One of the first management experts to introduce us to the idea that functional improvement did not necessarily improve the service we gave to our customers was Dr H James Harrington in his book Business Process Improvement. HJHarringtonbook

Dr Harrington, a Quality Specialist, introduced American business (and the wider Western world) to the idea that simply addressing issues in the direct activities of a business (e.g. production activities in a manufacturing company) would not deliver success if the supporting processes were inadequate. He promoted the idea that support and service organisations could adopt simple ideas from the manufacturing sector. These ideas, generally promoted under the Lean banner, are aimed at genuine improvement in service to the customer rather than the false goal of internal efficiency.

A key element of the Business Process Improvement (BPI) approach was to define customer expectations and analyse the business processes against their ability to meet these expectations. Many of the lessons initially promoted in this book remain valid and central to improvement activities two decades later, although a number of other terms have appeared since ‘business process’ became part of normal organisational speech.

These names include:

    • A term derived to define the total review of the process with a view to radical change and dramatic improvement in performance. This was the term coined by Michael Hammer and James Champy in their book ‘Reengineering The Corporation’, published in 1993.
    • An approach focused on the quality of the innovations in the process by ‘thinking outside the box’ to achieve genuine competitive advantage.
    • BPM is a management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organisation with the wants and needs of customers. It is a holistic approach that promotes business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. Business Process Management implies improving processes continuously.
    • The development of a visual representation of a business process allowing an understanding of the work being carried out within it and showing the sequence and inter-dependence of these elements. Some forms of map show the relationship between functional areas and responsibilities within the organisation.
    • Not totally business process-oriented but usually in practice is closely aligned.

Various interest groups have taken one or more of these and used them for their own purposes and definition.

Because some managers are always seeking to use the latest technique, BPM may be the term in most frequent use at the moment. We are happy to use whatever term our client organisation wishes to adopt for an exercise, while mixing the most appropriate of the above elements to best meet the client needs. One point that we in MLG would always make about all forms of process improvement, whether carried out under the flag of BPR or Lean or TQM or Business Process Management or Innovation, is that there are two elements to such a change. One relates to the mechanical aspects – procedures and systems – and is relatively easy to manage if approached correctly with involvement of those knowledgeable of best practice. The other, that of people, or culture, was not given sufficient emphasis in early writings on the subject and this failing resulted in inevitably poorer results in some early projects.