What is a process and what is BPM?

One could fill many books trying to answer the question in the title. Oops! All those books have already been written. So has the question been answered conclusively and in concurrence? Absolutely not.

Hence, I will look at processes from the customer perspective. Well, you might say that has already been done, for example with ‘Outside-In BPM’. I do not agree. Outside-In does consider the customer touch points, moments of truth or other fancy names for customer interactions from an internal viewpoint. I mean ‘the customer perspective’ not a business person looking at what a customer might want.

It should not be so hard because everyone actually is a customer, except if you live on an island from coconuts. You should be so lucky! When you look at a business where you are a customer what is your perspective on their business processes? Zero! Except if you are a business process expert already, you won’t be looking at or minding their processes. All you mind is what your immediate, emotional experience is with their people. That is all. It does not have to be a one-on-one experience. Steve Jobs, who designed the opening of the box of a Mac as a celebration, cared so much about this emotional experience to forego the cheapest packaging. This is how he became such a popular icon despite his choleric management style. And opening the box is not the end of a process but really the beginning.

While customer experience (CX) is suggested as a new organizational approach (some say there should be a CXO), I propose that CX is actually another word for process. Many refer to it as ‘outcome’ and indicate that this happens at the end of a process and we would analyze it statistically. Better not. CX is continually woven into the process, because the process of customer interaction does never end. Therefore designing processes as start-to-finish flow-diagrams is nonsense. Hoping to model and predict people interactions regardless at which level, is the ultimate ignorance towards the customer. Designing those perfectly validated BPMN processes is the illusion of a process expert who lives in LALA-land. ALL THE BAD customer experiences are due to flow-diagrams especially if people are cut from the interaction. You might argue that there are a lot of internal business processes and while that may be true, my first suggestion would be to get rid of as many as possible. If a process is not about CX it does not deliver value and just produces cost!

So can Web and Mobile apps improve the customer experience? They could but apparently don’t. Studies have shown (Michael Moaz, Gartner) that businesses that utilize apps for customer self-service extensively, suffer from a loss of brand affinity because customers lack emotional interaction. You need to bring people into the experience and NOT get rid of them.

Orthodox BPM is thus a failure if you believe it or not. If you need an executive sponsor, a Center of Excellence, a huge project, a BPM champion or any other means of achieving a BPM focus, you are turning inwards to distance yourself even further from the only relevant aspect of BPM – your customer! I yet have to see that there is a kind of (governance) bureaucracy that focuses outwards. For a couple of decades BPM (and process reengineering) has been done for benefit of the business by creating complex structures of hierarchy, processes and rules to enjoy the illusion of predictability and quality and hardly anything they do has a customer focus. A substantial amount of cost-centric applications, outsourced services and defined processes constrain their ability to seriously improve customer experience.

Corporate IT as a combination of silos and outsourcing (see comments) has become a disabler and is most certainly not an enabler for customer experience. Standardization for reduced cost and predictability is the anti-thesis to individualization that would enable a positive emotional experience. The business must be able to JUST PERFORM customer processes as needed without long BPM projects or application development. The same is true for Web and Mobile apps, causing substantial issues for hard-coded applications.

These days a positive customer experience beyond opening the product box will be created by continuous and individualized customer interaction. You must empower your employees to interact with the empowered consumer in an individual, but efficient manner via the Web, Mobile and maybe Social (with some caution). The days of scripted call center interactions with someone in India are over. When I enter an Apple store, my interaction as an Apple online customer simply continues. When I leave the store it becomes part of my customer record. The process never ends.

The future is a mobile app that knows the customer: The process of interaction must be unscripted, individualized and allow at any time a real person to step into the interaction for support or service. I enter a store and THE APP KNOWS which one I am entering and alerts the store staff that I was looking for a particular product online. The APP could even guide me to the shelf. I hit a button to get help. Any event or communication is part of the process. If you are a bank or an insurance you need to create Online branches, in which your customers are serviced by staff when requested. Think flow-diagram and you already failed.

So what is a process? It is series of (internal) customer or consumer interactions that create a positive experience. And BPM? The concept should be dumped and three letter acronyms with an ‘M’ at the end should be outlawed. But as we likely have to live with BPM, it should define the customer experience, strategic objectives, financial targets, and process goals. Not much else. And yes, it should empower people with a language of process (i.e. ontology) that can be used to create those consumer interactions without needing a process expert. To enable the business to deliver the best in CX, it needs a ‘System of Engagement’ that is disconnected from the rigidity of the ‘System of Record’ but connected to its data transactions by means of a Business Architecture.

If you still believe that human interaction (means process) is a flow-diagram, you belong to a lost generation …

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM, Customer Communications
8 comments on “What is a process and what is BPM?
  1. Hi Max,

    your argumentation becomes more and more spicy. And you are right. I just have the challenge to organize a internet business platform trading with commodity stuff (fridges and all about technical devices in kitchens). Like all of them they must have a good process by lowering the costs of each order. But the customer does accept higher prices by getting warm and individual consulting – most of the time completely off the technical problem, that might be in the focus (where a process has been intstalled for). And this ist the only way for getting an order. The fun is, that the business modell is “telephone crisis line” with associated internet trading. This is the challenge. The processes behind are like amazon or whatever. But the task ist, earning money in spite of having very good prices by delivering special services – those are unforgetable moments.
    Cool stuff.

    best wishes


    • Thanks, clearly costs are relevant and need to be linked in the operational specs of a process (goal). Yes, most customers are willing to pay higher prices for better service – otherwise no one would fly Lufthansa, but just RyanAir. And recognizing your customers as an individual and catering to that is the most powerful tool for continuing and repeat business. it is five times cheaper to sell to an existing customer than to a new one.

