BPM and elephant metaphors

There is unending debate about what the term BPM means, and for good reason. Business and process are semi-redundant terms applied to nearly everything in the world of commerce, and slapping ‘management’ on the tail end is the perfect recipe for confusion. BPM could be represented visually something like the picture below.

In the real world, business process management is the intersection of many different disciplines and technologies. It can be considered the alignment of a workforce and an entire ‘stack’ of technologies that manage the complex interaction of people and machines that together make up the way work is done and value is created for a customer. Even as I write that sentence, I need to read it several times to understand it.

Elephant-sized challenge

If we accept the complexity of BPM, it becomes understandable that the topic is confusing and has different meanings across the organization. There are people that work inside functional silos, support many areas but in very specific ways (like HR, IT), compliance-concerned folks, and people who see process through transactional systems. Unless your view of the organization is more comprehensive than most, your view of BPM is likely limited to the areas you actually touch and the problems that you need to solve. Like a blindfolded man feeling an elephant, your definition of BPM depends what part you get…

Elephant solutions

Definitions and metaphors are only useful if they help us to unravel the mystery of something or help us to grasp opportunities and mitigate risks. The metaphor of the blindfolded man and the elephant isn’t helpful unless it shines the light on a path to something better.

So here goes…the point of this metaphor is that it doesn’t matter how people involved in business process (which is everyone, by the way) see things, provided they’re all looking at the same elephant. What matters, then, is that you have an elephant keeper who has overall responsibility. If everyone around the elephant tended to just their part without understanding the needs of the beast, it would starve and die…with nicely polished nails and clean ears.

The elephant keeper needs to be an evangelist for taking care of elephants holistically and must help every blindfolded person to understand how their ‘part of the elephant’ fits together with everyone else’s.

Oh, snap…from a metaphor perspective, that just happened…

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Categories: Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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2 Comments on “BPM and elephant metaphors”

  1. Dencie Mascarenas
    October 3, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    Once again, you hit a great topic and the diagram definitely helps in understanding what is the minds of the subject matter experts. While the diagram and processes may seem confusing to technologists, this not the case for the business who are the subject matter experts and understand what drives the business and are not silod into specific functions. The business in many ways already think in workflows as they know core processes and structure that impact and drive operations. With the overall responsibility to P/L (Profit/Loss) of a given unit, the business has no choice to understand all the underpinnings to improve operations and maintain a competitive edge. The only issue the continues to be ongoing is the weak communication between technology and the business. As the business takes more control of their data and operations with the implementation of BPM, the relationship will just get even more strained.

  2. October 3, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Could not agree with you more Chris; BPM cannot be successful until Change Management is seen as vital to the overall strategy for Transformation and Sustainability. Improving operations and maintaining a competitive edge involves not just the latter methodology but understanding the culture of the organization, its partners, clients and stakeholders. P/L is just one metric that sends a signal something is wrong. When we speak of change which is the essence of BPM we have to look at all the components that make up the whole.

    As for Dencie’s reply as it relates to IT and business, “As the business takes more control of their data and operations with the implementation of BPM, the relationship will just get even more strained” … IT executives have egos out of control, I know I use to be one; BPM fosters integration of silos, finance, IT and knowledge workers supporting business decisions, minimizing and managing risk; BPM has the potential to put out of control egos in check across the board.

    In my blog I wrote on the effect of e2e processes and the organization, there is some relevance to your point, http://wp.me/pO8n7-3E.

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