A couple of weeks ago a colleague sent me a link to some information on Capability Mapping, a technique which apparently is causing much interest among process and performance improvement practitioners.
According to Forrester Research: “These maps provide a picture of the business-IT architecture, relating business capabilities — and their outcomes — to business processes and functions, IT services, and hardware and software. The capability maps have a strong impact across IT — like guiding IT investment decisions and relating IT operational expenses to business results.” You may well be none the wiser from that!
A more useful insight from IBM states: “Business capabilities define what your business does, such as the services it provides to customers, or the operational functions it performs for employees. In contrast, business processes define how your business does these things. While business processes might change with some frequency, for example, when a particular process is automated, business capabilities are more stable over time. Capability maps allow you to hierarchically decompose the services your organization provides, and viewing your business in terms of capabilities provides a higher level view of the structure of your business.”
So, examples of business capabilities might be:
- Manage payroll
- Manage staffing
- Design new products
- Handle customer enquiries
It seems to me this is just another label for “higher level processes”. Most of our work helping organisations to implement process management starts with a definition of the highest level processes which may also be referred to as the Value Chain. So, at the highest level, organisations identify markets and customer requirements, design products to meet those needs, create and deliver those products and then provide support to customers using those products. These are the generic, customer-facing value chain processes. Organisations also have support processes such as Manage Financial Resources, Manage People, Manage Information etc.
So, the example capabilities listed above are actually just lower-level decompositions of these highest level processes. This is exactly the same as the hierarchical process thinking we help clients develop as part of their process management systems.
Does it matter whether you refer to capabilities or describe them as processes? Probably not. What I think is of use is separating out “what” an organisation does (or should do) in order to achieve its Mission and “how” it does things. So, for example, all organisations will have to have the capability to “Manage payroll”. How they choose to do that may vary widely, from in-sourced to completely outsourced, and with or without use of self-service HR systems. It’s down at the “how” (process) level that an organisation starts to consume resource and add cost. Different approaches to designing and operating processes, with or without using IT, will determine the level of performance a particular organisation can achieve. Bloated, bureaucratic processes will be high cost, low service and lean, agile processes will be low cost, high service. Every organisation has a choice. If an organisation understands what capabilities (high-level processes) it needs, it can then challenge how best to deliver those capabilities and perhaps think more creatively about process design.
You might also be interested in reading my article: How a Business Process Model can help identify Value