BPM as Kaizen 2.0 ?

The organizations that will truly succeed in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization. [Peter Senge, “The Fifth Disciplin”]


Large projects require large amounts of resources and are often associated with a high risk of failure. This has been demonstrated in the course of attempts at implementing Business Process Reengineering. Long‒term, large‒scale projects with “large budgets and justifiable goals” ended in failure. And since such projects were “large”, their “failure” and the problems encountered in their aftermath turned out to be large as well (for some companies even too large to endure and prevail).

In real life, better results are gained in the course of ongoing implementation of small improvements, which are treated as limited‒scope experiments initiated on a local level even despite not meeting the often time‒ and work‒consuming criteria set by official procedures. The scope of such possible experimental changes must, of course, be restricted enough as not to cause chaos, but at the same time still encourage the creative introduction and verification of new ways of working. Such solutions enable the reduction of costs, the minimization of risk for the entire organization, as well as expedite the return on investment time for such a limited innovation project. In case of failure, such a limited project can be easily abandoned without incurring costs or losses which could compromise the well‒being of the entire organization.


Competitive advantage through dedication to “details”

Should such projects prove successful, however, it goes without saying that organizations should have the option of implementing such local solutions on a larger scale. The faster such local solutions are expanded, the larger the possibility that local innovations introduced on the level of company‒scale operations will generate exceptional results and allow for the use of the so‒called reconnaissance effect. One scenario takes place when unusual, random, experimental, or even individual actions exert disproportionately large influence on the general situation of the competition by means of having novelty value and/or catching the competition off‒guard. The second scenario takes place when a business or a technological experiment (reconnaissance) sets the scene for potential opportunities. In both cases creative, unorthodox actions undertaken by many employees of the enterprise offer the possibility of achieving or rapidly extending competitive advantage (while standard actions lead to normal, average results).

Of course, companies should at the same time prepare for potential setbacks or even mistakes. However, the failure of local attempts at innovation should not be the reason for anyone’s punishment. Experimentation always carries with it the risk of failure. The most essential thing is to identify the cause of failure as early as possible and to draw constructive conclusions. Companies which succeeded in eliminating fear from their corporate culture do not punish employees for their mistakes, but for their inaction and their attempts at hiding mistakes.


Kaizen 2.0 ?

The aforementioned idea is not new. Its most popular previous form is, of course, known as kaizen. Despite its unquestionable legitimacy, its implementation in service companies in particular (or, in other words, in the considerable part of the knowledge‒based economy) has been met with serious challenges. Or perhaps those could end? After all, thanks to the tools and the methodology offered by BPM:

  • in the process identification and rationalization phase, we can launch a wide discussion on process maps and models, prepare multiple scenarios of a single process with the needs of various user groups in mind, and even accounting for their knowledge level,
  • in the process use and improvement phase, we can allow individuals to both ask questions and make suggestions pertaining to particular process innovations directly via the Process Portal, which contains process maps and models. The automation of communication between process operators and process owners as early as this phase (even without automating the processes themselves) allows for:
    • avoiding the risk of ignoring proposed changes by process owners,
    • providing clear and documented consent for limited departure from existing process models, followed by the evaluation of each such experimental innovation on a case‒by‒case basis,
  • in the process automation phase, we can allow for the selection of process scenarios or the departure from implemented process models. Using ad‒hoc (dynamic) processes accounted for in i.e. BPMN 2.0, we can describe the scope of processes in such a way as to allow for limited experimentation and adaptation to the changing needs of the clients and the market.

In each of these phases, using knowledge obtained through limited innovation projects must inevitably lead to he change of existing business processes, along with passing on the knowledge required for handling these new processes in day‒to‒day work to interested employees.


In other words, perhaps we should continue to launch small projects? And gaining a competitive advantage through sharing knowledge coming from processes management?



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By Marek Szelagowski @ dynamic BPM | April 8, 2013

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