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Business Process Management: What BPM Is and Why You Need It

Business process management is about getting the work done. Love it or hate it, processes are the core of a business. They exist in every department and team and are critical to the outcome of operations. Business processes are like a blueprint that defines the pathways and flow of activities that run within and between different business functions, like an employee onboarding process or an invoice approval process.

But moving from point “A” to point “B” along these pathways, and doing it as efficiently as possible, doesn’t come without effort. It takes time, resources, and a bit of good planning to make sure your blueprint is sound and work is running smoothly. That’s where BPM comes into play.

What Is BPM?

Business process management (BPM) is the practice of designing, executing, monitoring, and optimizing business processes. It is a methodology (not a product) that can turn your business into a well-oiled machine. Done correctly, it is also carried out with the intention of continual improvement.

Many people confuse BPM as simply workflow automation. However, true BPM should be centered around driving outcomes (like process improvement or efficiency gains) and must take into account the complete, end-to-end process at hand. Processes can be structured and have a predictable path from start to end or unstructured with a less predictable path to a goal. Naturally, the processes or workflows that are structured and repeatable are the ones that make good candidates for automation.

Automating business processes is possible through—drum roll—process automation tools. I’ll get to those in a bit.

Process Management Versus Project Management

Another term that you should not confuse with process management is project management. I know they sound similar, but they’re not the same thing.

Process management focuses on repeatable and predictable processes, i.e., ongoing recurring tasks that are part of a business’s day-to-day life. For example, a travel request: it’s always done the same way, following certain business rules. It may take one route over another—the process being approved versus not being approved—and it may even be open to change in the name of efficiency, but the outcome is always predictable.

Project management, on the other hand, is about planning, initiating, and executing a unique, single-off project with a defined goal and established due date. Unlike processes, the projects are not repeatable. And because you don’t come across the same challenges daily, projects are also more flexible as they need to adapt along the way.

Process management is usually associated with BPM tools, while project management is associated with work management tools like Asana, Trello, or Jira.

Why Is Business Process Management Important?

Business process management is about conducting business in the most efficient way possible and with better outcomes — improved quality, service, responsive time, customer experience, or customer satisfaction, to name a few.

That can mean optimizing resource allocation, eliminating bottlenecks, reducing process duplication, speeding up transactions, etc. Employing this outcome-oriented methodology helps organizations deliberately improve operations, as well as their bottom line. In so doing, they can become stronger and more prepared to weather any storms influenced by the market.

Benefits of BPM

If done properly, BPM can bring many benefits to your business. Here are a few:

  • Cost efficiency: By streamlining operations and collaboration and reducing duplicative efforts, companies can decrease costs while improving productivity.
  • Increased productivity: The practice of BPM often leads to automation of repetitive tasks, removing bottlenecks, and reducing unnecessary steps.
  • Better employee and customer satisfaction: Instead of spending time doing boring and repetitive tasks, employees can spend more time in activities that bring more value to the business and the customer.
  • Stronger corporate strategy: By aligning BPM with business outcomes, organizations can improve their overall performance and resource optimization.

Business Process Management Examples and Use Cases

The scope of use cases for business process management is incredibly broad. This methodology could be applied to almost any workflow or function for the purpose of greater efficiency and process improvement. Some use case examples include:

  • Expense approval
  • Travel request
  • Inventory management
  • Order fulfillment
  • Credit card request
  • Employee onboarding

Business Process Management Lifecycle

As indicated by the definition I provided earlier in this article, business process management operates in a continuous cycle. Opinions on the naming and granularity of each stage differ depending on who you’re asking, but suffice to say the following is a safe summary of the complete lifecycle:

  • Design – Identify existing processes as well as areas for improvement. Map the flow of work between people and systems and evaluate any dependencies or handovers.
  • Execute – Carry out processes identified and designed in the previous step. This can be done manually or using automation.
  • Monitor – Track processes to stay up-to-date on their status and performance. Flag areas that are underperforming or serving as potential bottlenecks.
  • Optimize – Use the information gathered in the monitoring phase to make process improvements to achieve cost savings or greater efficiencies.

Business Process Management Market

To be clear, BPM is a practice, not a market. But some vendors offer tools to support the application development of technology solutions to carry out business processes.

With Gartner identifying hyper-automation as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020, there are several process automation tools to choose from, for different levels of complexity of business processes.

For simpler to medium processes, there are simple workflow management tools, robotic process automation (RPA), and no-code and low-code tools. For medium to complex processes, there are traditional BPM tools, some more advanced low-code tools, and modern application development platforms. The last two, are not strictly focused on BPM but provide sets of tools to address a wider spectrum of use cases that include process management while removing the complexity of BPM software. In the end, the right tool depends on your business needs.

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