It would be easy to take a pop at Gartner’s Hype Cycle for BPM 2010 published this week.

The truth though is that all the analysts are struggling to take the auspices on BPM because it has become such a very broad church. In Gartner’s words:

“BPM can mean different things to different audiences. Rightly or wrongly, it has been seen as a tool, a market category, a consulting trade, a methodology and a management discipline. To some, it might be an unknown entity yet to be examined.”

Most of us would be stumped to write anything sensible about a subject so wide-ranging.

To Gartner’s credit, their cornerstones of their own approach are spot on: that BPM is inextricably linked with business process improvement, that it is essentially a discipline, and that ultimately the discipline of BPM matters more than the tools.

But the analysts’ problem is not just that the meaning of BPM has become so wide as to be nearly useless. BPM is also at an inflection point. There’s a new world opening up – and that’s why the analytical models of the old world are strained beyond breaking point to explain it.

Happily, the new world is far more interesting and productive than what we’re leaving behind.

Its landscape is dominated by the confluence of three tumbling rivers, each dedicated to business performance improvement in its own way.

One has its source in the high sierra of IT. It has focussed on automation as the key. The sparkling fresh water at its source lost its purity and got rather clouded with abstruse complexities as it made its way down the mountain.

The stream that is the source of one of the other rivers is located even higher up the mountain, close to Mount CEO in fact, and its focus has been on efficiency and effectiveness. It too lost some of its original appeal as it got muddied with ideological conflict between Lean and Six Sigma.

The third river has its source high up, very near the summit of Mount CFO. Its focus has been on risk and compliance. It too is now looking rather slow and muddied with complexity.

The name that the locals gave to the meeting point of these three rivers was: ‘At Last’.

In the downstream delta, a region known as ‘Continuous Excellence’, the landscape is dominated by rich fertile plains of ongoing collaboration on business performance improvement.

Hybrid workers, who understand the origins and value of each of the sources of this fertile area, are particularly prized. Listen carefully and you’ll hear that they are speaking process, the universal business language.

Actually, not so far-fetched. McKinsey published another great case study (A Better Way To Automate Service Operations), the plot of which is that a huge systems project failed to deliver any performance improvement despite many months of diligent requirements capture etc. It was rescued only when an inter-disciplinary team collaborated in an approach that was process-based, iterative, experimental and introduced change gradually from proven low-cost small-scale successes grounded in operational reality.

One consolation for Gartner and the analysts – the augurs, who in ancient Rome would study the flight of birds to take the auspices, without which no significant decision could be made, were well-rewarded, almost celebrities in fact. 😉 [though they did get rather swept away by science in the end ;-0]