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Searching for the real business process

with 3 comments

A couple of days ago I came across this article The Search for the Elusive “Real Process” by Terry Schurter. I wanted to reply to it on his blog on the IPAPI (International Process and Performance Institute) website but couldn’t – maybe couldn’t without paying to join IPAPI.

I could see what he was getting at, and agreed to an extent. But in its eagerness to show the world the elephant in the room, I think the article risks underplaying the importance of the logical structure of the business process. It’s the assumption that the process model is only a representation of the real thing, and the real thing is the flesh and blood process.

Maybe that’s true in some contexts, but I don’t think it’s true in something like financial services, which is rich in data and rules. And it’s no accident that these are the sort of domains where, with the right investment, BPM can pay huge dividends.

I am certainly not advocating ignoring the flesh and blood process – that would be crazy. But in a domain rich in data and rules one of the main reasons for examining the flesh and blood process is to get at the data and the rules. This is because the flesh and blood process is a HOW not the WHAT. The point of a business process is, very generally, to deliver on a customer request. If the request is very specific – which it has to be – then the requested outcome is very specific. That’s part of the WHAT. Another part of the WHAT are the rules which must be followed in delivering on the request.

But HOW the operation meets the request is something else. There could be many ways of doing this, and the customer is unlikely to care how it’s done, as long as the outcome is correct and the service is slick and fast and free of errors and hassle. One WHAT, many possible HOWs.

So if you see the current, ‘as-is’, HOW as the ‘real process’, that might be the only thing you’ll improve. You’ll get a new, improved, ‘to-be’ HOW which is derivable from the ‘as-is’ HOW. But you might not get (because you might not even imagine) a radically different HOW to deliver the same WHAT – bringing radical advances in efficiency and/or automation and/or quality.

For a lot more material on business process architecture please see

© Chris Lawrence 2008


3 Responses

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  1. Here is more information on the topic. Specifically it’s an article on Streamlining, Improving, and Integrating Your Business Process:


    Brett Miller


    24 July 2010 at 7:23 am

  2. Indeed. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll certainly check out your website to see what else we might agree on.

    And thanks for reminding me I should have tagged this with ‘workflow’.


    Chris Lawrence

    19 November 2008 at 6:47 am

  3. I agree about that financial services bit. Not only can BPM pay large dividends in those data centric industries and processes but you will have noticed that the earliest adopters of BPM have been overly represented by the Finance Sector and other information driven organizations and industries.


    18 November 2008 at 8:19 am

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