Four Waves of BPM: An Explanation

The Four Waves of Process Management are both a history of BPM and a roadmap of the journey organizations take en route to sustainable excellence.


Modern process management was born during the “Quality Revolution” of the 1980s.  In one form or another, the First Wave of process management –Total Quality Management (TQM)– swept across all industries and sectors during the decade.  Like all buzzword revolutions, TQM fell from grace in the late 1980’s. TQM may be gone but its legacy of continuous process improvement lives on in a variety of methodologies, including Lean and Six Sigma.

In the early 1990s, came the Second Wave of process management: Business Process Reengineering (BPR).  BPR preached a more aggressive process improvement approach that leverages information technology to rethink cross-functional performance.  In truth, the TQM and Reengineering are part of the same continuum: Managing processes to achieve operational excellence.

Sophisticated companies realized that operational excellence cannot be sustained unless all management structures and practices are aligned to support cross-functional (core) business process performance. Collectively, this change in governance represents the Third Wave of process management: Enterprise Process Management. Once a company has aligned the above elements, process excellence becomes a sustainable asset that can be exploited for ongoing strategic success. Leveraging sustainable, firm-specific business process capabilities to devise distinctive strategies is the Fourth Wave of process management: Process-Based Competition.

Few companies progress past the Second Wave in any meaningful way.  Those that do can expect more than a decade of operational excellence.  And the very few companies that learn how to leverage that excellence for strategic advantage will be market leaders for a generation or more.

For a fuller explanation, please read our full article, The Four Waves of Process Management.

MENU