What Is Business Process Management? Michael Hammer Hammer and Company, Cambridge, MA Abstract Googling the term “business process management” in May 2008 yields some 6.4 million hits, the great majority of which (based on sampling) seem to concern so-called BPM software systems. This is ironic and unfortunate, because in fact IT in general, and such BPM systems in particular, is at most a peripheral aspect of business process management. In fact, business process management (BPM) is a comprehensive system for managing and transforming organizational operations, based on what is arguably the first set of new ideas about organiza-tional performance since the Industrial Revolution. The Origins of BPM BPM has two primary intellectual antecedents. The first is the work of Shewhart and Deming on statistical process control, which led to the modern quality move-ment and its contemporary avatar, six sigma. This work sought to reduce variation in the performance of work by carefully measuring outcomes and using statistical techniques to isolate the “root causes” of performance problems – causes that could then be addressed. Much more important than the details of upper and lower control limits or the myriad of other analytic tools that are part of quality’s arma-mentarium are the conceptual principles that underlie this work: the core assump-tion that operations are of critical importance and deserve serious attention and management; the use of performance metrics to determine whether work is being performed satisfactorily or not; the focus on hard data rather than opinion to iso-late the root causes of performance difficulties; the concept of blaming the process not the people, that performance shortcomings are rooted in objective problems that can be identified and dealt with; and the notion of never-ending improvement, that solving one set of problems merely buys an organization a ticket to solve the next round. The quality approach suffered from two limitations, however. The first was its definition of process as essentially any sequence of work activities. With this per-spective, an organization would have hundreds or even thousands of processes, from putting a parts box on a shelf to checking customer credit status, and the ma-chinery of quality improvement could be applied to any and all of these. Focusing
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