BPM Definitions

This temporary page is used to keep track of various proposed definitions.  Please visit the conclusion page: “One Common Definition for BPM”  

Definition 11

Business Process Management (BPM) is a discipline involving any combination of modeling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimization of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Endorsed by: Nathaniel Palmer, Keith Swenson, K Walter Keirstead, Ken Mei, Paul Buhler, Layna Fischer,  Shelley Sweet, Cor Visser, Justin Brunt, Steinar Carlson, Roy Altman, Thomas Volmering, Gero Decker

(This was the selected definition.   Other, earlier attempts are listed below)






Definition 1

Business process management is the discipline to model, automate, execute, control, measure and optimize the flows of business activities that span the enterprise’s systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Endorsed by: Alexander Samarin, Anatoly Belaychuk, John Morris, Marlon Dumas, Michael zur Muehlen, Max Pucher

Definition 2

Business process management is the discipline to model, automate, execute, control, measure and optimize the flows of business activities supporting enterprise goals that span the enterprise’s systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Endorsed: Marielvi Piñero,

Definition 3

Business Process Management (BPM) is a disciplined approach to identify, design, execute, document, measure, monitor, and control both automated and non-automated business processes to achieve consistent, targeted results aligned with an organization’s strategic goals. BPM involves the deliberate, collaborative and increasingly technology-aided definition, improvement, innovation, and management of end-to-end business processes that drive business results, create value, and enable an organization to meet its business objectives with more agility. BPM enables an enterprise to align its business processes to its business strategy, leading to effective overall company performance through improvements of specific work activities either within a specific department, across the enterprise, or between organizations.

Endorsed by: (this is the ABPMP definition)

Definition 8

Business process management is the discipline to model, measure, design, optimize, automate, execute, monitor, and control the flows of business activities that span the enterprise’s systems, employees, customers, and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Endorsed by: Kiran Garimella

Definition 9

Business process management is the discipline to model, automate, execute, control, measure and optimize the collaboration and outcomes of business activities that span the enterprise, including employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Endorsed by: David Chassels

Definition 10

Business Process Management (BPM) is a management discipline that integrates the strategy and goals of an organization with the expectations and needs of customers by focusing on end‐to-end processes. It brings together strategies, goals, culture, organizational structures, roles, business rules, iso, risk management, policies and methodologies. The BPM process governance is focused on business transformation (independent if it’s small or large) in order to support agile and consistent changes with the aim of continuous improvement (the best ROI), in response to the business strategy. It can be facilitated by IT tools to analyze, design, implement, control, and continuously improve end‐to‐end processes.

Endorsed by: Jose Camacho



12 thoughts on “BPM Definitions

  1. I think this pulls Defintion pulls 1 & 2 together (for outcomes could use “goals”?)

    Plus Slight but important changes

    “Business process management is the discipline to model, automate, execute, control, measure and optimize the collaboration and outcomes of business activities that span the enterprise, including employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.”

    You will notice 3 changes which I think take in a look to the future – we also want business people to grasp the importance in their terminology?

    First really should include outcomes; “flows” without an outcome is too weak? Indeed as I was writing this would “flows” not be better expressed as “collaboration” reflecting the much broader needs than the implied workflow from “flows” which is a “techie” term?

    I think that span the “enterprise systems” again an IT focus and much too restrictive. Is it not really “span the enterprise” as in reality “BPM “ may well replace these old systems as the next generation BPM driven solutions where people sit e.g. CRM SCM ACM HRM will be the “new enterprise systems”? Again this subtle change will add interest from business? (Also removes what might be a seen cynically as a push by IT to dig into old systems”?)

    • thanks David. This is Definition #9. Agree that “enterprise systems” has a strong IT focus, but the following inclusion of people, customers, etc make it clear that the definition is not limited to those systems, so I don’t think this is a problem.

      I think we have to have the word “flows” in there, because that is the definition of “process”. It is not enough that we support activities, but we must consider how activities are related. You suggestion of “collaboration” is confusing: it is ambiguous about whether you means the people collaborating OR activities collaborating. If people collaborate, then the relationship of the activities is not established. But, activities collaborating seems like an odd concept. Flow of activities is better.

      I appreciate that some of your suggestions are improvements, still I hope to convince you to join one of the existing definition as “good enough”. (However, if others jump to your definition I would not oppose it.)

