I was at the North American MESA conference a couple of weeks ago, and it was clear to me that Business Process Management (BPM) was on the verge of getting its due. Like the market it serves, MESA is embracing the inherent power of BPM for manufacturing. This is a good thing. However, what I haven’t seen much is folks explicitly tying BPM to continuous improvement. And, BPM just screams “continuous improvement”.
There are three bits of information you need for your continuous improvement projects: where you are now, where you want to go, and how you will know when you’ve arrived.
So, what is it about BPM that makes it such a natural fit for your Six Sigma or Kaizen improvement efforts? BPM brings with it transparency, agility and compliance. Let’s talk about those three things and how they relate to continuous improvement:
A key objective of the Measure stage of a Six Sigma project is to baseline your process (aka: your “as is” state). Without a baseline, the black belt or green belt leading the charge is going to fall flat on his face. Because, there’s no way to measure any gain or improvement without knowing your starting point (and without any measurable gain, say goodbye to your bonus or credit towards your Master BB).
BPM provides transparency to your value added processes because it provides an explicit, executable model of your process. Throw away your flowcharts (they’re just taking up space on your shelf anyway) –your process model is always up-to-date because it’s actually driving and directing operations execution on your shop floor.
So, now you know where you are. In the Define stage, you identified the critical factors you’re going to address –critical to quality (CTQ), critical to cost (CTC) or critical to schedule (CTS) and translated that to deliverables (aka the “future” state). The key now is to engage your cross-functional team in a timely and effective way.
BPM enables your team to move fast because there’s no need to wait on IT to translate your requirements into specs , code, build, test, etc. BPM supports a cross functional team by supporting separation of roles, visual process modeling and enabling cross functional collaboration. With prototyping, you’re getting feedback fast to ensure alignment to goals and high customer satisfaction.
BPM is inherently compliant because you are automating the steps of your process which direct and enforce your standard operating procedures. Since steps and actions are logged, it’s easy to embed process metrics which will feed your performance dashboards (andon boards, scorecards, operator screens, alerts, etc). In addition, with built-in documentation (sometimes known as “blue printing”), your new “as is” state or baseline is already documented for your next six sigma project or Kaizen event.
If you’re a Six Sigma or Lean practitioner (or practicing other forms of continuous improvement), isn’t this the kind of environment you want to be working in?