Capabilities – Process in Camouflage?


Stand back because the Kraken has been unleashed – the capability Kraken that is!

Our management consulting practice has seen a notable increase in interest around capabilities and has received numerous requests to build out client capability offerings. At the same time we have detected considerable confusion over what exactly capability is, entails and its value proposition.

This blog will focus on the question: Is capability just another synonym for process?

Capability versus Process

Any professional discipline has exact definitions for the terms it uses. A surgeon knows the precise difference between an appendectomy and appendicitis.

Let’s examine the terms: process and capability, but from two very different perspectives – Those who believe that capability is: A. Process dressed up in fresh clothes and; B. An important new business perspective.

Belief System A – Capability is a Synonym for Process

What is a Business Process?

A process consists of a related group of business steps (or activities) that takes inputs and transforms them into outputs in order to add value to a customer (internal, external or both). A business process is made up of various building blocks, such as: events, activities, responsibilities, data/information, locations, rules, products/services etc. A hierarchy and sequence of business processes are created, thus forming value streams and chains.

What is a Capability?

A hierarchy of skill sets that an organization maintains in its various functional areas. For example organizations speak of their manufacturing capability which is broken down into more detailed categories, such as: Production capability and distribution capability etc. In turn each of these is further decomposed into more detail (in the case of one client 6 deep).

Belief System B – Capability Is an Important & Valuable New Business Perspective

What is a Business Process?

Business processes describe how the business performs, or implements, a given capability, and how capabilities connect to deliver a desired outcome. Level 3 capabilities often map fairly directly to business processes (typically at the same level of abstraction) that fulfill them. Business processes describe how an enterprise performs work.

What is a Capability?

A business capability is a particular ability to achieve a specific purpose or outcome. A capability describes what the business does (its externally visible behavior) that creates value for customers; such as ship product. A business capability does not describe how an enterprise functions.

On Further Examination

Having researched scores of articles, posts, blogs, whitepapers and listened to many opinions one-on-one around capabilities it is obvious that even among those promoting capabilities consensus has not yet been reached on several fronts, such as:

  • What is the purpose for modeling capabilities and what additional value does it bring to the table?
  • How many capabilities typically reside within an organization – less than 30? 100’s? 1,000?
  • What and how should a capability be measured?
  • How does capability and process complement each other, if at all?

Additional questions from those who believe capabilities are just smoke and mirrors:

  • How and why should capabilities be measured when processes already are?
  • If process professionals have been destroying the industrial revolution for some time now (by removing functional silos & their redundancies from business processes) why would an enterprise now want to reintroduce models depicting functional silos?
  • If business processes contain information such as: who, where, when, what, which and why, then why duplicate this again with capabilities?

In our next series of blogs we will show how Confiance believes it brings clarity to this debate by revealing:

  • How and why capability modeling adds value.
  • Answers to the questions mentioned above.
  • Our capability meta model.
  • The capability value proposition.

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