Business Process Management and Six Sigma: Why Neither Can Stand Alone

What is Business Process Management (BPM)?

BPM is a comprehensive methodology that helps design and maintains all aspects of an organization with the sole purpose of meeting and/or exceeding their customer’s wants and needs both effectively and efficiently. BPM attempts to continuously improve the business processes either in incremental steps or with radical changes. One way or the other, such ambitious endeavors requires equipping BPM practitioners with powerful computerized tools and an overarching infrastructure to enable a wide range of problem solving solutions. BPM tools can be classified in four groups:

(a) Strategy – utilizing tools like environmental influence and goal models, problem and opportunities models;
(b) Analysis – using tools like business interaction models, organization and communication models, and process simulation;
(c) Design – workflow and process models, use case and event models; (d) Implementation / Execution – creating sequence and operation models, business classes and system models.

BPM is a combination of these tools (and some more) helping the business to document, understand, measure and improve their business processes. BPM help to create well documented and streamlined processes, which are essential to ensure consistency, traceability and focus towards shared strategy and performance goals.

What is Lean Six Sigma (SS)?

Six Sigma (or its newer offspring Lean Six Sigma, LSS) is also a comprehensive and highly disciplined methodology that helps us focus on developing and delivering near-perfect products and services, by analyzing the underlying business processes and preventing and / or removing defects before reaching the customer. LSS also is a wide range tool set that is used under organized the following “problem- solving” cuasi sequential steps:

(a) Define -some of the deliverables in this step are project charters, CTQs, house of quality, Kano models;
(b) Measure – statistical descriptive and dms graphical tools, process and value stream mapping, capability analysis, data gathering tools;
(c) Analyze -statistical analysis tools, brainstorming, Pugh matrices, House of Quality (QFD),FMEA, Muda;
(d) Improve – Pugh matrices, mistake proofing, 5S, design of experiments; (e) Control – Process Control plans and Statistical Process Control (SPC).

Given the different origins, skill sets and backgrounds of a “typical” BPM and “typical” Lean Six Sigma practitioner, there are some deployment facts working against both methodologies:

1. Lack of knowledge of each other: Most BPM teams and BPM Software Companies know very little about Lean Six Sigma and vice versa. BPM traditionally has been used and deployed as an information technology effort. LSS has been viewed as an operational tool for manufacturing and / or back office processes, not software development.

2. BPM is almost all the time accompanied by an enterprise-wide software tool, and requires a software vendor on a periodical basis for training, new releases, technical support, etc.

3. BPM is usually deployed as a technology management direction or from higher up management levels. 4. Six Sigma and Lean have been for the most part manufacturing efforts; and most recently operations management directives. As a foot note, some of the most successful Six Sigma deployments were executive management mandates (Motorola, Allied, Bank of America, to mention a few).

5. Six Sigma tools do not have a large technology foot print, with software requirements mostly at some of the organization’s desktops. Its deployment is typically driven at the beginning by consulting organizations and then passes to internal resources (a Program Office is a typical modus operandi).

6. Neither BPM nor Lean Six Sigma specialist is traditional a Change and Integration Management expert or trained specialist. This knowledge vacuum causes hiccups in the deployment and acceptance of either methodology by the stakeholders.

7. Neither BPM nor Six Sigma have an integrated data collection tool, creating always a delay in data gathering which hampers a quick deployment and execution. Both rely on a third party layer to perform data gathering and data readying for analysis.

What does BPM lack?

BPM tools are very effective in creating business interactions and communications models, mapping processes and workflows, as well as capturing key metrics and resources relevant to those processes. However, many BPM teams struggle to understand which processes are the top priority for the business and which defects are the most critical to solve for any given process. BPM lacks of quantitative ranking methods and statistical tools to prove significance. Teams sometimes use a series of “hunches” and past experiences to decide how prioritize design and implementation strategies for new or improved processes. LSS has much to offer BPM teams in this area – through tools like Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA), risk prioritization index and Value Stream Mapping (VSM). So, conceptually, BPM and LSS should be a great fit.

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