I have seen a resurgence of customers adopting Lean techniques in their projects. In general, these have been very successful due to speed of delivery, quality of deliverables and output, and the ability to drive fundamental change to the business process being implemented. The result is significant and quantitative cost reduction.
Lean practitioners tend to do their up-most to avoid any involvement of IT in their delivery schedules, mainly due to the fear that changes cannot be achieved in the timelines. My believe is that the disciplines of BPM and Lean should be complementary. Lean allows customers to define and deliver process change by uncovering waste. BPM also delivers these results by validating that the implementation of the process is actually working in the best way. It does this by the actual implementation details. Critically this comes from using the business activity monitoring (BAM) part of any BPM solution. This can highlight bottlenecks as well as sub optimal patterns.
So the question is, which one should be done first?
BPM should be seen as a set of tools to help a Lean engagement. The Lean method is sound and provides a solid mechanism to drive efficiency. However, I think there are two major downsides to relying on Lean alone.
Firstly, the lean process provides no real understanding of which process to start off with amongst the myriad of business units of an organisation and the prioritisation of these. Decisions are typically made based on the “who shouts loudest” method.
Secondly, by not looking at the systems layer in detail major efficiency drivers can be missed. BPM helps with both of these. BPM allows Lean to both prioritise the order and give the practitioner real operational metrics of detailed process information – some of which is hidden as “black box IT stuff”.
So, the answer is simply do both. Firstly, implement BAM in order to gain an insight into the environment and help to prioritise efficiencies. Use Lean techniques to change the processes and gain value, and then use BPM to implement some of Level 2 IT changes.