Process-Centered vs. Process Thinking

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There’s naturally a ton of hype surrounding BPM, and I’m proud to be among its staunchest promoters both within my organization and among our clientele. There’s seems to be a disconnect, however, regarding what the implications are for the adoption of BPM, and I think it’s important to draw a distinction here. The greatest pushback against BPM initiatives is the idea that its adoption requires wholesale changes in every aspect of the organization. But change, to be effective, should take place incrementally, with a process-focus being embraced over time as a series of small successes add up to validate the BPM approach. This evolution requires staff to become process thinkers, seeing processes in their organizational context and paying attention to the influences that make or break excellent processes. (Excellent processes being those that are efficient, effective and agile.) (See, for example, my entry, The Big Picture from November 7, 2006.) This is purely an educational endeavor, and the establishment of well-defined and widely communicated organizational goals, uniform process frameworks and aligned compensation creates the foundation for an organization of process thinkers.
A process-centered organization, however, is an entirely different thing. A process-centered organization has organized around processes; that is, processes have primacy in the design of the organization. This means that process owners have much authority, responsibility and accountability for the conduct and output of the processes they supervise. Truly an organizational form, a process-centered organization may not, in fact, be the best choice for organizational design. Other design choices, including organizing around customers (e.g., large corporate customers, individual consumers), geography (e.g., Northeast, Southwest, etc.), functions (e.g., sales, production, research, finance, etc.), products and services (e.g., consumer products, commercial products, etc.), or projects (i.e., a matrix structure) are just as valid as organizing around processes. The choice of organizational design, however, depends heavily on a number of factors, including the industry in which the organization operates, the type (professional, skilled, semi-skilled) and number (small, large, huge) of employees, the age of the organization, the markets it serves, and other factors. To be sure, a process-centered organization will encourage process thinking, however, any one of the other generic organizational designs stands to benefit greatly from a coterie of employees who are process thinkers as well.