BPM: From Improvement to Excellence to Improvement Again

The main objective of BPM, as model to guide its business process management of a company, is found permanently immersed in a cycle of continuous improvement. When a business process is improved in such a way that it’s no longer possible to make further improvements to it, we can say we have achieved excellence, and have a fully optimized process. At this point, we might think that if our business process is optimal, why not abandon or relax the improvement activities in favor of cost savings, since you cannot find any new improvements?

It is well-known that the improvement should always be done continuously, but why? Why can we not improve a business process to achieve excellence, let it become fully optimized and then terminate the improvement efforts? The answer is; because the world is changing. Because the company, people, systems, products, services, and ultimately the whole world, is changing, is evolving, is dynamic.

Companies that are not immersed in a cycle of continuous improvement and ultimately -in a continuous evolutionary process- are doomed to extinct, since the differences with other companies in their industry will grow larger; they will eventually reach a moment where their competition will have much more optimized processes that they cannot compete with them any longer. There is only one scenario in which the lack of investment in improved processes costs no life: when all companies behave the same within a specific sector, i.e. not investing in improvements (this type of scenario presents great opportunities and risks, for obvious reasons). But in general, in times of economic crisis one can perfectly identify companies with processes close to excellence; since they are the ones that will survive (natural selection).

How do we know our business process is excellent? You may never get to know this, because that would require you to know for sure that today it is not possible to further improve your process, and to know for sure that no competitor is doing better as well. And in any case, what is it worth if you would know that the process is excellent today, if tomorrow you may see a new technology, product, service, etc. .. that allows your process to be improved again, and therefore is no longer good enough?

But we can sense when a process is not great and / or is too far from optimal. In order to be able to improve, it is needed to also measure. Before submitting any improvement action, I must know what aspects I want to improve. For these, I set the basic parameters of the business process I want to measure and transmit the information I need to estimate whether (or not) my process is improved. It is what we call key business process indicators (KPIs). Two typical examples may be the unit cost and manufacturing time. If the information obtained from monitoring these two KPIs deliver bad indicators, or worse, if I compare the indicators with those of my competition and the comparison is not favorable to my company, the process can be improved. If we do not get bad indicators, the process may be optimal or close to excellence already (but only for today, since tomorrow most certainly it is not any longer).

In either case, whether my process is optimal or not, I should continue the process improvement activities. And even when I get my process optimized and achieve process excellence, I must continue improving because who can tell that tomorrow there won’t be a new supplier in China that offers equal or better quality at a 50% lower supply cost, or who can tell that my competitors don’t win market share because they managed to have better business processes than I have?

BPM provides a great opportunity to streamline and facilitate the improvement of business processes in order to be excellent today, and to continue improving to remain the best tomorrow.

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By Raul Gualberto Tinoco @ Sopra Group | March 15, 2012

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