BPM – A Cure for Institutional Memory Loss

Registration is free. Login or register to view/download this content.


Senior Principal, MITRE Corporation
Ken Mullins is a Senior Principal in the Center for Veterans Enterprise Transformation within MITRE’s Center for Connected Government; he also serves as a MITRE Portfolio Manager at the Department of Veterans Affairs. During his career, which spans more than 30 years, Ken has enjoyed the privilege of serving as trusted advisor to executives and senior leaders in the Defense, State, Justice, Interior, Veterans-Affairs, Health-and-Human-Services, Commerce, Homeland-Security, and other departments of the federal government. Prior to joining MITRE more than ten years ago, Ken was a Technical Director with Oracle, a consultant to Booz Allen Hamilton, and a Program Manager with ITT. He holds a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration and Government from the University of Maryland. From 1978-to-1980, he also studied International Law under Dean Rusk, the former Secretary of State, at the University of Georgia’s School of Law. Ken has written extensively on technology, management, and government. As the Editorial Director for the Government Bulletin, published by the BPMInstitute.org, he not only edits articles, but also remains a frequent contributor to that organization’s multiple online fora. Samples of his published articles include these: Enterprise Architecture Works Best as a Roadmap – not a Blueprint; Relating Enterprise Strategy to Business Outcomes; Three Fundamental Prerequisites for Transforming Your Government Enterprise; Without Metrics, Process Improvement Can Be Hazardous to Your Business Health; BPM – A Cure for Institutional Memory Loss; Government Missions Should Drive the Lifecycle Management of Agency SOA-Services; Improving Government Service, by ‘Building Sidewalks Where People Like To Walk;’ The Importance of Being Earnest – about Enterprise Governance; For Most Government Agencies, An IT Strategy Can Be One Too Many; Government Transformation Depends On Dynamic Portfolio Management; Enhancing the Value of Your Government Transformation Roadmap; To Deliver Business Value, Avoid Paving over Cow Paths, and NIEM – A Model for Sharing Government Information.

Across the federal government, large numbers of baby boomers are reaching the age of retirement. In 2006, more than 60,000 people left the civil service. The federal Office of Personnel Management believes that 2009 will be the peak year for boomer retirements. What can federal agencies do now, to stop this massive loss of institutional knowledge?

Stepped-up recruiting and staffing efforts will help a little, as will additional emphasis on outsourcing. Still, those measures will not be enough to stem the flow of institutional know-how, which has been steadily accumulated for decades in the minds of the federal workers, now rushing for the exits. To prevent this loss of priceless, corporate memory, more business process modeling is needed – just as soon as possible.

Departing workers can be motivated to support such loss-prevention measures, if their managers challenge them to leave behind a legacy that will have the effect of preserving their hard won years of experience. Replacement workers, on the other hand, can also be motivated to proactively engage right away in an organization’s process improvement program. Incentives can motivate them to immediately share some of the best practices and lessons-learned, which are brought to their new job as part of their prior experiences.

Preserving Institutional Knowledge

Business processes reflect the means by which an organization provides value to the customers it serves. Business Process Modeling (BPM) is not just for organizations thought to be in financial trouble. For agencies faced with the threat of a brain drain, BPM can provide much needed relief. Because process models demonstrate how work is performed in an organization, they provide valuable insight into every aspect of business performance, from management, to operations, to customer service — even to measuring and accounting for results. By capturing how work is performed before staff members retire, and having the results validated by the retirees themselves, the organization is left with much of the institutional knowledge accrued by those workers – in the form of documented, reusable process models.

The validated business process models can then be put to good use in a number of very constructive ways, including these:

  • Development of training and orientation materials, for use by new staff members
  • Development of standard operating procedures, prescribing the performance of specific tasks
  • Establishment of business rules, used to guide decision making at all levels
  • Publication of communications material, used to inform customers of the services available from the agency
  • Preservation of a process baseline, from which gradual improvements can be planned
  • Incorporation into the agency’s Enterprise Architecture (EA), since business processes, activities, and information flows constitute large segments of the EA
  • Application to the development of business cases, used to substantiate the need for capital investments

Energizing Experienced Workers

Tapping into the work ethic of senior staff members, especially those nearing retirement, helps the organization in another way that can be easily overlooked. Many workforce studies have shown that older workers are energized by some fairly basic interests, like these:

  • Motivating Work
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Pride of Mission
  • Strategic Direction

If properly engaged, mature workers will earnestly strive to provide a view of how their work fits into the operation of the enterprise as a whole. As active participants in the success of the agency they work for, their institutional pride often motivates them to look beyond the obvious, while fleshing out an enterprise view of how the business really operates. Indeed, experienced workers will often willingly accept responsibility for process ownership and process management. With a little coaching on the mechanics, they will help to plan and execute a program of process design. Refuting the notion that their agency operates as a set of discrete units with hard-drawn boundaries, their years of experience seem to open their eyes to the fact that individual business units actually contribute to groups of interlocking workflows and information flows that often traverse organizational boundaries. Some processes – like the payment of a claim for government benefits – will be found to extend far across the enterprise before an output is produced that is valued by a customer. They are also more likely to recognize that the worth of such extended processes to the business must be measured more holistically – not just by adding the sum of the metrics for each segment of the process. As veteran performers of the work they prescribe in models they own and manage, they are also able to convey the credibility needed to secure essential buy-in from other members of the workforce.

