Neil Ward Dutton of MWD Advisors published an interesting opinion piece in CIO UK, As BPM goes mainstream, so the bazaar overtakes the cathedral. The basic premise of the piece is that all business processes, and therefore all process improvement approaches, are not the same.
Traditionally, process management has focused on large, complex processes with vast physical operations and resources, and therefore a rigorous, controlled, scientific method was called for:
“Process improvement has been part of the business landscape for many decades. For the vast majority of that time, improvement techniques were focused on processes which took big investments to get started or to change: manufacturing processes were at the heart of the picture. Not surprisingly, the people driving the process improvements took a very deliberate, scientific approach to recommending and making changes. Such an approach is essential in situations where there's a lot at stake, and in physical processes like those found in manufacturing, the costs and risks associated with suboptimal processes can be huge. The Six Sigma and Lean movements were both spawned from this environment.”
Borrowing from Eric S. Raymond’s Cathedral and Bazaar analogy, Neil classifies these initiatives as Cathedrals:
“The challenge with scientific process improvement and management methods is that they tend to create "cathedrals"  - closed environments where access to the tools of change is closely controlled. Now students of Lean techniques will say that lean thinking relies on empowering workers to drive continuous process improvement - but my contention is that in practice, in a great many organisations which consider themselves Lean thinkers, access to the tools of change is closely controlled by a select group.
This is precisely what you want where the cost or risk of cocking up is considerable…”
However, as Neil continues, the Cathedral model isn’t necessary, or even relevant, for all business process:
“Over the past couple of years, though, process management thinking and tools have now well and truly broken out of the domain of physical, capital-intensive processes to be applied to the worlds of knowledge work and service improvement. Here, the challenge associated with improvement and change is different.
If you're looking to improve a customer service process, the cost and risk of a suboptimal change is much lower than if you're changing a manufacturing plant layout - for one thing, you can probably make further changes to tweak things relatively straightforwardly. What's more, many customer service processes are so poorly understood that even a suboptimal improvement - a kind of "good enough for now" change - can yield massive results. In these kinds of processes, business agility tends to be much more of a key consideration than the cost or risk of making suboptimal changes.
Where business agility is the number one concern, it pays to look at how to drive change without relying on a cathedral to house your priests. The ‘bazaar' model (to once again refer to Eric Raymond) - which explicitly aims to throw open access to tools and information to a broad audience of interested parties and contributors - is very interesting here, because (with the right nurturing) it can create an environment where acceptance of process change is a natural by-product of the process improvement work.”
The change acceptance point is one that Neil expands upon as he discusses a variety of BPM offerings. We are solution agnostic here, so I’m skipping that section.
Neil concludes with a discussion on the fit and outcomes of BPM cathedrals and bazaars. [Emphasis is mine.]
“None of this is to say that scientific methods and approaches to process improvement are worthless or that they have lost their relevance. There are many situations where a highly structured approach to process improvement, driven by highly trained specialists, will continue to be the best approach. But the BPM market in 2010 is a market that's increasingly dominated by tools, technologies and approaches that lean much more towards the philosophy of the bazaar rather than of the cathedral.
To me, the biggest value of the former philosophy over the latter is the way that where a cathedral-like approach to process change tends to focus everyone's minds on the quality of the design of an improvement, the natural outcome of a bazaar-like philosophy is improved quality of the ultimate outcome - that is, the acceptance of the change or improvement by those people it impacts on a day-to-day basis. A beautifully-designed process improvement is one thing, but if it's not accepted then you're screwed. And in knowledge work and service improvement scenarios, where people are the product, acceptance is all.”
As you pursue BPM initiatives, keep in mind the business problem you are solving, and if a Cathedral or Bazaar is best.
Read the article.