Businesses can almost always be better. Virtually every company has some function with room for improvement or optimization — they all have something that can be made simpler, more seamless, more effective, or more efficient.
That's why any organization stands to gain a lot from putting a framework in place that lets them consistently observe, scrutinize, and revamp certain aspects of its operations — a practice most commonly referred to as business process management or BPM.
Here, we'll take a deeper look at what business process management is, go over its requisite stages, see an example of what it looks like in practice, get a feel for its benefits, and review some of the most prominent tools and software available to support it.
What is business process management (BPM)?
Business Process Management (BPM) is a practice aimed at managing and improving specific business processes — series of repeatable steps that businesses routinely conduct. BPM typically involves actions like modeling, automation, optimization, and measurement to improve processes like employee onboarding or shipping.
To really understand business process management, you have to have a clear picture of what actually constitutes a "process." The term can seem pretty vague and is often conflated with other phrases — namely, "projects" or "tasks" — but there are some key elements that distinguish it from the other two.
The main aspects that separate processes from projects and tasks are scale and repeatability. A process is carried out consistently, whereas a project is more of a one-off deliverable. And tasks are the smaller, individual actions that make up both processes and projects.
Business process management, as a practice, reflects those two distinguishing qualities — it's consistently executed to improve processes on a regular basis and generally applies to processes with significant implications on how a business functions.
Let's take a look at what goes into successful BPM.
Business Process Management Steps
The first step of any business process management lifecycle is design. This is the stage where business analysts get a picture of the existing process and start to plot what an ideal, efficient new process might look like.
Accruing data is central to this stage. Here, the people at the helm of a business process management effort could look into elements like standard operating procedures, safeguards, notifications, and the process flow to thoroughly understand where the current process stands and how it can be improved.
They also need to make sure any adjustments they make won't lead to any significant hiccups or major process interruptions. Ideally, all of those actions — likely among others — will help shape a well-informed, data-backed preliminary design for a new process that stakeholders can get on board with.
In the modeling stage, a design constructed in the previous step is tested and scrutinized with harder figures and predictive data — making it less theoretical and more immediately applicable.
That could mean introducing variables like potential changes in expenses, volatility in broader economic circumstances, or any other factors that might alter the conditions under which the process operates.
The execution phase — sometimes referred to as the implementation phase — is where the changes to the process that have been designed and modeled are put into effect. It often entails putting in considerable effort and educating anyone who leverages or participates in the process on how to execute it correctly. This stage is generally supported by human effort, automation, or some combination of the two, depending on the nature of the process.
Business Process Management doesn't stop with execution. When done right, it actually shouldn't stop in general — it's an ongoing effort. A process needs to be constantly tracked and observed to shed light on its functionality and performance. A company needs full visibility into how a process is operating to identify and remedy any hitches, hiccups, or full-blown deficiencies.
The optimization phase is where the flaws identified in the monitoring stage are addressed. It's where businesses apply the data they accrue by making adjustments to a process's design. Like the previous step, it's typically an ongoing effort.
This particular stage isn't always a part of the business process management lifecycle. It only takes place when a process design is so fundamentally flawed that a business can't expect to fix it through more minor adjustments. In those kinds of cases, a company might elect to completely overhaul and re-engineer the process in question.
Business Process Management Example
A company streamlines sales order generation with automation.
Let's imagine a company that's struggling with inventory mismanagement as it scales. Upon taking a hard look at its inventory tracking process, leadership determines that its sales orders — documents that confirm the sale of goods or services involved in a given transaction — aren't consistent with the business's actual sales figures.
Everything else seems to be in order, so that particular process appears to be the most likely culprit for the company's inventory management issues. The company's current sales order generation is conducted manually, and leadership determines that that method can't keep pace with the company's rapid growth.
So, the business decides to improve the process by automating it. In this case, the company would employ business process management to incorporate automation software into its sales order generation, keep tabs on whether it addresses the organization's inventory mismanagement issues, help employees learn the new system, and ultimately make any necessary adjustments if it doesn't produce the results it needs.
Benefits of Business Process Management
It lets businesses quickly adapt to shifting customer needs.
Business process management offers organizations another degree of agility and flexibility. Nowadays, customer demands and interests can shift on a dime, so businesses should have certain safeguards and mechanisms to keep pace. Business process management offers exactly that.
BPM allows companies to seamlessly and efficiently adjust non-optimal processes that might be holding them back. By leveraging these kinds of tools and practices, businesses can establish an infrastructure to push through and observe any new changes to operate more effectively as soon as they feel they need to.
It's generally cost-effective
Business process management trims a lot of fat from your organization's operations — including excess labor and equipment upkeep — and some significant financial benefits can come with that lean efficiency. That's actually why several companies adopt business process management in the first place.
