What the heck is BPM? Really!

a 3-step schematic description of introducing ...Image via Wikipedia

I'm spending quite a lot of time at the moment on Linked In. Specifically I'm looking at some of the group discussions going on there. One in particular caught my eye.

It was entitled "What do you think Business Process Management is?" and was started by Steve Towers (the instigator of the particular group I was looking at). Whilst it was a blatant attempt at gathering data for his organisation, the resulting comments were quite insightful and interesting.

Without going into detail (and there is quite a lot of detail relate to this including some quite heated discussions between a couple of individuals) the short answer is 'nobody knows'

That's right, nobody is able to provide a single, commonly accepted, and understood definition for Business Process Management that everyone can align behind it. I myself commented that it could be
A capability?
A buzzword?
An acronym?
A framework?
A fad?
All of the above?
None of the above?
Some of the above?

In fact the truth is that it is all of the above. And more. It is becoming pretty much all things to all men. In fact one commentor even mentioned that he thought it was about time to think about calling it something else (which I think is rather premature as it effectively means that though we can't define what something is we can redefine what something is called. Huh?! We might as well rename it 'Throat-Warbler Mangrove'* even though we have no idea what it is.)

I do see this as both a blessing and a curse. The problem with having something tightly defined and buttoned down is that it doesn't allow the ability to expand and become useful in different ways. After all a bird which has long thin pointy beak can only pick small insects to eat whereas one with a larger, curved beak can eat flesh, fruit and grains as well as being useful to defend when attacked by other predators. The same happens with something like BPM: If we define it to mean one thing and one thing only, when the market changes (as indeed it will) we then have to look at other definitions. This is the same thing that happened with BPR. It was defined to mean one thing and, as businesses evolved, they needed something else to cover the capability they were looking at. This is when BPM evolved.

Unfortunately, as you can see, we are now in the situation where we have moved to the other extreme. BPM is now so loosely defined that we cannot, effectively pin it down to mean anything in particular. A vendor will define it in one way. A user will define it in another. A consultant will define it in a third. In fact Garther themselves have recently changed the definition of their magic quadrant contents for BPM so even they are looking at this differently. This lack of focus is starting to affect the niche as a whole and needs to be brought under control.

Hopefully the BPM Nexus as a concept will try to start putting down some foundation work for this in the near future with the BPM Accord. Feel free to join in and influence this if you want. The more the merrier.

*Thanks to Theo Priestley for the 'Throat-Warbler Mangrove' reference

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