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Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part package exploring the growth of Lean IT and its relationship to BPM. In Part I, Lean consultant and author Steve Bell explains the principles and practices of Lean IT. Here, in Part II, Bell drills down into how Lean enables and sustains continuous process improvement and offers advice on getting started. For more information, see the list of Lean resources at the end of the article.

JM: How do you see Lean better enabling BPM?

BPM is as much a philosophy of how to manage process improvement as it is a collection of technology-based tools. Nevertheless, as a Lean transformation matures beyond the early, low-hanging fruit improvements, such a framework is often necessary to guide improvement efforts and align enterprise priorities.

Though an organization may not need an elaborate BPM software system, it will need a good infrastructure approach, with a sound schema to identify and categorize processes, manage ownership and team composition, track improvement activities and results, and control changes to process maps, documentation, and other artifacts. A disciplined approach is also helpful to organize metrics, dashboards and scorecards into a coherent enterprise-wide measurement system. Such process management and measurement information systems are often internally developed, and adapt to meet the evolving needs of management.

JM: What should a manager look for in Lean BPM technologies?

Whatever systems an organization employs to manage its business process infrastructure, it should stress simplicity, transparency and manageability - that way, the individuals and teams working to continuously improve performance have a sense of ownership of the process management tools, rather than the other way around.

JM: Does Lean IT help with long-term planning and architecture?

Much focus with Lean is on rapid cycles of improvement driven by the workers. But if that's all there were to Lean, it would result in localized bursts of improvement that don't necessarily add up to improved strategic capability. That's where strategy deployment comes in - an iterative planning and execution process where all levels of the organization, from executives to the teams doing the daily work, regularly align their goals and improvement efforts with a steady cadence of "catch-ball" sessions.

Ensuring that long-term architecture strategy aligns with the business requires architecture to be considered first in the context of overall enterprise architecture strategy, so standards are followed as closely as possible, and second, in the context of individual value streams. [In this second consideration,] the architecture must be appropriate to the "application ecosystem" in which they are applied, so any deviations from the enterprise standards can be clearly examined and justified.


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