What Is Business Process Management? [For Operations Leaders]

Luke Walker
June 24, 2021

Business process management (BPM) is a challenge for most organizations. For many business leaders, BPM – and the tools that go with it – are considered to be an unnecessary expense, and only worth it for more complex "enterprise" processes.

On the contrary, however, BPM is actually highly relevant for businesses of all sizes. Especially for operations – the "life-force" processes of the business – a solid understanding of BPM is strongly recommended in order to help you optimize your processes and scale your operations.

Here’s a brief guide to business processes management for operations leaders.

What is Business Process Management?

Business Process Management (BPM) is the practice of documenting, analyzing, and improving a business's processes in order to increase organizational efficiency and boost performance toward your business objectives (most often, delivering better products to happier customers).

BPM is founded in the belief that a process-centric view of your company is required in order to understand where and how your business delivers most value to customers, and how to increase that.

BPM strategies are used everyday by companies of all sizes to achieve three, desirable business outcomes:

  1. Clarity on strategic direction
  2. Alignment of the company's resources,
  3. Increased discipline (e.g. efficiency) in daily operations.

BPM is an ongoing activity that often involves automation of tasks and workflows. However, as a practice, BPM does not necessarily require automation or any supporting technology at all. At it's root, BPM is about discovering and standardizing better ways for businesses to get work done.

What is a BPM System?

Business processes are series of recurring activities or steps that a business takes in order to get something done. A business process typically contains workflows, rules, and conditions that define each step. These can involve employees, teams, systems, and external parties like customers or suppliers.

A BPM system is a software designed to help businesses with modeling, visualizing, and executing business processes, including the workflows, rules, and conditions they depend on. They provide organizations with a holistic view of their business processes, and allow them to understand their weaknesses and spot opportunities for improvement.

There are four, central components to a BPM system:

  • Process engine – a platform for visualizing and executing process applications, including rules and conditions
  • Analytics – to help managers to identify process issues, trends, and improvement opportunities with reports and dashboards
  • Content management – provides a process-oriented CMS for sharing and storing data and files that are relevant to your processes
  • Collaboration tools – to simplify communication and remove barriers with discussion forums, collaborative workspaces, and message boards or chat functionality

BPM systems are designed with different needs in mind. Some focus on document process automation. Some focus on human-input and workflows. Others still focus on integrations and system-based processes

Are BPM systems used by operations teams?

Although each of the above-mentioned components could be useful for day-to-day management and execution of operations, BPM systems are not typically the system of choice for operations teams – especially not for operations teams in growth-stage companies.

Rather, it is much more common to see BPM systems in cross-functional use within larger enterprises. There are three, main reasons for that:

  1. BPM systems require dedicated teams and specialized users:
    a successfully implemented BPM system is usually managed by a dedicated team with specialized roles and sufficient experience working with BPM systems. A complete BPM team will include:
    - Business Process Director
    - Business Process Consultant
    - Business Analyst
    - Project Manager
    - Business Process Architect
    - Business Process Champion
    - Solution Architect
  1. BPM is a long-game strategy for change
    BPM teams can employ a wide range of tools to control, improve and design processes. But the bulk of BPM work lies in the analysis of business processes and the modeling of new processes. The change management required for new processes and systems to be brought into effect is a BPM team mandate, and an overarching, organizational responsibility – but it does not usually fall into the scope of operations team management or day-to-day business.
  2. BPM is expensive
    BPM systems range widely in pricing, but it's not uncommon to see organizations spending upwards for $250,000 on enterprise BPM software. That's on top of the investment in hiring dedicated BPM teams and the opportunity cost of implementing BPM and organizational change.

Should operations teams invest in BPM?

Business processes are essential to the operations of every company. They are both the blueprints and guardrails for your most crucial operations functions, and they clarify the required interactions between your teams, your systems, and ultimately your customers.

In this sense, yes: there is tremendous value in BPM for operations. Your operations can only be as efficient, agile, and scaleable as your business processes allow – and this requires a keen understanding of them.

However, because the fundamental nature of operations team is process execution, a BPM system and all of the requirements and lead time that comes with it are not likely to be the rapid, results-driven solution for improving operations processes "on-the-fly".

BPM vs. Process Automation for operations processes

For most operations teams – especially those in growth-stage businesses – processes naturally emerge as “the way things have always been done,” or because their software systems and technical limitations have dictated them to be a certain way.

As a result, many operations teams are hampered by their processes, and will continue to be so until those processes are optimized.

When it comes to high-growth operations, process automation platforms are the strongest option for process improvement. That’s because, they enable end-to-end visualization and automation of operations processes without the overhead investment and lengthy lead-time of BPM solutions.

Process automation tools offer a strong range of functionalities that enable teams to capture and automate any of their recurring operations process. Put more concretely: they help operations teams to take their manual business processes and create digital, automated versions of them.

How it works:

The processes themselves work through rule-based logic. Automated operations processes follow a series of predefined rules, and respond to triggers or actions that teams can tailor to fit the exact operations use case requirement.

Once configured, a process automation platform can handle the single-step automations for simple operations use cases, as well as automate complex, multi-step and multi-stakeholder processes, and everything in-between.

An important differentiator from BPM systems:

Like many BPM tools, process automation tools are both automated (tasks and actions are completed automatically) and interactive (human process stakeholders collaborate and execute tasks directly in the process interface).

However, unlike most BPM systems, process automation tools can be implemented to the full-extent by non-specialized, non-technical users. Setting up an operations workspace, building an automated process, and rolling it out to a team can be achieved without any technical training or coding experience.

This is highly relevant for operations teams, who can now build and implement the automated processes as they wish to see them, and see meaningful improvements fast – rather than waiting on a specialized BPM team to design, build, and initiate change management for their process and team. It's a massive accelerator in the overall time to impact.

Conclusion: BPM for operations

At-large BPM as a methodology is a critical part building scaleable business operations. Having both visibility and the capacity to automate your operations processes will be imperative to successful growth and building operations processes that "don't break down" along the way.

However, for operation teams who don’t have the luxury of time and enterprise resources to invest in BPM systems, process automation platforms are ideally suited.

There is generally no up-front investment, no consulting requirement, and no need to involve your in-house engineering resources. Automated processes can be built in minutes and rolled out to teams in the span of an afternoon, with little or no-coding required.

Not sure where to start? Check out these 5 must-have features you should look for in your process automation platform.

About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.

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