Six Sigma and Lean Meet BPM: Q&A With Software AG's Bruce Williams

There are plenty of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing practitioners out there, but all too often they worked in isolation, unable to penetrate the IT domain and hard-pressed to measure and replicate success. Bruce Williams, general manager of business process management solutions at Software AG, says there's a big opportunity for companies to connect their Six Sigma or Lean initiatives with the data-gathering, execution and closed-loop-improvement advantages of BPM.
You've described what's lacking in Lean and Six Sigma, but what about the gaps in BPM? Is it becoming too focused on technology without enough of the discipline and methodology of Six Sigma and Lean?

The risk with all technologies is that people treat them as a hammer and they just go around swinging it. There is no methodology necessarily implied inside a BPM suite; it's just a tool set, so you are really relying on the knowledge, expertise and capabilities of whoever is implementing it to do something groundbreaking and significant. However, if you combine the methodologies of a Six Sigma or Lean practice with a BPM tool set, you can leverage both environments.

For example, when you begin a BPM implementation, some will say, "The first thing we do is model the state of where we are going." Everyone in a Lean or Six Sigma environment would stop you from getting out a blank sheet of paper or a blank modeling tool because they recognize the value in first identifying the "as is" — where you are today. You can then look at the existing process to determine what steps and changes you want to make, and you can then instrument those areas properly and measure the delta so you know what kind of gains you've made.

Without some kind of methodology, who is to say what the KPIs are, what is measured, what the upper and lower spec limits are, and what constitutes a yellow condition or a red condition? A methodology like Six Sigma or Lean defines that, and you know exactly what to instrument because you understand cause and effect, and what limits should be around any causal element to affect the outcomes.

Is the combination of Six Sigma and BPM or Lean and BPM a bit too much for the average company to take on all at once? After all, a lot of companies have trouble just embracing any one of these elements on its own.

Close to 40 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are already practicing Six Sigma at some level. When I sit with the IT people or the Six Sigma practitioners or the executives who oversee both and explain how Six Sigma and BPM can come together, it often leads to a kind of epiphany. They recognize the opportunity to use BPM technology to create so much more reach and leverage with what they are trying to do with these initiatives.

So how would you sum up your message to those who are practicing Six Sigma or Lean without the benefit of BPM or those who are exploring BPM without a methodology or framework like Six Sigma or Lean?

I'd say that BPM offers a toolset that is very similar to the Lean and Six Sigma toolsets they're used to [including modeling, analysis and simulation], but it can reach out across the enterprise and give them the leverage, the reusability and the extensibility that they have never had before.

I tell those who are embracing BPM that they can use the technology tactically, but if they want to use it strategically as a weapon — to really address productivity, innovation and other business issues — you can reach out to Six Sigma or Lean as an underpinning to know how to best apply the technology and the toolset.

Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Abel, Technical Director, Google Cloud
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Christopher Gilchrist, Principal Analyst, Forrester
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek