I've been trying to find out more about Business Process Management lately. What I've seen over a few years of doing root cause analysis is that many important root causes are related to how we design, manage, and operate key processes. I'm not just talking about typical business processes, either. The processes I've been looking at over the past couple years have dealt with subjects like management of nuclear plant modifications and associated documentation, pre-job safety and risk analysis, construction-site housekeeping, workflow management within a large construction project, etc.
What I've seen is that you can't start a major project with minimal process design, and then try to apply fix-ups as the project progresses. That way lies madness, i.e. blown-out schedules, ever-expanding budgets, lost materials and paperwork, personnel safety problems, and endless re-work... just to name a few. It's like being a total land-lubber lost at sea after a major storm, with no GPS, no radio, no compass, and no maps.
I've also seen that a follow-on project of the same size and scope, started with processes that have been designed instead of slapped together, is almost guaranteed to be successful. Many benefits are realized from the up-front design of processes: problem detection is much easier and happens much earlier; problem diagnosis and solution-targeting are much more effective; the ability to learn from actual performance is greatly enhanced. Course correction is so much easier when you know where you've been, how you got there, and can see where it is you need to go.
So where does Business Process Management fit in? That's what I'm trying to learn. Wikipedia says that "... Business Process Management (or BPM) refers to a set of activities which organizations can perform to either optimize their business processes or adapt them to new organizational needs." This tells me that BPM is more of a solution, than a cause. For instance, if I saw "lack of Business Process Management" identified as a root cause for a specific event, I'd be very skeptical.
On the other hand, if I reviewed all the root cause reports generated at a site during a single year, and found process issues in every single one of them... well, then I'd be inclined to look more deeply into "lack of Business Process Management" as an underlying root cause. I think I'm very close to this point now.
Expect to see more on Business Process Management in future blog entries.
by Bill Wilson