you are not prepared to fix. We here focus on measuring User Processes with the intent to improve those processes we find inefficient or in need of an overhaul. It's the same product you use to measure and is it to fix!

  • If the "as is" process is poorly designed, then the tool will provide only limited value. Remember, a successful implementation is one where tools, methodologies, resources, and executive support all come together to improve operations. In your example, the company doesn't have the executive support to get the resources to diagnose the issues and create a better design to then use the tool to build and deploy an application that improves operations.

  • One can cure a bad business process with many things, including BPM software. But it won't be BPM software alone.

    It will be either the methodology applied by 'agile' BPM bureaucracy or empowering people on all hierarchy levels to apply their knowledge directly through 'social collaboration'. But just collaboration alone won't do it either. Either the brureaucracy or the process environment must provide the links from stratehy to architecture and from goals to perceived outcomes.

    The future oriented way is to use technology empowerment and not just a rigid methodology that produces rigid processes. 'Agile' might fix a process, but soon enough it won't be fitting the changing environment. An 'Adaptive' approach empowers people to fix bad processes as soon as they see that goals or outcomes aren't met. No need to employ expensive and slow governance. And suddenly ... adaptive process technology does help to fix a bad process.

  • *laughs extremely hard*

    That's like giving someone a copy of MS Word and asking them to write a best selling novel.

    Without the discipline and skill the software is useless. Until someone develops a self-aware and cognitive BPM solution you are still dependent on someone actually designing the process first. No amount of 'adaptive' terminology will ever compensate for the fact that at the end of the day, a human still needs to be involved, whether the end user BPM expert or consumer of the process itself.

    Garbage In-Garbage Out as the saying goes.

  • Unfortunately when bad processes do not get fixed before implementation in systems, it is typically the system that gets blamed. This further obfuscates the root cause and may foster attempts to remedy via rebuilding (or changing) the system - i.e. we probably just didn't swing that hammer hard enough.

    Modeling, in the right hands, can be used to effectively communicate process issues up front. But I found it sometimes takes overwhelming evidence (or pain) to affect the right changes.

  • Garbage In - Garbage Out - UNLESS the act of processing the garbage fixes the problem.

    The advantage of BPM over other solution strategies and packages is that at least it has be the potential, if done right, of bringing problems to light that might have previously been hidden from view. Like anything else, however, if your not able and/or willing to do something about it, its a waste of time.

    I've led scores of process optimization engagements where problems are readily apparent and the solutions obvious, but for a variety of reasons, (mostly a resistence to change), went uncorrected.

    For any BPM process to be successful, you have to know what you want to acheive, and you have to have the ability and willingness to make the changes that are needed to acheive those objectives.

  • I am not going to disagree with anything said here. BPM is well defined in most circles as a management discipline focusing on improving processes. A poor process will continue to be poor whether automated or not.

    A message addressed to the wrong person will still be useless regardless of whether the message is carried by a courier, or delivered by email.

    My contribution to this discussion is to remember that the introduction of technology to an organization changes the way that the organization should (and does) work. Thus, a good manual process, may not be the best way to do it after introduction of a BPMS. Conversely, a good facilitated process might be particularly poor if it needs to be performed manually.

    When designing a process, you must consider the capabilities of the BPMS you are going to deploy to. Different system capabilities will lead you to different process.

    Anyone who claims to be able to design the perfect process in abstract from the system capabilities is not being honest with anyone.



    • So many right answers in this particular comment-stream. But Keith has hit upon something I've often observed: the idea that you can define the perfect process without considering the capabilities of the systems employed. A bit like designing the perfect logistics system without considering the capabilities of the trucks and planes involved... :)

  • Absolutely not.

    Running a poorly designed process using a BPM suite will not provide any value. If some C level executive envisions that BPM software alone will produce enterprise revolution without looking carefully how business processes can be improved, maybe a management change is necessary first, because there will not be any kind of governance, sponsorship and true process management.

  • Yes you can. BPMS aren't panaceas. But when they force you to approach your process from a different perspective you may end up discovering things you were not able to see before.

  • Yes, you can!! don´t forget that BPM is a management discipline focusing on improving processes, you could fix the process through the time applying the TQM Cycle and you have to see the BPM System just like a tool that will help you to measure, discover process improvement opportunities, apply the changes and measure again, but if you don´t make this with professionals who knows about the kind of process you are trying to improve you will fail, the most important is the ability of the humans to apply the methodologies and to use the tools properly!! and now with the new social capabilities of some BPM tools you could interact in a very agile manner to determine the improvements of your processes.

  • Sure. A real example. The original process required a lot of careful and manual work because of its importance (realizing products to a sale site) and therefore a highly-qualified staff member was responsible for this process. We automated some steps in this process and then less-qualified staff members carried out this process with the same quality.


  • It all depends on what is making that a bad process, and what type of process it is. If we are talking unstructured processes, that require some adaptive capabilities, then traditional BPM and BPMS is never going to help you...However, if its the lack of automation in a structured process, then its a yes.

    I think the correct answer to this is based on your understanding of the question. If we are saying can traditional BPM software cure a badly designed process on its own, then no it cant. If we are saying, could a BPM project / investment cure a bad process then for certain types of processes the answer is yes.

    If we are thinking though, can a business improve its processes by purchasing a BPMS solution and "pluggin" it into our process, then BPMS will never help any process. BPM only succeeds for processes it suites, and when there is a buy in to the complete BPM methodology (not the software alone). This is where adaptive platforms differ from traditional BPM. BPMS is a dubmt tool without BPM the methodology and all that implies.

    So if we want a tool that we can "plugin" and it improves our processes for us, then you need to look at something like APG, something adaptive. That way, users will identify poor process areas for you, update them and refine the process to improve it. You can then continuely refine that process, identify automation areas for example and other areas where it can be improved without the big buy in in terms of time to actually sit down and start re-designing processes and without the big overheads that BPM brings....

    What was the question again? :)

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    BPM Pundits,

    After reviewing all responses, I believe Max's response comes closest to reality. While BPMS is not a silver bullet, when combined with good methodology and practice it provides a framework for fixing bad processes.

    I think we have to be careful not to single out BPMS as the problem - since many firms also make processes worse and more cumbersome as a result of using poorly defined methodology. So as some of the others have pointed out, using a hammer (a tool, BPMS or process methodology) in the wrong way will yield poor results.

    I think the more appropriate question is whether BPMS provides better support over alternatives (i.e., custom development and/or packaged applications) for fixing broken processes. I think we all agree that BPMS is generally a better solution over alternatives. However, even then, the answer comes with the "it depends" asterisk.


  • Hi all,
    I fully agree that a tool by itself cannot do much.
    But the point is that tools are used by people, and people must put their brain into play.
    Then, tools can help.
    In particular, if we think to design/analysis tools, they can simplify or hamper the process improvement depending on their features. The proper mix of features can definitely help identify the issues and solve them. For instance, quick prototyping can make life much easier to the designer, because he can quickly compare and get feedback from the customer based on a few running variant of the process (but this is just an example, many others can be done).

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