Acronym tennis, BPM back on center court

I’ve never really understood the lengths some go to in order to argue a case for a single, agreed definition for Business Process Management (BPM). At best, the hours of debate bring some fringe insights into aspects of BPM not previously considered. At worst it’s a serious distraction from the real work of helping organizations focus on working better.

In fact I have always seen this as a distinct advantage. I hear a sharp in take of breath at this point. As I’ve discussed previously the words Business, Process and Management are entirely open to interpretation and for good reason. From a customer’s point of view this allows us to shape the definition to suit the organization and it’s specific problems. A definition can be agreed that fits the culture and supports the strategic goals.

However, recently I have found myself engaged in discussions with colleagues and analysts exploring advanced aspects of BPM. In order to fully understand these, and ensure we are talking the same language, I found it necessary to come up with a single definition we could all agree on before proceeding. So here is that definition, I’m sure to many it’s nothing new but perhaps some might find it useful as a simple concise description of BPM.

I start by describing Business Processes as:

  • everything an organization does in pursuit of its strategic goals.

Those goals may not be well defined, if at all, but they still exist even if only in the mind of the CEO. Employees may not know what they are supposed to achieve which is why I use the word ‘pursuit’. Business processes exist, they may just be unstructured and have no clear goal.


  • Business Process Management is a systematic approach to understanding and improving business processes in order to achieve the strategic goals.

Here I use the word ‘achieve’ because the assumption is that if the organization has matured to the point that it recognizes some form of management of what they do is required then they must know what they are trying to achieve.

It’s simple, it does not attempt to imply a specific tool set, it does not impose notions of customer needs or efficiency and effectiveness. The later are strategic goals and, like tool sets are agnostic of BPM. This definition does not impose specific approaches nor does assume an overly prescriptive methodology for documenting, governing and enforcing process steps. This is entirely up to the organization applying the approach.


3 thoughts on “Acronym tennis, BPM back on center court

    • Hi Chris, thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree this is often the case, but should it be? Is operational improvement not important enough that it should be considered strategic?

      I’m not suggesting that every process is strategic but that every process within an org should contribute to strategic goals, documented or not.

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