The Four Cs of Business Process Management: Communication, Coordination, Collaboration and Customers!

Integrating People, Activities, and Operational Processes

September 23, 2010

End-to-End Business Processes must integrate applications, people, and content. This Report presents a multi-organizational process that requires the three Cs of Business Process Management.


Although the dedicated workflow software market has virtually gone away, the ability to define rules-based processes has become part of most applications and development environments. In this article, we discuss how to think about workflow and end-to-end business processes that span organizational boundaries, understanding that you should always design processes that coordinate the communication and collaboration of participants (whether human or automated) for the benefit of the customer.

Collaboration within a Workflow

Collaboration within a Workflow<

© 2010 Patricia Seybold Group, Inc.

Illustration 3. A collaboration, designated by the multiple people, can actually be a step in a workflow. Often the collaborating participants are not within the same organization. Multiple organizations may be involved in a single collaborative step.


My Favorite Workflow/Business Process Management (BPM) Story

A consultant I know was hired by a company to streamline a critical approval process. “We want to cut at least two days out of the process,” he was told by the client.

He started by gathering all the people who participated in the process in a room and talking to them. “Okay,” he said, “Who starts the process and what do you do?”

After going through a few people, he came to the woman who was in charge of the next step. “So what do you do?” he asked. “Well,” she said, “Every Tuesday I take all the forms that have gathered in my bosses outbox and put them on the desk in office 27.”

“Okay, so what happens next?”

Another woman said, “On Fridays, I pick up the forms from office 27 and bring them to my office for processing.”

The consultant asked, “who sits in office 27?”

“Oh, Martin used to, but he left the company about 10 months ago.”

“Then why do you put the forms there?”

“Well,” the women confessed, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The consultant smiled, turned to the first woman and said, “On Tuesdays, you take the forms directly to the second woman’s office, okay.” He then turned to the head client and said, “Okay, two days knocked off the process. You can pay me now!”

Focusing on Workflow

For most of the 1990s, I was known in some circles as the “workflow queen.” I chaired the national Workflow Conference for three years, and I evaluated the leading (and emerging) workflow products on the market.

But the workflow-as-a-software market has virtually disappeared. Oh, there are still dedicated workflow software applications out there, most of which seem to focus on document- or information-based workflows. where information—typically in forms or files—are routed for completion and approval. But most workflow capabilities have been incorporated as capabilities within other applications or development environments. Workflow is really everywhere—it just isn’t the vibrant standalone software market it was 15 years ago.

And that is a good thing. The ability to automate the flow of work has become part of how most applications are designed. You could say that the workflow software market has pretty much gone away because workflow capabilities have become ubiquitous.

What Is Workflow?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of definitions for workflow, but I particularly like the simplicity of the definition and list of workflow benefits I discovered on

“What Is Workflow? The automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant* to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules.

*participant = resource (human or machine)

The Key Benefits of Workflow

  • Improved efficiency - automation of many business processes results in the elimination of many unnecessary steps
  • Better process control - improved management of business processes achieved through standardizing working methods and the availability of audit trails
  • Improved customer service – consistency in the processes leads to greater predictability in levels of response to customers
  • Flexibility – software control over processes enables their redesign in line with changing business needs
  • Business process improvement - focus on business processes leads to their streamlining and simplification”

The reasons I am so taken with this definition and list of benefits, besides the fact that they are very easy to understand, are 1) the understanding that the participants in a workflow process can be either human or automated, and 2) the fact that the benefits actually mention customers—most benefit lists talk only about process improvement, compliance, and cost savings.


About eight years ago, Geoffrey Bock and I worked together to explain to our readers how to think about workflow and end-to-end business processes. Although the marketplace is different, the principles still hold true and are valuable to remember.

Long-time readers might remember when we defined the three Cs of groupware: communications, coordination, and collaboration.

We are now in a world where, with truly ubiquitous global networks and technologies, we are able to integrate functional business processes throughout our extended enterprise using these same principles.

And, of course, being “The Company,” it is time to add the fourth “C”—Customers!

There are challenges when attempting to define cross-functional and cross-organizational critical business processes. In order to create effective processes, you have to understand what each...


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