I am on a contract job for Smarter Solutions to help a client introduce a Lean Six Sigma competency as part of an overall effort to introduce Business Process Management. If you are not familiar with BPM, it is something that has been around for years but gained a name “BPM” in the past few years as software vendors have developed software systems to provide a point and click creation of software-managed process management.
Smarter Solutions has been playing in this arena for the past year or so since the Integrated Enterprise Excellence methods that Forrest Breyfogle developed follow provide a great method to create the non-software structure of BPM. You can read about it on our web site in the Business System Tab.
BPM and Lean Six Sigma
The general BPM model considers Lean Six Sigma along with a few other methods as vehicles to improve processes that, when examined, do not perform at expected levels. We have adopted the body of knowledge from ABPMP.ORG, which has a very complete and non-software vendor specific text to follow. Their diagram of the BPM system is as follows:
I want to focus on the middle five phases. Lean Six Sigma is included in process transformation step, which comes after the process is standardized and considered for optimization. There are also references to Lean Six Sigma in the process analysis steps, where you use LSS tools to perform analysis of performance, and, if the performance is found to be inadequate, then it may call for a process design or re-design effort which may use the LSS toolset too.
My problem with this model is that it focuses more on the need to document the process and work to automation as a standardization method without any discussion of a need to ensure that it is adequate before formalizing the process. This does come from the v2 body of knowledge. The first version included a more formal LSS linkage where it was used after process analysis if the performance was inadequate. The v2 BOK does not emphasize it in the same way, but I think it should.
Like the Lean vs. Six Sigma arguments of old.
I think the discussion of how to adopt the LSS methods in the business management is similar to the arguments between Lean practitioners and Six Sigma practitioners a few years ago. The lean folks said you should “Lean out” the process before six sigma-ing it. The Six Sigma folks would say you should measure the performance and capability before doing any improvement. If you find the capability is bad, why spend anytime leaning it out when you will re-build it anyway. I fell into the Six Sigma group on this one. I had peers at Lockheed Martin that were following the lean-it-out first philosophy, and they were very busy, but at the end of the year they were not sure that very many of the changes really were beneficial. They never got to the Six Sigma stuff because it was slower and less fun.
How should it go?
First of all, I look at the BPM model shown above to be just another Business Process Improvement model that is targeting automation to achieve standardization. If we look at it this way, the best model may be to manage each process effort as a BPM LSS project.
Add a Define the issue with the process to BPM so that we know what the goal of the effort really is. The goal should not be that BPM is applied; it should have a business benefit identified and measured.
The Process Modeling step includes a documentation of the business rules, a SIPOC, and other tools we would call the Measure Phase in Lean Six Sigma. The goal is to understand the as-is process. In BPM, this is done without any data collection as the process is documented. I think that the lean concepts used in Value Stream Map creation, where you collect data while documenting the process steps, is a best practice and should be adopted. This data collection is considered part of the process analysis step in the BPM model.
The full BPM process analysis steps include the data collection (if any is collected) and a process analysis, which could be considered as the Analysis Phase for Lean Six Sigma. With a BPM deployment, the Analysis can look more like a re-engineering or DFSS type effort. The analysis involves more about the Voice of the Customer and an understanding of how the existing process meets these customer needs. Then you will design a new process that will be managed through an electronic software interface. This effort will blend into the Improve Phase since you will go right into pilot testing the newly designed process. The goal is to see if the newly automated process is truly better and functional.
The BPM process would lead you to a process measurement effort which can be considered as an equivalent to the Control Phase. As you have automated the process, you are also using an application to host the process that is able to generate a large number of performance metrics. In this phase, the goal is to build a management system using the performance metrics that allow the business to catch poor performance and potentially seed the next round of improvements. The process transformation actions are the establishment of a new performance level and management system that transforms the business process.
I believe the BPM model is consistent with the LSS model when the goal is to drive a more standardized execution and improved performance.
BPM vs. Lean Six Sigma
After we have examined similarities, is there a reason to choose one method over the other method? I believe the BPM supporters would say that you do not choose because BPM provides an option to use the LSS methods to improve the existing process as part of the development, which it does. This belief places LSS as subordinate to the BPM effort, which I think is not appropriate. A Lean Six Sigma supporter could as easily say that BPM is an excellent improve phase tool to introduce standardization and Poke-Yoke efforts, where it is beneficial. I guess both are equally correct and equally wrong views of the two systems. It reminds me of people trained in the “Lean Sigma” system where they are taught to lean out the process and then perform six sigma on it, which is not a good methodology either.
If it were my company, I would want both competencies to be proficiently executed within the organization, allowing both of the scenarios discussed above to exist: BPM with LSS and LSS with BPM. I know that there are business processes that could experience spectacular LSS improvements but would never be a candidate for BPM. Correspondingly, there are processes that could use the BPM automation without a major improvement. Why limit yourself to one path when you have two superior methodologies available?
Where should we start?
Where do you start? I am not sure if it really matters, as I tell my students when looking for the perfect problem statement or project. It does not matter where you start; it matters that you start the improvement. I believe that once you start, the observations and data collections will lead you to the best opportunities to improve. Just start improving.
MBB candidates may want to learn about BPM to further their influence into the IT world and many of the computer-automated processes. I also chose not to write about the best tool I learned through my BPM efforts, Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN). This is a business process flowcharting standard that I have found to be very powerful and more useful for process charting, especially when considering automation as an improvement.