Keynote - Reijers - BPM 2023.pdf (15.54 MB)
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What have the Romans ever done for us? The ancient antecedents of Business Process Management

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posted on 15.09.2021, 13:17 by Hajo A. ReijersHajo A. Reijers
These is the slide deck that I used when delivering my keynote presentation at the 19th edition of the BPM conference series (

Abstract: The origins of Business Process Management (BPM) are often traced back to the Business Process Reengineering wave in the 1990s, as well as to the Total Quality Management movement of the 1980s. However, at the start of the 20th century, Frederick Taylor already concerned himself with analyzing activities to find the “one best way” to perform work. Still earlier, in the 18th century, Adam Smith and others identified the division of labor principle, which is still important for the design of modern business processes. Undoubtedly, it is possible to identify earlier precursors to the concepts that have to come to underpin BPM. After all, people have been manufacturing products, as well as administering their activities since the dawn of history. On the occasion of the 19th edition of the BPM conference series, BPM 2021, I like to focus on a special episode of human history. Since this edition is organized in the eternal city of Rome, I find it both appropriate and exciting to reflect on how the ancient Romans thought about work. I like to show the principles they applied in organizing and innovating their work processes. To demonstrate the links between ancient and modern practices, I will use as a backbone for my keynote a set of redesign heuristics, which I compiled more than 15 years ago. The message of my talk is that there are striking parallels between how the ancient Romans thought about organizing and improving work processes and how we do so in our day. At the same time, there are important differences, notably due to the advent of digital information and communication technologies in our modern time. If I manage to let my audience marvel about the accomplishments of the ancient Romans, then I will be quite pleased. I will try and link the contents of my presentation with the archaeological and historic evidence still available to us today. These pointers hopefully inspire people to visit the sites of the ancient Roman world and learn more about its history. If my audience also realizes that BPM is an evolving discipline that is tightly interwoven with the history of humankind, then I will be delighted. I hope that my keynote stimulates researchers to reflect on the concepts and technologies that underpin BPM, inspires them to expand their knowledge basis, and encourages them to present their work at future editions of the BPM conference series – wherever they take place. In the end, all roads lead to Rome…