Business Capabilities vs Business Processes
posted Oct 15, 2023, 5:30, PM by Alar Raabe

From time to times the question of “what’s the difference between business capability and business process” pops up, although these two are rather established concepts.

It seems to me, that the confusion might be caused due to the introduction of groups/categories of business processes by some methodologies (not always clearly stating the difference), which in some cases might correspond to the business capabilities.

Business capability, describing WHAT business needs to be able to do, implies that there might be some business processes, describing HOW business should do that, but not always – therefore it makes sense to keep business capabilities separate from, but connected to the business processes.

From time to time, I see that in the discussions about the business architecture part of the enterprise architecture, somebody again raises the question “what is the difference between the business capabilities and business processes?”.

Although this difference must be rather clear from the most widely accepted definitions (see below), and has been stressed in many enterprise/business modeling frameworks and methodologies that the capabilities define WHAT business needs to (be able to) do (implying all that is necessary for that), and processes define HOW that must be done, for some reason there is still some confusion.

It seems to me that this confusion arises mostly from these enterprise/business modeling methodologies, which see the business processes as the primary element in the business architecture or concentrate on the process architecture. In these methodologies (like APQC, ARIS, Cordial, …) business process together with the categories and groups of business processes are included in a common decomposition hierarchy of business functionality, bringing the confusion and difficulties described in Dividing the Enterprise.

Sometime the confusion is further deepened by the naming of these categories and groups, as can be seen from the following table, where the actual business processes are on the different levels (and unfortunately not always named as “business process” or even “process”):

Level 1CategoryProcess AreaProcess Area
Level 2Process GroupMain ProcessMain Process
Level 3ProcessProcessSub-Process
Level 4ActivityProcess AreaProcess Component
Level 5TaskProcess Activity

It is common that in such methodologies both WHAT business needs to do and HOW it does that, are bundled together, although it is clear that WHAT business needs to do could be implemented/realized by many different ways of doing this (i.e., many different business processes), and in some cases it might be not known/decided yet.

Because the purpose of business processes is to implement/realize the business capabilities, and because for a given business capability there could be zero-to-many business processes, business capabilities are actually a good choice to group together a set of business processes, the same way as business capabilities are a good choice to group together also other enterprise/business architecture elements, needed to implement/realize them (see Open Group TOGAF Business Capability).

Some definitions:

(Business) Capability (Business) Process
Open Group TOGAF A particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific purpose (or outcome) (see ...) An ordered, countable set of activities; an event-driven, value-adding sequence that can be measured and improved (see ...)
Open Group O-BA A particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific purpose A flow of activities that receives input and transforms it into output – either a product or service
Open Group ArchiMate An ability that an active structure element, such as an organization, person, or system, possesses (see ...) A sequence of business behaviors that achieves a specific result such as a defined set of products or business services (see ...)
OMG BPMN A defined set of business activities that represent the steps required to achieve a business objective. It includes the flow and use of information and resources
BA Build (BIZBOK) A particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific purpose or outcome A series of logically related activities or tasks (such as planning, production, or sales) performed together to produce a defined set of results


Copyright © by A.Raabe