  2. Hi Keith, a noble effort …

    Actually a huge can of worms with more questions than answers. The longer and broader the definition the less it actually means. A long list of assumptions, panaceas, dogmas and illusions.

    But anyway:

    Definition 1 is the classic one that most likely describes what BPM stands for today and encompasses everything that is wrong with it. The other ones try to cloud the problems by adding in company strategy that has usually no place in BPM efforts. Cost reduction is the only goal in all cases as this is how it is sold. BPM does not increase agility unless it gets rid of the people that would resist change.

    Is this a discussion of methodology? Discipline is another much more ambiguous term. Is that the reason you use it? Discipline implies an even stricter, dogmatic execution than methodology which by common use comes from experience.

    The APBPM definitions even bring now ‘multiple methodologies’ under this umbrella. So discipline is methodology plus IT execution? You describe instances which refers to technical execution. Unless their is a clear definition what model theories are being used the whole concept of ‘model’ remains a useless term. I can model a time machine but that doesn’t mean it will work.

    Why does collaboration confuse the issue and why have collaborative activities only undefined relationships? A project plan has a clear dependency.

    Do you see ACM outside this discipline because it is not rigid?

    Being busy robbing a bank or selling drugs is ‘commercially viable’ too. The best description of a business is ‘purposeful collaboration’. It used to be a collaboration of experts who joined their skills towards common customer-focused goals. The first ‘businesses’ were cooperatives that had no profit goals.

    If it is not necessary to say that processes are designed to meet goals, why does no BPM definition I know of have explicitly defined process goals or outcomes?

    Governance is today the necessary huge BPM bureaucracy, but it should be the management interaction to break down the business strategy into process goals and keep those aligned. It is a layer higher than the model.

    There is a lot more to say, but I am not sure that it has any benefit in the closed expert minds. There are in fact no formal BPM models that do more than defining flows, unless many other business theories such as capability maps, strategy maps (Kaplan, Norton, et.al.) and technical models related to UML or Zachman are now considered part of BPM.

    Last question: How can one make a serious definition of a discipline without defining what model theories are being applied and what their scientific validation is?

    • Thanks for the response. It is kind of funny, really. I start by explaining that the industry is in a dire situation in that everyone has a different definition for BPM. This hurts everyone because nobody can make any firm statement about BPM one way or the other. So I start a movement to settle on one single definition, whatever it is. The irony is that every single expert I talk to comes back with their own spin on the definition. That is the PROBLEM that I am trying to address. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

      Based on your statement “Definition 1… most likely describes what BPM stands for today” I will add your name to the endorsers of this definition.

      This definition of BPM is very broad: it essentially encompasses everything that management does, as long as it views the organization in a process oriented way. It includes all possible process technologies, including email, paper memos, and hallway conversations. So yes, it includes ACM as well as the others I have outlined in posts. I would prefer a narrower, more specific, and more useful definition – but the goal is not to invent a definition, but to find the definition that most people mean today. So there you have it. We will need a different term to talk specifically about processes are being supported with a pre-defined process. BPM as a term has not for many years meant anything more specific than definition #1.

      As broad as it is, it does make it clear that BPM is not a product, not a technology, and not a lot of other things. It is something that specific people do, and it is the activity of doing that, not something you buy.

      BPM should be a goal of what to achieve, but the definition should not state how to achieve it. Thus we purposefully stay away from specific methods and such. The term “business” means that you are providing value to customers (through processes) and to improve those processes it should be obvious is related to business goals. Some (maybe many) to not explicitly write down the goals. That seems like an inferior method to do BPM, but it does not exclude it from being BPM. Put another way: BPM is not defined as only the best approach to manage an organization with processes, it includes all approaches good and bad, as long as they do what it says: improve processes.

      • Yes, Keith … it is truly kind of funny. Too bad it isn’t more …
        BPM industry is in a dire situation because of what BPM does NOT do. It is not about a lack of definition. A definition does not accomplish anything. If you do not want to define how BPM is done but just what it should achieve then also ‘model, automate, execute, measure and optimize’ are already too much. Why bother with defining which processes (internal, external, structured, unstructured, …)?

        I have no spin on a definition at all and I do not care for the no.1. All these definitions limit BPM to a fraction (20%) of what a business does. One of the key aspects of improving anything is to ask: WHY are you doing this? The goal definition tells you. It also tells you how you know when you have achieved it. Achieving a goal might not be possible with a predefined process. So it can then not be BPM? Is that what you are trying to define?

