Lean methodology looks to eliminate all waste from business activities, originally developed as a software development methodology, it has quickly gained wider application in the business world. Business Process Management (BPM) looks to gain control and visibility into business activities, viewing them as processes comprising workflows and constituent tasks which need to be followed and completed to deliver final value.
Traditional BPM solutions have proven to be unwieldy and very expensive, fitting only the budgets of large enterprises with the money and resources to deploy them, and more importantly, due to the high barrier to entry for these solutions, requiring a business be large enough to be able to capitalize on the benefits of BPM. For mid-sized businesses in particular, the notion that a traditional BPM solution would be a viable solution to help them increase performance was negated by the high cost and limited opportunity to deliver value.
Delivering Business Agility
In both cases, traditional BPM solutions simply do not deliver true business agility, nor provide a truly Lean solution to the issue of process optimization and management. They require considerable technical resources to be deployed, not only to perform the initial roll-out of the tool, but also to maintain and run them as the business needs evolve and change. Typically, a traditional BPM deployment will take around a year depending on the size of the business, and it is not unusual for deployments to take even longer. There are considerable risks associated with these large-scale deployments too, with cost overruns as common as failing to meet install deadlines.
These problems are compounded when it comes to changing the processes managed by traditional BPM tools – they simply take far too long to effect changes to the processes they manage. By the time IT or specialist third-party vendors have made the changes to the systems, the changes themselves have become obsolete. This is especially true of businesses operating in customer-driven environments, such as retail banking and insurance, traditional retailers and so on.
Lean BPM seeks to do two things:
Firstly, it eliminates the need for expensive specialists by removing the need for users to have any technical skills in development work or coding. It does this through visual workflow capabilities that business users are able to use themselves. If a user can draw a flowchart of the process they are working with then they can use the Visual Workflow engine. Once the workflow is published, it becomes a live, operational business process with constituent tasks, checkpoints and reporting automatically created using pre-defined business rules.
This means that you do not need to engage the IT department or specialist coders and developers to create or modify business processes. The business users, for instance a business analyst or a team supervisor, can make all the necessary changes themselves, and subject to the level of access they are provided with, push all the process changes live immediately when they finish the design. This eliminates a huge amount of time, making the goal of Continuous Improvement a practical reality. Josh Yeager recently wrote this post on Implementing Continuous Improvement with Lean BPM.
The second thing lean BPM does is to ensure that the right person is doing the right work at the right time, and with all the resources and documentation available to them that they need to perform the work. This increases work performance and eliminates waste from the process, making your business process lean.
The big advantage Lean BPM tools have over traditional BPM solutions is that they also cost a fraction of the price tag. Typically, a Lean BPM solution will cost around 20% of a traditional solution, both initial cost and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This brings BPM into the price range for mid-range companies, while the speed with which they can be deployed and their ability to allow processes to be changed at will means Continuous Improvement is a reality.