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Why lean and BPMN don't go (well) together

Lean and BPMN

Many architects and business analysts see BPMN 2.0 as the standard for modeling business processes. The purpose of making business process models is to communicate with each other about these processes. How can it be that the method used for communicating looks like a secret language?

BPMN is perfect for well-educated specialists
Business consultants and IT architects are often college or university educated and have often been trained specifically in making and understanding flowcharts and BPMN diagrams. But colleagues from other departments have often had good skill based trainings and are less educated in abstract-thinking. Also, they are normally not trained in understanding squares and triangles that are connected by arrows that are supposed to reflect their work activities.

Lean is meant to involve and empower everyone
Squares, triangles and arrows are no go fit for Lean projects. These projects evolve about the communication, participation and empowerment of people from the operations, from the shop floor. This shop floor can be the traditional factory shop floor but also the insurance company shop floor or wholesale warehouse shop floor. Preferable the players of the process together “map” the process, discuss the process in detail, highlight exemptions and bottlenecks, and think of improvement opportunities. Sure, the business consultant can play an important role in facilitating this process. The ownership of these players get increasingly more ownership of their process and work on ongoing improvement from the inside out.

What is needed?
To enable this process and give ownership to the process players, it is crucial that they can visualize their process and that this visualization becomes the center of their discussion. They need a method that speaks their language. When translating post-it notes into squares and triangles you will basically lose the participants; the process map is gibberish to them.

We started out our company in 2008 to bridge this dilemma. We aim to help teams to map a process in such a way that everyone intuitively understands. Simple comic-type icons that really mean something to the participants. And if the icons are not good enough, just create your own within a minute.

A nice example. Last year a team of clerks of a city in The Netherlands set out to map their Birth Registration process. When parents come in to proudly register the birth of their son or daughter, this city always hands them a nice small bouquet of flowers. Even in our Modeler, a standard icon was not available. So the moderator quickly googled for “flower”, found an appropriate picture and created an icon. In the process map the text “hand flowers to parents” is automatically positioned below the task, and the role “registration clerk” above the task. Nobody, even outsiders, need to be explained what this means. More important, the participants take personal ownership of the process map they have created!

But more is needed to get in-depth involvement
Getting the team involved is key. A smart process mapping tool offers more, to help the team explore and improve. Not always does everyone understand the initial picture that was made. So instantly switching between alternative views give new insights to many:

  • Swim lanes (based on roles or IT systems, locations and other aspects)
  • Highlighting bottlenecks in costs, lead times, processing times etc.
  • Highlighting which steps add-value and which do not.
  • Overzicht van processtappen die al dan niet waarde toevoegen voor de eindklant
  • Showing documents and input/output per process step

BPMN is not suited for Lean projects, or projects that need the involvement of everybody. IT-Architects understand the shapes, but for others it is too much of a secret language. Our process modeler helps you to do the work faster and better, but especially in getting the team involved and empowered to make the next improvement. Try our Process Modeler for free.

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