What is the difference between a business capability and a business process? If you have spent any time with folks from enterprise architecture, business architecture and process modeling/reengineering, it is inevitable that you’ve come across this argument about business capabilities and process:
“Between Capabilities and Processes, which is more important?”
“Capabilities, which represent “What” a business does, are stable, while “Processes”, which represent the “How”, are ephemeral”
“Processes are real and realizable and Capabilities are abstract and conceptual”
If you do not belong to a particular school of thought and are not wedded to either the business process camp or business capabilities camp, the reality is that each of them has their value in modeling and encapsulating the essence of an enterprise.
The business process camp argues that a company is interested in how to get things done and process models are an excellent depiction of how the business flows. They claim that since capabilities are self-contained and abstract concepts, they only capture the structure, but not the flow. Furthermore, they lament that just because one uses a noun instead of a verb, a process does not become a capability.
The business capability camp argues that since processes can change frequently – due to technology advances, regulation, internal policies, channel preferences, etc – they are volatile and hence it is not wise to model an enterprise on process models. Instead, they profess that business capabilities capture the essence of what a business does and focuses on the outcomes. A well-defined capability set is mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive and hence a more stable base for modeling an enterprise.
There is truth to both arguments. However, it is also important to note that capturing the essence of a complex enterprise into a single overarching model is impossible. Instead of hoisting either capabilities or processes on a pedestal, at the exclusion of the other, the best path is to adopt an “all of the above” model with a specific set of deliverables based on specific needs.
Just knowing the capabilities or just focusing on flows will not provide a true picture or help run a business better. In business modeling and architecting, it is a nuanced and multi-layered approach that is an essential element of success.
The following is an approach suggested by Capstera. As a capabilities-driven framework and software, our belief is that capabilities form the cornerstone of business architecture as they are more precise, stable, eminently scalable and manageable, and focused on outcomes.
The strategy or the “Why” should determine the path forward. Then defining and associating the capabilities which are required to execute the strategy is the next step. Once you know what outcomes you are focused on and what capabilities are needed to accomplish the same, the value streams or processes will be needed to weave together the workflow and activities. After the why, what, and how, you can layer in who, where, when, and how much for maximum business impact.
So the next time the discussion comes up as to whether processes or capabilities are important and which takes primacy, you know how to be the level-headed facilitator who focuses on a convergence of capabilities and processes, not their divergence.
So it is not material what is the difference between a business capability and a business process? What is more important is how do we complement business capabilities and business processes coherently in an overall business architecture approach.
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