Engaging Replacement Workers

What better way to start a new job than to be invited to weigh in – at periodic intervals during your first year (perhaps as part of doing rotations around the enterprise) – on the way the place works from a new employee’s perspective? Many people would react by passing on such an invitation, suggesting they don’t have enough information about the new work environment to comment intelligently on the way it works.

Suppose, however, that you were seriously encouraged to help your new organization by sharing your own experiences with similar work at former places of employment. Also imagine that you became convinced that constructive feedback on business processes and performance at the new place of business can be provided in a manner that adequately protects your identity. Wouldn’t that provide some incentive for you to immerse yourself sooner, in learning about your new organization, while striving to make a meaningful contribution to its process improvement program?

Many new employees, especially those well-credentialed, are eager to share their best ideas and practices with a new employer and their colleagues right away. To overcome any natural reticence to speaking out, employers should offer special awards and other forms of recognition to individuals who manage to get a process improvement suggestion adopted by the new organization and put into practice during the person’s first year on the job.

Final Thoughts

Faced with the departure of large numbers of employees, as baby boomers retire in droves from the federal workforce, government agencies can mitigate the risk of losing institutional knowledge by engaging in a comprehensive BPM exercise before all that knowledge is lost. To realize the best results however, the soon-to-be-retirees must feel compelled to leave for posterity, a record of hard-learned lessons and the practices they perfected over the years by relearning some of those lessons many times over. To obtain the greatest benefit from the legacy left behind by retirees, those hired to replace them should also be induced to engage in a thorough review of the BPM artifacts created by their predecessors. An agency can only benefit, it seems to me, from a situation that encourages new employees to share the beat practices they bring to their new jobs, while at the same time being rewarded for offering constructive suggestions to improve upon the fruits of their predecessors’ final labor.

Similar Resources

Featured Certificate: BPM Specialist

Everyone starts here.

You're looking for a way to improve your process improvement skills, but you're not sure where to start.

Earning your Business Process Management Specialist (BPMS) Certificate will give you the competitive advantage you need in today's world. Our courses help you deliver faster and makes projects easier.

Your skills will include building hierarchical process models, using tools to analyze and assess process performance, defining critical process metrics, using best practice principles to redesign processes, developing process improvement project plans, building a center of excellence, and establishing process governance.

The BPMS Certificate is the perfect way to show employers that you are serious about business process management. With in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management, you'll be able to take your business career to the next level.

Learn more about the BPM Specialist Certificate





  • Business Process Management Specialist
  • Earning your Business Process Management Specialist (BPMS) Certificate will provide you with a distinct competitive advantage in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. With in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management, you’ll be able to take your business career to the next level.
  • BPM Professional Certificate
    Business Process Management Professional
  • Earning your Business Process Management Professional (BPMP) Certificate will elevate your expertise and professional standing in the field of business process management. Our BPMP Certificate is a tangible symbol of your achievement, demonstrating your in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management.


BPM Certification

  • Make the most of your hard-earned skills. Earn the respect of your peers and superiors with Business Process Management Certification from the industry's top BPM educational organization.




  • Operational Excellence Specialist
  • Earning your Operational Excellence Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in driving organizational excellence and achieving sustainable improvements in performance.


OpEx Professional Certificate

  • Operational Excellence Professional
  • Earn your Operational Excellence Professional Certificate and gain a competitive edge in driving organizational excellence and achieving sustainable improvements in performance.



  • Agile BPM Specialist
  • Earn your Agile BPM Specialist Certificate and gain a competitive edge in driving business process management (BPM) with agile methodologies. You’ll gain a strong understanding of how to apply agile principles and concepts to business process management initiatives.  

Business Architecture



  • Business Architecture Specialist
  • The Business Architecture Specialist (BAIS) Certificate is proof that you’ve begun your business architecture journey by committing to the industry’s most meaningful and credible business architecture training program.

  • Business Architecture Professional
  • When you earn your Business Architecture Professional (BAIP) Certificate, you will be able to design and implement a governance structure for your organization, develop and optimize business processes, and manage business information effectively.

BA CertificationCertification

  • Make the most of your hard-earned skills. Earn the respect of your peers and superiors with Business Architecture Certification from the industry's top BPM educational organization.




  • Digital Transformation Specialist
  • Earning your Digital Transformation Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. 


  • Digital Transformation Professional
  • The Digital Transformation Professional Certificate is the first program in the industry to cover all the key pillars of Digital Transformation holistically with practical recommendations and exercises.



  • Agile Business Analysis Specialist
  • Earning your Agile Business Analysis Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in the world of agile software development.


  • DAS Certificate
  • Decision Automation Specialist
  • Earning your Decision Automation Certificate will empower you to excel in the dynamic field of automated decision-making, where data-driven insights are pivotal to driving business innovation and efficiency.