Qualitative versus Quantitative Process Analysis

Assessment of processes and potential improvements can be done from a quantitative perspective or a qualitative perspective. Most process improvement methods are designed on quantitative assessments though many have adopted some qualitative assessment over time. An example of this is Six Sigma, which began as a purely quantitative approach to improvement but has adopted certain qualitative aspects such as Voice of the Customer.

Quantitative assessments derive from industrial engineering and manufacturing improvement where processes are characterized by mechanical tasks – including the work performed by people. The classic example of this is the assembly line, where people perform mechanical tasks to assemble the various pieces of a physical product into a final assembly or sub-assembly.

BPM execution systems use assessments that are primarily quantitative as well. They work with detailed analysis (usually) of the current state as a process model that can be refined through quantitative analysis and programmatic analysis. Same goes for process analysis which uses statistical analysis and flow patterns. The basics of quantitative analysis are numbers, statistics, construct tests, and observations interpreted by observers.
In contrast, qualitative assessments focus on the interactions of people with their environment. The environment includes things like information, computer systems, documents, machines, and other people. Qualitative assessments seek to describe and understand experiences. The basics of qualitative analysis are descriptions, characteristics, understanding formulated by induction, and point-of-view descriptions.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see the difference because they are almost exactly the opposite of each other!
The concepts of quantitative and qualitative assessment are not new. They have been used, refined and discussed in formal research practices for decades. Most researchers become comfortable and familiar with one of these approaches and use it for most of their work. Many subject areas require a team approach to leverage the unique characteristics of each. Some researchers use both approaches by themselves. A few take the position that their approach is the only valid approach and discount the other approach entirely.

The same goes for process management with the caveat that the qualitative approach is not well-understood (or supported) so it is under-served. All human-centric processes certainly have important components that can only be understood (and improved) by using both approaches. Through the research and testing I have done over the last few years I believe this is the unsupported aspect of process that makes it difficult to score big wins or consistently produce expected results.

Maybe this is part of the answer to why BPM hasn’t fulfilled the visions of change and value many of us imagined that it would.

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