The Business Process Management DNA, a need for the “big picture”

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

DNA carries the biological instructions that define, compose and create unique species. Molecules come together in a unique combination to form a “code” that defines a cell’s characteristics in an organism, and shape what the cell in intended to do. This article is not about genetic engineering, nor is it about medicine. However, it is about trying to lay out the DNA roadmap for what Business Process Management (BPM) should encompass in an organization.

Much like molecules in DNA, various BPM-related disciplines can and should come together to form the DNA for Business Process Management. This article stresses on the need of an end-to-end integration and alignment of the related disciplines at various levels within an organization. The article highlights the BPM-related disciplines and explains how their integration helps maintain focus on the big picture and on the core motivation behind BPM, namely, to support the implementation and execution of a corporate vision and mission.

Why the need for a Business Process Management DNA?

Business Process Management has been defined in a broad spectrum of ways depending on the context and rationale behind the definition. Even the definition of what a business process is (and is not) is sometimes hard to agree on. The intend here is not to try to come up with a definition for BPM. It is sufficient to point out, though, that one agreed upon mandate of BPM is to transform an organization into a process-centric, customer-focused organization by eliminating functional silos.

With that mandate in mind, why then would organizations consider executing on various BPM-related disciplines like misaligned functional silos? Why would process performance initiatives be executed independent from business architecture initiatives, which in turn are governed and maintained in a silo that may be disconnected from an Enterprise Architecture organization?

The need for a synergy and integration between BPM-related disciplines is presented in Figure 1 below, and is elaborated on in what follows. This article presents such an integration and alignment between related disciplines and lays out a BPM roadmap that begins with a corporate strategy and ends with an implementation of an SOA IT project.

Figure 1 – The Business Process Management DNA

Strategic Management

The first BPM-related discipline to consider is that of strategic management. Strategic management methodologies establish the overall strategy and direction of an organization. The vision, mission and objectives of the organization are defined, a strategic assessment is performed to capture the current state of the business environment and a strategy is consequently formulated. Strategy maps can then be leveraged to help articulate the strategy of the organization through a series of cross-functional cause-and-effect relationships. These help ensure that potentially decoupled functional strategies are executed coherently with one another with a cross-functional focus in mind.

A performance measurement system, such as Balanced Scorecards, is then typically established to determine what the organization needs to measure. Balanced scorecards provide a dashboard of comprehensive measures that business executives utilize to assess how an organization is progressing towards achieving its defined objectives. The balanced scorecard approach emphasises on the use of four dimensions to track different types of business measures, namely, financial measures, customer measures, internal business measures, and innovation and learning measures. These combined measures provide a holistic visibility onto the organization’s performance, where financial performance is “balanced” against the other three dimensions, and they help articulate the organization’s desired target outcomes.

Strategy maps, a balanced scorecard methodology, and strategic assessments combined can aid a senior leadership team in identifying the strategic initiatives that an organization should implement to achieve its vision and mission. From a business process management perspective, what is important to point out is that these initiatives are identified and prioritized from a holistic and balanced viewpoint that incorporates the overall company mission. Rather than applying traditional process redesign methodologies to a local process, where the rational behind the project would largely be focused on reducing cost and on financial metrics, the strategic initiatives identified here are directed towards objectives that are critical to the organization’s strategic success. In addition, the value chains and performance metrics that correspond to these process improvement initiatives have already been identified, communicated, and accepted as part of the strategic management process. This leads the way to the integration point and synergy with Business Architecture initiatives within the organization.

Business Architecture

The second BPM-related discipline to consider is that of Business Architecture. A Business Architecture is a blueprint of an organization, viewed through a business lens. It is a representation of the structure and relationships between the business processes that comprise the organization, as well as the organizational decomposition needed to deliver on these processes. It also defines the external environment of the organization which represents the context within which it operates. This includes customers and suppliers and all external inputs that influence the organization’s strategy.

To create a business architecture, high level cross-functional, customer-focused business processes that define the end-to-end value chains of an organization are decomposed into finer value streams that define what specific processes are involved in delivering products and services to the end customers. Value streams must be linked back to the strategic objectives that they address and to measures and metrics that determine the effectiveness and efficiency of these value streams. Examples of established business architectures and reference business models include the Supply Chain Council’s SCOR, eTom in the telecommunication industry, and ACCORD in the insurance industry.

A business architecture is directly based and influenced by the organization’s strategy. When process-based competition is part of an organization’s strategy and the focus on process excellence as a competitive edge is entrenched within the organization’s culture, then part of the outcome of the strategic management process is the list of process-centric strategic initiatives, as mentioned in the previous section. The business architecture team is handed over these strategic initiatives from the strategy team to implement. A business architecture then becomes the tool needed to plan and execute on these initiatives. Hence, an organization’s process-focused strategy is fed down to and executed by the business architecture discipline. Process initiatives, value chains and streams, and their corresponding measures and metrics that were determined during the strategic management phase are now leveraged during implementation via the business architecture discipline.