        So lets stick with what you said in your last comment: ‘BPM has the goal to improve business processes.’ That will always be right and no one can disagree with that goal definition. Is there a benefit in doing so? Not from my perspective or are you simply trying to show what is missing in BPM?

      • The reason is quite clear if you take a look at some of these extremely odd ways that people are using the term: https://social-biz.org/2010/05/07/eccentric-definitions-of-bpm/

        While this definition is broad, it clearly excludes some things from being “BPM” and I have a list of things that BPM is not. Many people said that the list of things BPM is not is the most useful part of this. For example, BPM is NOT a “collection of process automation tools” as one of the referenced definitions insists.

        The definition on this page are largely congruent — the difference are just small wording changes. If I can get a large enough group of experts to agree on a SINGLE definition, we can then go to the people and organization offering crazy definitions, and ask them to please stop it.

      • Keith, as I said … a noble effort. Unfortunately doomed to fail. Vendors and experts will do what suits their sales targets … FUD has always been a welcome approach.

        I would suggest to work on proving in a study that BPM does improve a business apart from cost cutting. There is no such proof and therefore a clear definition of something that is unproven is pointless. I have a similar issue with ACM but at least I got universities interested to put effort into this.

      • Without a common definition of what exactly BPM is, you can’t say anything about how well it works. You might say it is a unmitigated disaster, someone else might say it is better than unicorn sparkles, and both be correct if you are talking about different things. A definition of BPM does not need to say anything about how well it works. Only after we agree on what BPM is, can we then have a discussion about whether it “works” or not.

      • Hi Keith, I am really sorry to disagree. I wish I could say that your effort will be the solution to the BPM issues. But even with a common definition you can’t say if it works or not. Especially if you define it to be a discipline with such a narrow description. All you need to do is to perform the activities as described and you are a successful BPM solution. That is exactly the mindset of BPM, to no surprise. Do the steps and all is good.
        The definition would need to describe when a BPM approach is actually successful. ‘TO OPTIMIZE’ is so ambiguous that it can be for any purpose. As I said before, if it is the goal to simply describe what BPM does, but not what goals intends to achieve then definition number one is good. But so is: ‘BPM improves business processes’. Look, I am not opposing for the sake of it, but because it would be good to get away from this half-baked BPM approach common today. A high-level methodology is in principle a good thing if it helps the business to define process goals and handovers. Definition 10 goes in this direction but is otherwise so broad that it throws the baby out with the water.

    • I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with part of what both of you are saying 🙂
      1. I don’t find it bad that everyone has their own “spin” on BPM where the overlap of definition is very high. This signifies differences of degree, emphasis, and potential innovation, not conflict or a bad practice area.
      2. I agree with Max that there just isn’t a silver bullet here. Even if everyone agrees with a definition… then what? It doesn’t make ROI calculations any easier. Although I do like unicorn sparkles 🙂 I have no idea how you came up with that one but I think it needs to be the title of a blog post on ROI! However, I also agree with keith’s comment that if the definitions are too divergent, you can have one person say that BPM is a failure while someone else says it is the secret sauce for success – maybe using the same label for two different things…. And yet, even if we use the same definition, the quality and nature of the products in the space are different enough that it will make a material difference in your likelihood of success!
      3. As a practitioner, this is sort of esoteric, because we use tools to solve problems for our customers, and we don’t *really* care what it is called so long as we get to do this very rewarding work. Half the time when I say “BPM” to someone they are hearing Beats Per Minute. And if I mention ACM, they are wondering if it is like an ACL tear.

      • Scott, agree. I mentioned before that I have stopped discussing ACM with businesses. I focus to reduce a pain or solve a need. I only talk about how users create and adapt processes and achieve goals with little bureaucracy. I ask management to focus only on defining process goals or outcomes, while assigning authority and means. The means include the skilled staff and resources, which describes data and content, rules and decisions. The business can enter all of that into a template.

        There is no talk about phases, cycles, stages, or defintions as they are not business subjects. There is a setup ‘phase’ that is discussed with IT. There is also little talk about ROI, because that relates to a short-sighted cost-cutting attitude. If ROI is necessary they want to cut staff. Optimization is the disguise and BPM the panacea.

        Company management principles ( or culture) are much more often the subject than a BPM methodology. One can call the above a methodology or a definition or anything else but we stay away from it. We focus on supporting user collaboration in business terminology.

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