The first two articles of the series “Supporting core BPM principles with BPMN 2.0”, presented two principles of business process management: (1) ‘processes are organizational assets’ and (2) ‘processes should be managed’. The first two principles are related since business processes need management, as any other kind of organizational assets. Similarly, the third principle, ‘processes should be continuously improved’, is related to the first two, as follows.
First, business processes are organizational capabilities, which means, they represent a type of intangible organizational assets that cannot be easily acquired. Instead, they have to be established and evolved within an organizational context. This also means that business processes are hard to copy by competition and help service providers to gain advantage on the market space they’re going after.
Second, to stay competitive, business environment dictates organizations to adapt and improve, and while business processes are central to an organization’s value creation (first BPM principle), this also implicates business process adaptation and improvement. So, business processes are organizational assets that have to be managed in a system, which supports continuous process improvement.
 Capabilities are considered to be intangible assets of an organization. They represent the ability of an organization, person, process, application, configuration item or service to carry out an activity.
Processes Should be Continuously Improved
The continuous process improvement can be divided into process improvement and continuity.
Process improvement is related to the following statement ‘every improvement is a change, but not every change is an improvement’. This means that a process has to change to have the potential to improve. However, it also states that not every change is an improvement – it can also be a degradation. To find out if a process change is an improvement or not, the process needs to be measured before and after the change has been applied.
The continuity means that process improvement is not a one-shot deal. Since processes belong to organizational capabilities, they have to be permanently evolved, which requires continuous improvement (Figure 1).
With a focus on continuous improvement, an organization is better prepared to face change, which is constant in our customer-oriented economy. This helps to develop a corporate culture that is process-oriented and ready to adapt to changes.
Transferred into the Pizza restaurant viewpoint, these could be explained as follows. Each time a pizza is delivered to a customer, he or she could fulfill a questionnaire related to pizza (service) quality. Based on questionnaire results, the pizza receipt, baking or service can be changed and analyzed, if the changes yield any improvements (Figure 2).
Continuous process improvement requires continuous business process models improvement, where a common modeling approach is to define so-called ‘AS-IS’ and ‘TO-BE’ process models. ‘AS-IS’ process models represent the current business processes, where ‘TO-BE’ process models represent desired process models. In order to identify, if ‘TO-BE’ process models actually represent an improvement, they can be, prior to actual process implementation, tested in a BPMN simulation tool.
By using BPMN, special modeling guidelines for ‘AS-IS’ and ‘TO-BE’ process models can be defined (Figure 2). For example, the regions in a process model, which require change, can be marked with BPMN group artifacts or marked with different colors (for example, the red activities require change, where the green activities might stay unchanged). Besides, when defining ‘TO-BE’ models, several organizational information and constraints should be considered as presented on Figure 2.
The drawback of this approach is that it somehow reflects the one-shot improvement approach. So, the ‘AS-IS’ – ‘TO-BE’ approach should consider the following statement ‘process models are obsolete as soon they get defined’. This means when requirements or circumstances change, a ‘TO-BE’ model can quickly become an ‘AS-IS’ one. To successfully overcome this, process models should be managed in an IT environment, which supports versioning and tracking of changes.
To summarize, if a company want to stay competitive, it has to permanently adapt and improve, and while business processes are central to an organization’s value creation, a company needs to continuously improve its processes.
J. F. Chang, Business Process Management Systems: Strategy and Implementation, 1st ed. Auerbach Publications, 2005.