Ultimately, business process management is about getting more out of less — by incorporating it into your operations, you can streamline practices that would be more expensive and cumbersome without it.
It lends itself to constructive collaboration.
Successful business process management relies on visibility. Every process that's run through a BPM plan is tracked and documented through detailed workflows that all relevant stakeholders can see.
That kind of accessibility naturally lends itself to collaboration. If everyone can keep tabs on how a process is being adjusted, they can contribute and offer insight as needed as it moves from stage to stage.
It makes for better security and more straightforward compliance.
A BPM plan offers stakeholders better visibility into their business's processes. As I mentioned, business process management hinges, in large part, on tracking a process with a detailed, readily accessible workflow — all supported by relevant documentation.
That makes keeping pace with shifting compliance standards more straightforward. The agility it offers also lets companies adapt to new security threats. With this kind of infrastructure in place, your ability to identify and remedy flaws in processes that might compromise your company's safety is simplified and streamlined.
Jira Core is a project management software that can help a business compartmentalize and monitor its business process management efforts. It allows companies to organize BPM activities into workflows through easily navigable, drag-and-drop boards. It also includes resources for measuring progress and performance.
The platform has a straightforward, accessible interface and lends itself to collaboration from all parties involved in a given BPM effort. Jira Core has two affordable plans — a standard plan, available for $5.00 per user per month, and a free plan with a limited suite of features.
Pipefy is a business process management software that allows for simple, sleek, straightforward, customized workflow construction. The platform is tailored to suit multiple collaborators — with instant notifications and automatically updated deadlines for assigned tasks. It also offers reports and dashboards for managers to track and evaluate progress.
With a free plan available, a business plan at $18 per user per month, and an enterprise plan at $30 per user per month, Pipefy is an affordable BPM solution that can fit the needs of virtually any business.
Process Bliss offers features and templates that allow teams to easily stay on top of their workflows and execute smooth, effective BPM. With elements like team checklists, clear communication resources, and an extensive catalog of integrations, Process Bliss is one of the more multifaceted BPM platforms available.
It offers a $6 per user per month plan for charities, schools, and startups. Beyond that, its standard "teams" plan is available for $10 per user per month. Ultimately, Process Bliss is an affordable option with a robust suite of features that businesses of any size should consider when planning their BPM efforts.
Wrike is a versatile, customizable BPM resource that can deliver results for virtually any organization. The platform features custom workflows, accessible dashboards, and team-specific automation to streamline processes and promote ease of use.
With a customer base that includes Google, Okta, and Airbnb, Wrike is one of the more reputable, tried-and-true solutions on this list. Its pricing structure contains free plans for smaller teams and reasonably priced paid plans that suit larger businesses.
monday.com is one of the most prominent business process management solutions on the market. Its sleek, straightforward interface and extensive automation capabilities make it an attractive option for any business looking for a platform that reconciles power with accessibility.
Over 100,000 companies of varying scales, across several industries, leverage monday.com — a testament to exactly how dynamic the solution is. Its pricing structure reflects that, with plans that suit teams and businesses of virtually every size.
The Oracle BPM Suite is one of the most tried-and-true options available for any business, interested in an effective, no-nonsense, reliable BPM solution. While its interface isn't flashy, it's still easily navigable and backed by a robust suite of features.
Oracle's BPM resource has been around longer than most and is, in turn, a bit more refined and practical than a lot of its competition. Its pricing is specific to the needs of the businesses that leverage it, so there's no firm figure of what it might run you. Still, if you're interested in a solid, well-tested business process management software, take a look at Oracle's BPM Suite.
Qntrl is a cutting-edge workflow orchestration software that lends itself to smooth, effective business process management. The platform is particularly helpful for managers interested in having comprehensive visibility into and control over their organization's BPM efforts. It also features an impressive suite of automation capabilities.
Qntrl offers a free plan for up to five users. If your team is larger than that, it offers a paid plan available for $8 per user per month. If you're interested in a reasonably priced platform that offers more centralized control for managers to take the reins during BPM efforts, consider exploring Qntrl.
There's no real standard for what a business process management template looks like — it generally varies based on what BPM software you decide to leverage. That said, there are certain actions that yours should be able to cover. Those include:
Designating roles to everyone involved
Defining the specific responsibilities each role needs to account for
Identifying an ideal outcome for the process
Pinning down the appropriate data you'll need
That might mean including elements like:
Screenshots to account for progress and hiccups
Checklists to ensure the workflow is on track
Tutorials to ensure everyone knows how to do what they're responsible for
Process maps to chart what needs to happen
Necessary forms to document progress and ensure compliance
Any other relevant files you think you might need
As I mentioned at the beginning, almost every company has room for improvement. If you're interested in putting a framework in place to keep your business running at optimum efficiency, leveraging BPM might be in your best interest.
Originally published Apr 26, 2021 8:30:00 AM, updated April 26 2021