      So there is a clear financial benefits related to a better Customer Experience. All the best, Max


  2. Hello Max,

    flying Ryan Air instead of Lufthansa is an easy decision (hopefully that reduced price won´t consider safety standard (processes, yeah)). By taking a ride I don´t need to have communication für solving problems. Information is available all around, so the better process comes to me and this is the cheaper one. In my seminars i am building out two polar opposites. “Perfect process or voluptous excitement” – Every Organisation must decide on which side it will operate. Of cause there are both systems in one organisation, but clearly separated, because they cause completely different efforts in intellectual approach and emotional enabling. In my work I see, that organisations are jumbling “good structured =standard” elements and “bad unstructured elements = unpredictible or complex” in a wild manner. So the performance of the acutal “goodies” goes to 20 % of possible (there is communication where may not be ANY communication) and there is consecutively no time left to have intensive because meaningful communication for the future stuff and in your context for the customer. Bad game and realy stupid. By oberserving 32 Managers of 3 high performer in mechanical engineering one day (= 290 hours) I could see, that about 70 % of all actions ist “feedback because of bad information an communication”. People send uncompleted “snippets”. The recipient can´t deal with it. 90 % of the day in some organisations is getting killed by that.

    Best wishes


    • Thanks again, there is this common idea that an unstructured or undesigned process is less efficient or less good. Utterly wrong. Someone who is very good at his job will do a good job with his processes and usually there is no need for upfront design. The need for process design comes with the desire to hire less-trained or less-qualified people for cost reasons. Helping qualified professionals to properly share and assign work without rigidly structuring it will do wonders for efficiency and amazing results for effectiveness. An important benefit of structuring work is to assign it to process goals and those again linked to operational targets and strategic objectives (top down transparency).

      I agree with you that information quality and process transparency are key to efficiency without changing the process per se. Even cheapo-RyanAir will loose customers when it fails to deal with a customer complaint in an effective manner. All relevant people having all the same current information, with properly assigned responsibilities will be a key again.

      You are also right that the core aspect of process is content and this means good, original and timely content to all who need it. There is no process without content and content without process is spam.


  3. Max you’re on the money. There are too many acronyms of theories and I’m quite sure it’s just to sell software. Also by the time BPM gets “set up” with all the above so to speak, the business either has moved on from the momentum or has made some changes which means tweaking again.


    • Thanks for the comment. BPM has to become a pure business activity that helps to organize work better and not a prescription by some process experts who have no idea what the business needs. Yes, they try to extract that knowledge by interviewing but forget that business is about doing what is needed not what the process says. Tweaking is nowhere near enough. Business must be able to create and modify the process anytime it is necessary at runtime and create new templates where it is valuable to share and reuse the experience.


  4. kswenson says:

    Max, you say some of the craziest things! This one, for instance: “IT has become a disabler and is most certainly not an enabler for customer experience.” If this was true, customers would be flooding to stores that had no IT, and the companies with IT would be going out of business. However, last time I checked, Amazon.com was doing quite well, as well as thousands of progressively thinking companies. I can’t think of a single company that has rejected IT outright and survived.

    That is picking on a very small part of your post, and you know that I agree with the central theme, which is that a process should not be modeled as a flowchart. I agree — there are much better models that fit the need more accurately. Recent advances in technology are making those better models possible.

    Sill, you make more crazy statements like: “Orthodox BPM is thus a failure if you believe it or not.” I believe it not. I have seen may successful uses of BPM. A process model is a “simplification” of the real business, and a very crude one, yet it is better that what was there before!

    You have a design for an airplane, so you are calling the automobile a “failure”. It simply does not bear up to experience. You must remember the reality of the situation before BPM.

    And YES there are too many acronyms:


    • HI Keith, thanks for reading and being my ‘call to reason’! I really appreciate your comment and your remarks because you do what should be done: debate and exchange opinions. I do however claim for myself that ‘All progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ (G.B. Shaw)

      Your are right. I was not accurate enough in describing what I meant with the term ‘IT.’ I do not mean information technology and its potential per se, but corporate IT as a function of running a business the way it is currently being used, especially with the combined complexity of silos and outsourcing. In my current roadshow keynote I make the point that we have reached the post-industrial age in which information is the most important asset and no longer land or manufacturing capabilities. I too use Amazon as an example to compare with Walmart and Sears. So thanks for pointing to that lack of detail.

      In terms of ‘BPM’ I am saying that it has failed as a larger management concept to bring the overall business benefits where it tries to flowchart work. Where it does so ‘successfully’ it is not BPM. I stand by that position and all I am asking is for proof that I am wrong.

      I don’t see the airplane versus car comparison. Many medical procedures of the middle ages were killing patients rather than healing them. They were not slightly bettering patients but simply based on wrong belief. Processes don’t get slightly better when done in flowcharts. I am proposing that they get worse because the crude model is wrong, it ignores the human aspect and it gets harder to change. Yes, it is easier to change than Java code but then we are back at programming and not BPM.

      The benefits that any solution might bring are a matter of opinion and priority. ‘All Money is a matter of belief.’ (Adam Smith)

      thanks again, Max


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Max J. Pucher
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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.

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