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Digital Transformation

Calling a Truce Between BPM and Six Sigma

I’ve heard a lot of operations folk talk shop over the years.  My GE friends in B-School were the ultimate Six Sigma champions.  I learned about kaizen and the art of lean while working in Japan.  Then we have the tech champions of BPM technologies. These methods are often backed with an almost religious fervor.  That’s why I was so glad to see a discussion about aligning various schools of thought.  Here’s a step-by-step comparison of Six Sigma DMAIC with BPM showing how complimentary these two methodologies are:

  1. The first step in the DMAIC process is define, which means select a business project and identify the success metrics. BPM begins by identifying one or more business problems before you document the potentially impacted current state processes. When you select a Six Sigma project, analyze it from the perspective of what business problem(s) you are trying to resolve, not only focused on what processes am I trying to improve.
  2. The second step in the DMAIC process is measure, which means to document the current state process. But how are you supposed to measure, what methodologies do you use, how do you approach documenting the process, who is involved, and the list of questions goes on? BPM can mean a variety of different things, but it contains a methodology to document the current state. This includes creating an activity model for the activities within scope, identifying subject matter experts, conducting workshops to document the activities, information inputs and outputs, roles and technologies utilized in the current state. It also includes the identification of current issues. All of these are inputs to establish a baseline to identify and improve the business processes and transform the organization.
  3. The third step in the DMAIC process is analyze, to determine the root causes for process deviations. BPM already created a current state baseline and the focus of analyze is on improving the current state. Cause and effect analysis is a great method used in Six Sigma, but also incorporate BPM to include analyzing the current state process from customer, market, technology, regulatory, benchmarking, and alignment with organizational direction. You may determine that the current state process needs to be significantly reworked before applying the Six Sigma approach.
  4. The fourth step in the DMAIC process is improve, which results in a new future state process. The assumption here is that the initial current state process was good enough to apply techniques which may result in significant, but incremental process improvements. Dependent upon the outcome in the previous step of analyzing the current state process, this may involve a larger effort to redesign the current state process or possibly create a new future state process to completely replace the current state process. In addition, ensure that you incorporate organizational change for a successful implementation of the new process.
  5. The fifth step in the DMAIC process is to control, with the goal to minimize deviations from expected behaviors and outcomes. Existing current state metrics and/ or new future state metrics should have been clearly defined in the fourth step. In this phase, gather and analyze the metric data to ensure alignment of the process, not only from a process deviation perspective, but also from the perspectives of ensuring the process is contributing to the organization with a focus on customer value.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding Six Sigma and BPM and whether they compete against each other or are complimentary or even that both of them are dead. You need to look at your processes from a business problem perspective with the goal of keeping your options open to either apply Six Sigma techniques or significantly redesign a process or a combination of both. Six Sigma and BPM both provide organizational benefit, but when conscientiously used to compliment and support each other; your results will be even more significant.

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