Processes are the engine of your business. Business process management is how you manage processes effectively to make a smooth and quick journey towards your business goals.
What is business process management (BPM)?
A business process is a documented set of activities that help achieve an outcome. A documented process contains workflows, rules, and conditions that define each stage. It has a detailed plan of how the set of activities should be executed.
Business process management is the practice of managing all business processes of an organization that is focused on achieving its respective business goals. It is an ongoing activity that identifies areas of improvement and makes changes to existing processes.
3 types of business process management
BPM works in multiple forms. Some processes can be completely automated. Some need human input for making decisions. All organizations need all three types of BPM in different amounts.
1. Document-centric BPM
In a document-centric process, the entire process is built with a particular document at its core. The goal of the process is to send the document to multiple approvers in the workflow and get it approved. Document-centric BPM reduces the need for emailing documents back and forth. You can prevent losing the document in the content drive, among many other files.
A budget approval process is document-centric BPM. The initiator fills a form with all details about the budget request and sends it to the next person in the workflow. Based on the amount requested, items in the budget, or any other condition, the approval process is assigned to the designated authority in the process.
2. Human-centric BPM
In a human-centric process, most of the heavy lifting is done by humans. The decisions are made by humans to decide what happens after each step in the process. The automation of steps is limited here.
A human-centric BPM system is designed to be human-friendly. It has a visual interface to help employees understand the process and manage it easily. You should pay extra attention to human-centric processes since they directly impact employees and customers.
The best example of a human-centric process is the hiring process in your company. A team lead realizes the need for an extra employee and requests one to her manager. The manager reviews the request and passes it on to the HR department. An HR executive posts the job opening and starts screening candidates, based on predetermined selection criteria.
3. Integration-centric BPM
In an integration-centric process, the focus is on creating a smooth flow of data between the network of software tools. It is mainly centered around the integration of different software systems. An automated and integrated set of tools means less manual work and higher productivity.
The most common example of an integration-centric process is the connected system of tools used by marketing and sales. Selling a product effectively needs a highly connected and informed marketing and sales department.
A marketing campaign is started in a marketing tool, the source of leads is tracked in an analytics tool, and stored in a CRM with detailed information on the journey of the lead. The sales team uses this information to engage leads and turn them into customers. A process is only ‘centered’ around a particular type. In reality, it belongs to more than one type.
How is BPM different from project management?
Projects are one-time events. They are focused on achieving one-time goals. An app development project is an example. It involves a lot of collaboration and spontaneous decisions.
On the other hand, the goal of BPM is to improve processes that are always active and happening in an organization. For example, a purchase order approval process. Employees in the process know their responsibilities well in advance.
There is one similarity between projects and processes. Both are broken down into individual tasks. Each task is assigned to teams or individual employees. Here are the key differences between a project and process:
What is the purpose?
An ongoing activity that focuses on increasing efficiency
A one-time event to achieve a specific outcome
How is it executed?
Happens in a cycle
Has a starting and ending point
Who handles it?
Designated process managers or department heads who own the process
Designated project managers that change with each project
Nature of work
Has a lot of repetitive tasks that happen as a routine
Has a lot of tasks that need human attention and unique resolutions
How is it improved?
Monitored and optimized at regular intervals after a few cycles
Improved on the go with small experiments and iterations
While projects help you achieve particular outcomes, BPM is a company-wide practice that focuses on continuous improvement of existing processes that define the core of your business.
Main stages of a BPM lifecycle
As mentioned earlier, BPM is done in a sequence of steps that make up a cycle. Here’s how a BPM lifecycle works.
Design. Pick a process. Design a rough framework of the process and define the steps of the workflow. Assign the stakeholders for each step.
Model. Transfer the design into a BPM system and model the process. It should give a clear picture of every step, condition, and stakeholder.
Execute. Deploy the process into your runtime environment. Train employees on how the new process works and what their responsibilities are.
Monitor. Identify the right metrics to track and monitor the process. Conduct a thorough analysis at regular intervals.
Optimize. Use the insights from the analysis to enhance the performance of the process. Constantly optimize the process to have the best efficiency.
Why should you consider BPM?
Processes are everywhere. All standard business activities in your company happen as processes. When you start taking processes seriously, they become tools that help you achieve your business goals.
BPM impacts multiple teams and employees in a positive way. The underlying benefit is that you become an efficient and agile organization. Work happens very quickly, leading to a faster journey towards improving your business.
For example, when an employee onboarding process is made efficient, there are three positive impacts on the organization.
The HR department is clear on the steps of onboarding, which helps them give a better onboarding experience
Other departments that are involved in onboarding (like IT, finance) are clear on their duties making their job easier
The new employee is impressed with the onboarding and feels comfortable with the new workplace, which reduces their time to adapt to a new team
5 primary benefits of BPM
There are countless benefits that result from good BPM practice. Here are five primary benefits.
1. Become an agile company
When organizations strictly follow documented processes, everyone is clear on their goals. Employees are informed of their responsibilities and know what to do. This fixates a fail fast and learn fast work culture. An organization that is flexible to changes can sail through all difficult times with ease. Flexibility allows room for experiments and eventually leads to an agile organization.