As the business architecture is modelled and updated, the mapping of business processes identifies gaps between the current and target business capabilities. This spawns various types of projects and initiatives. Some may be lean or six sigma based, others may be technology and IT related. Pure process-focused initiatives may not necessitate any technology related aspect to their implementation, and may well be executed only within the scope of a BPM or Six Sigma Center of Excellence group. Other initiatives may be technology-focused projects that are handled best within the scope of an Enterprise Architecture. This leads the way to another integration point, namely one with the discipline of Enterprise Architecture.

Enterprise Architecture

The third BPM-related discipline to consider is that of Enterprise Architecture. An Enterprise Architecture is a blueprint of an organization. It describes all the enterprise-wide applications and technology platforms along with their relationships to an organization’s strategic goals. A well integrated enterprise architecture contributes to the financial performance of an organization through an improved IT operational efficiency, a lower software development cost, and a higher return on investment on IT projects.

An enterprise architecture framework is the collection of tools, architectural models, and process guidance used by architects to assist in the creation of an organization’s enterprise architecture. Some of the established enterprise architecture frameworks in use today are the Zachman Framework and The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). Both of these frameworks call for the creation of business architectures, in one form or another. TOGAF, for example, defines business architecture as one of the four architectures that comprise an integrated Enterprise Architecture. The other types of architectures are Data, Application, and Technology architecture.

Pertinent to the business process management discussion are two points. First, it is important to note that it is the Business Architecture that acts as the vehicle that feeds the corporate strategy into an Enterprise Architecture. By this stage in the roadmap, an organization’s objectives and strategic initiatives have trickled their way into the IT domain, via a business architecture, and are now being implemented and governed within the scope of an enterprise architecture. It is that integration of the business architecture with the other three technical architectures, within the overall Enterprise Architecture, that maintains the focus on the business objectives and allows for IT projects to remain inline with the original mandates of the strategic business initiatives.

Second, a Business Architecture should reflect and maintain the latest state of the organization, and it should constantly be updated by any initiative that alters the organizational structure or business blueprint of the enterprise. This need to maintain continuous synergy with the changing needs of an enterprise is intrinsic to an Enterprise Architecture. In the case of the TOGAF framework, this is governed through a change management phase in the methodology. Embedded in TOGAF is the principle of a continuous and iterative approach to enterprise architecture development. TOGAF refers to this approach as the Architecture Development Method (ADM). It can be thought of as RUP for Enterprise Architecture development. Within the main phases of ADM, is a phase called Architecture Change Management. This phase provides the change management framework for updating the Enterprise Architecture, and defines the drivers that could initiate the need for such a change. For example, some business drivers for architectural change are business innovation and a change in strategic direction.

If business process management initiatives, especially ones that do not necessitate IT related changes, are executed in organizational silos without any effort to update the corresponding business architecture, IT-focused enterprise initiatives that are executed down the road would not have captured the new or updated business state of the enterprise and may end up misguiding the organization’s technical direction. One could argue that an as-is and to-be assessment should have been conducted to eliminate such a risk. However, a well maintained business architecture that is continuously updated to reflect the true state of the organization would foster a higher level of integrity for the link between an organization’s strategy and its enterprise architecture.

BPM IT Project Implementation

The last BPM-related discipline to consider is that of IT project implementation. As previously mentioned, some of the strategic initiatives identified during strategy formulation may require an IT implementation aspect. These projects would typically be executed by delivery teams and governed by an enterprise architecture, and would rely on a spectrum of IT industry standards like Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), BPMN, BPEL, and WSDL, to name a few. Various flavours of software product suites, called Business Process Management Suites (BPMS), have emerged to address the need for business process automation. BPMS are software packages that allow organizations to automate the day-to-day execution of their business processes. They enable organizations to model their business processes and the business rules governing the behaviour of these processes, and to then deploy the processes onto a BPM engine that runs and orchestrates their behaviour. The software engine allows a business manager to modify the business rules on the fly to alter the behaviour of a process and to react to new and changing business needs.

It is the rapid rise in the support and adoption of these various IT standards that allowed for such BPMS software suites to emerge. From a business process management perspective, it is sufficient to point out here that there is a vast technical discipline behind the IT solution aspect of a BPM initiative, and that BPM is being complemented and supported by an array of IT technical standards intended to enable business process automation.


Business Process Management is not simply business process re-engineering, or six sigma, nor is it a business process automation project. Instead, it is a cultivation of the end products of the various business and technical disciplines outlined in this article. When combined, these disciplines form the DNA of BPM in an organization, and provide a roadmap that starts with an organization’s vision and ends with a series of implemented projects that each moves the organization towards achieving its vision, one step at a time.

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