Business process management (BPM): A beginner’s playbook
Business Process Management
What IS business process management (BPM), really?
Is it just a corporate buzzword that’s just thrown around all over the place?
Chances are, even after reading a dozen Wikipedia articles, you still don’t really “get it.”
This is why we created this resource – a simple and straightforward, beginner-friendly guide to business process management (BPM).
Read on to learn…
- What’s business process management (and why it’s so useful)
- What’s BPM software and how it’s related to BPM
- How to “do” business process management
- X+ real-life BPM examples
- How to get started with business process management
So, let’s dig in…
What is business process management (BPM)?
Business process management (BPM) is a methodology for constant process improvement. In practice, it means that your company is process-conscious, and is constantly mapping, analyzing, and improving it’s business processes.
The key here is “constant process improvement.” You don’t just go and fix this one single process this one time and call it BPM. Rather, BPM means that you do this as part of your ongoing company operations.
Your average BPM initiative, on the other hand, consists of the following:
- Pick a process you want to optimize
- Create a process map so you have a top-down understanding of how the process works
- Analyze the process and come up with improvements
- Implement the improvements
- Benchmark the new changes and optimize them when needed
- Rinse & repeat!
BPM VS BPMS: What’s the difference?
Now, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of BPM in the context of business process management software (BPMS).
What’s that, and why does it matter?
BPMS is a type of software that helps you execute your BPM initiatives. It allows you to digitize your processes and gives you a top-down view of them, making it a lot easier for you to track, analyze, and improve them.
Some companies have hundreds of active processes, making it extremely hard to keep track of all of them.
Other than process tracking, BPM software also offers:
- Process enforcing – You create a digital version of the process, and the software ensures that your employees execute it the way you specified it. This ensures more process uniformity company-wide.
- Automation – The software can automate parts of your business processes.
- Knowledge storage – You store all your processes in one place (alongside the information on how to execute them). Meaning, even if your key employees leave, their knowledge stays saved within the software.
In 2020, a lot of people use the two terms pretty much interchangeably, since most companies that do BPM use BPMS to execute it.
BPMS vs. task management: Are they the same thing?
If you’re new to the BPM world, you might be wondering – isn’t BPM the same thing as a project management tool like Basecamp, Asana, or Trello?
Well, no, not really.
Both software helps you get more work done by easing collaboration, but there’s a huge difference between the two tools:
Project management software like Trello is mainly about task management. You use it to keep track of one-time tasks. You complete a task, and you might not have to repeat it for a year.
BPM software, on the other hand, is specifically for repeatable processes, such as employee onboarding, HR approvals, and so on. You complete these processes on a regular basis.
Business process management (BPM) benefits
For most large organizations, BPM benefits are endless…
To stay competitive in a business environment, your organization needs to be agile. Meaning, you should be able to roll out organizational change fast and easy when needed.
BPM can help you achieve that by making your processes agile. By meticulously documenting your processes, you’ll be able to know:
- How your organization is performing
- How each and every business process works
- When required, how to make relevant changes and whom to get involved
2. Advanced performance tracking
With BPM software, you have a birds-eye view of all your organization’s processes.
- If processes or employees start underperforming, you’ll be able to see this and prevent a problem way before it can occur
- You’ll have complete historic data of your business process performance, which is helpful for both problem-solving and process improvement
By constantly analyzing and improving your processes, you’re going to see significantly better performance company-wide.
- Efficient processes with fewer expenses and higher output
- Standardized processes. Once you’ve figured out how to optimize a given process, you ensure that your entire organization follows it to the T
- Some processes can even be partially (or completely) automated
How to “do” business process management: The BPM lifecycle
So, how do you “do” business process management?
You follow the BPM lifecycle, which consists of the following steps:
Step 1: Pick a process
Pick a process you want to improve.
We recommend starting with processes that:
- Have the highest impact on your output
- Have a higher than expected defect rate
- Are generating mediocre results
- Have a high chance of failure or mistakes
Step 2: Map the process
The next step is to map the process as a flowchart or any other type of diagram.
On one hand, this gives you a better understanding of the process (you have a top-down view).
On the other hand, you can also use this as “documentation.” If your employees forget how the process works, they can always consult the process map.
Generally, there are 3 ways to do the mapping:
1. Pen & paper. You can manually draw the process on a paper. This, inheritably, is not a good idea, since you can’t really share these with your employees.
2. Graph it online. You can also create a digital process graph using a tool like LucidChart. This is a much better option, as you can save the documents online, collaborate with other employees, and so on.
3. Use BPM software. Finally, you can use BPM software to create digital processes. This comes with a TON of potential advantages, including:
- You can see processes being completed and worked on in real-time
- The software gives you reports when certain processes are slow or underperforming
- The software also lets you automate some parts of the process
Step 3: Analyze the process
You analyze the existing process and come up with potential improvements.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Are any process steps taking longer than they reasonably should?
- Are process deadlines missed too frequently?
- Are any process steps taking up too many resources?
- Can any of the process steps be removed without doing any harm?
- Can you automate some parts of the process using BPM software?
Then, think of how you can solve each of these problems and come up with process improvement ideas.
Step 4: Implement changes
Once you have some ideas on how to improve the process, put them into practice.
We recommend starting the implementation on a smaller scale to make sure that you’re not making any mistakes here.
If you see that you’re getting good results on a small scale, you can scale it up from there.
Step 5: Monitoring and improvement
As a BPM practitioner, your work is never done.
You might be tempted to say, “well, it’s working better now!” and call it a day, but that’s not how you get results.
You need to constantly track your new processes, benchmark your results, and when needed, go through the entire BPM lifecycle from scratch.
Business process management: A step-by-step example
What’s a better way to explain a topic completely than with an example?
So, let’s say that your employee onboarding process is underperforming. This can be a huge issue, as a strong onboarding process could improve your employee retention by up to 82%.
So, you interview some key employees to learn more about your onboarding process and create a process flowchart.
Overall, you find out the following core issues with your onboarding process:
- You don’t have a structured process for your employees to follow, so they’re doing it on an ad hoc basis
- Your employees look at onboarding as an afterthought. No one’s really “owning” the process
- There are potential inefficiencies within the process (manual work that can be automated)
So, first off, we’d start by dealing with issue #1 – there’s no structured process. You talk to the HR manager that deals with onboarding the most, and you create a “best practice” process.
This isn’t the BEST it can be, but it’s something you start off with. Then, you document this new standardized process and send it over to all the relevant employees to make sure they understand what they’re supposed to do.
Then, to deal with issue #2, you bring in a BPM tool. You create a digital version of your onboarding process and get your employees on the software.
Now, the software is what “owns” the process. Once an employee launches the process, the software will automatically give out tasks with relevant deadlines to the right employees, making sure that the process is completed on time.
On the other hand, you get a top-down view of the process, so you always know who’s in charge of what, and how the process is going.
Finally, the software also allows you to eliminate issue #3. You use BPMS to automate simple manual work, such as:
- Transferring new hire’s personal information from a paper form into an HR software
- Automatically schedule check-in meetings with the new employee
- Alert all relevant employees when they need to help with the onboarding in one way or another
BPM isn’t the simplest topic in the world, but with this guide, we hope we managed to explain everything you need to know!
Now, let’s do a quick recap:
- Business process management (BPM) is a methodology for constantly mapping, analyzing, improving, or automating your processes.
- A typical BPM lifecycle includes the following steps: pick a process, map it, analyze it, implement changes, and monitor it over the long-term.
- If you want to get the best results from your BPM initiatives, you need to pair it with business process management software, or BPMS for short.