2. Increase productivity and reduce errors
Since processes are meticulously planned and constructed in BPM, every task is quick and error-free. Employees don’t need to rely on their superiors to tell them what to do. The process clearly states their responsibilities which increases the productivity of every employee involved in the process.
Errors don’t occur often. Even if they do, they are easy to track to a particular step in the workflow. Once they are fixed, measures will be taken to ensure that the same error does not happen again.
3. Control data accessibility
Data security is becoming a bigger concern for IT leaders. Employees need to access data from different sources to get work done. BPM also prevents accidental data access issues. Let’s say an employee requests a certain view in a software tool.
IT is responsible for showing only the data that particular job role has clearance to access and not more. While designing a process, you define data clearance for each step and job role. BPM acts as a security measure to ensure that employees access only what they need.
4. Digital transformation
Digital transformation is one of the primary goals for IT leaders. Digital transformation is about leveraging digital technology to enhance the experiences of employees and customers. BPM fits into this definition perfectly.
Processes always focus on both employees and customers. Since the goal of BPM is to make processes efficient, you automatically undergo digital transformation. A more focused approach to digital transformation is through a no-code BPM platform. Business users can create simple workflow-based applications on their own without IT help.
5. Ensure compliance with agreements
BPM is an easy approach to comply with all agreements. Since BPM works on rules and conditions, you create the process in compliance with your internal and external policy agreements. The process runs on these rules making compliance a necessity. Process monitoring is a part of the BPM lifecycle. You can keep tabs on all processes and be notified if there are any items in the process that are close to a policy breach.
An actionable guide to get started with BPM
BPM obviously starts according to the lifecycle mentioned above. But here’s a practical and actionable way to start BPM on a small level and measure results.
1. Pick an existing process and analyze it
Pick one important business process that you’ve been struggling with. To experience the best results, choose a process that happens in large volumes. Once you select the process, start the analysis.
Collect detailed information on the number of transactions, cycle time, time taken to complete each step, most common types of errors, shadow tasks, and skill levels of employees involved in the process. By the end of your analysis, arrive at a list of things to be fixed to streamline the process.
2. Decide your goals and redesign the process
As a rule of thumb, all processes should be focused on achieving a specific goal. The goal should be clearly defined and measurable. Create modes of measurement by setting appropriate KPIs.
For example, your goal may be delivering a better employee experience. There are multiple touch points that determine employee experience. It starts at candidate screening, onboarding process, training process, service requests, and any other department-specific process. Each of these processes has KPIs that can indicate the efficiency of the process.
Once the goals are set, choose a BPM tool with the right set of features that fit your needs. A dedicated process management tool keeps all processes in one place. Instead of tracking them in multiple tools and emails, you can make changes to the process and measure results easily.
Now you know both the errors and goals of the process. Bridge the gap by redesigning the process. Here are some pointers to keep in mind while redesigning the process:
Designate one stakeholder for the entire process and different stakeholders for each step
Remove steps that don’t add value to the process
If a step exists only to inform someone, remove the step and send an automated email from the BPM tool to prevent delays
Show only the data that is necessary for a particular step and hide all irrelevant data that might confuse employees
Identify situations where the process might need to break away from the usual workflow and work out the alternate steps
Centralize the process and make sure everyone involved in the process can find items in the process easily
3. Implement the redesigned process
Before you go ahead and squeeze in an entirely new process, get buy-in from the stakeholders and upper management. Most BPM efforts fail due to a lack of employee buy-in. When an employee is required to shift from their comfort zone, you should give them a compelling reason to do so.
Explain to them what errors are going to be prevented and how their work will get easier. When the stakeholders invest their efforts in your new process, it is so much easier to implement the new process successfully.
The next step is to actually implement the process. Do it in small progressive steps that are easy to control. Wait until people adjust and adapt to the new methods. Also, tweak the new process during implementation if required.
4. Monitor and optimize the process
A process is made efficient by constant monitoring and optimization. You need to be able to measure the KPIs in order to keep a close eye on the performance of a process. Processes don’t need active scrutinizing, but they need a thorough analysis at regular intervals.
The BPM tool has reporting and analytics capabilities that give detailed insights on each process you build in the tool. The tool gives immediate notifications when items are close to SLA breaches. The most important step is to take action and modify the process based on the generated reports instead of letting them sit in the corner.
BPM is more than just a practice. It is a company-wide culture that is slowly developed once implemented. Teams start taking a goal-oriented approach towards their activities. Processes are important for an organization. They determine how quickly and smoothly you reach your business goals.
Start with one process. Try taking a solid BPM approach to make it better. Once that is set up and running well, go to the next process. Continue doing that, by the end of pulling in all processes into BPM, you are now running an efficient and agile business.
Dinesh Varadharajan is the Vice President at Kissflow and leads the product management team. He is a hands-on executive with a wide range of experience working with bleeding-edge technologies, developing great products, and mentoring highly productive teams.