What is BPM? The benefits of Business Process Management
Business Process Management (BPM) is a discipline that studies business processes and activities. Its main purpose is to understand business processes in a way in which they can be studied, modeled, and improved upon, bringing more efficiency into a company’s practices.
That being said, to better understand what BPM is, and how it can be used to help improve your company’s results, one must first define what exactly a process is.
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What are processes in BPM?
Processes in BPM can be defined as a series of steps, tasks or activities that are performed with the intention of achieving a desired result, or output. This desired output can often be anything from an assembled car to a successful reimbursement.
In a more general sense, we can think of a process as something that:
- Receives inputs.
- Uses those inputs within a series of activities.
- Produces outputs.
For example, if a person were to make a paper airplane, they would have something like:
- Input: 1 sheet of paper.
- Steps: instructions on each fold.
- Output: 1 paper airplane.
The beauty of processes is that they ensure a certain standard of quality and predictability to your outcomes. As long as the person follows all steps successfully (in the above scenario, perform all folds in the established order and manner), they will always end up with a paper airplane.
Of course, sometimes the person may make some mistakes. Misalign a fold, or even use the wrong paper size. In those cases, they may end up with a paper airplane of inferior (or even accidentally superior!) quality.
Business Process Management comes in handy because it allows for a way to measure these deviances in the process, and iterate upon them. The process may shift and change to account for different variables–in resources, skill, or even random chance–and reduce the impact they produce on the final result.
The example above is very simple, of course, but it becomes quite clear how this standardized approach can be applied to businesses, and how beneficial they can be in the long run.
Is BPM a methodology?
Well, not exactly. There’s no recipe for designing a good process, no more than you can have a recipe for a great football team. Of course, there’s usually a set of basic ground rules and desirable traits common to most teams, but it’s not always about having the most expensive players. The best line-up and strategy to adopt can vary wildly on the combined strengths and weaknesses of each player, and even on the strengths and weaknesses of the team they’re playing against.
Similarly, the best business process can depend heavily on a few different factors:
- Desired output.
- Available tools.
And so on. It’s easy to design a process that is ideal in paper, but wildly impractical when you try to apply it. It doesn’t matter that email is instantaneous if all of your clients are using fax machines, and allowing for a 2% error rate when manufacturing pencils is very different from when dealing with parachutes.
It all boils down to what’s best for your specific goals and, as such, Business Process Management is more of a discipline and a way of looking at things than following a guidebook. That’s because BPM is a never-ending, iterative process that sets continuous improvement as a goal, and not a once-and-done project designing approach.
With this in mind, BPM does in fact have a supporting structure in the manner of process life-cycles.
Steps of a BPM lifecycle
Processes can come to life in two ways:
- Designed processes: sometimes, companies already know how a process is supposed to play out. That is: they have a clear vision about resources available and desired outputs. In this scenario, teams are able to design the process beforehand, trying to figure out possible flaws or problems, and iron it out in the planning and testing phases.
- Organic processes: other times, however, there is no time for planning. Necessities arise and people rise up to the task of “making it work.” In this case, there’s no design: steps in the process are developed in the way that feels most natural, comfortable, or efficient to the people performing the tasks. Eventually team members will fall into a routine, and a process will be born (even if no one fully understands how it all works).
Whether you’re designing a process from scratch or mapping out existing ones, the activities you’ll perform when trying to improve a process will fall into one of the following stages:
Step 1: Design
While this stage is called design, it encompasses not only the ideation of how the process should be, but also the discovery and mapping of pre-existing designed or organic processes. This step takes into account all inputs and desired outcomes, as well as available resources, to design a process that most closely approaches the ideal process for that purpose.
Note that this can be a new design, but it can also just be a better version of the current process. Sometimes, it may not be efficient, or even feasible, to upend an entire ongoing process and start anew. In those cases, you may redesign sections of the process in order to boost specific parts of it, and then repeat this procedure for other sections.
This is the stage where you’ll most likely make use of documentation and flowcharts, so you can better understand how inputs are transformed during the process, and where you may identify steps that are parallel (that happen at the same time independent of each other) and steps that are serial (that happen in sequential order, where one depends on the completion of another).
This is also where you’ll perform one of the most invaluable things you can do when improving a process: collecting feedback. Subtle problems are often invisible in the managerial level, as they are often resolved by those performing the tasks as part of the routine, often accepted as “just the way it is.”
Step 2: Modeling
After a process is designed in the previous stage, it is important to stress test it even before putting it into practice. Think of this stage as quality assurance. Before handing out a product to consumers, companies often test them in both normal and absurd scenarios to understand its limitations, and where it can fail.
These hypothetical scenarios are great because they not only reveal problems within the process, but they also help you introduce fail-safe steps that would otherwise have to be solved organically–and often at great cost.
For example, let’s say your company has an office with electronic locks, and designs a process for conceding, revoking, and altering employees’ passwords. All is well and good until someone asks: “but what happens if the lock breaks, or the power is out?”
This question assumes a less than perfect condition, as good processes should. It might very well happen. So the answer, of course, is to include procedures for this situation, such as having managers or team leaders have a spare key.
This can be applied to many different, more complex situations:
- What happens if all support analysts are busy and someone calls with an urgent request?
- What should the billing team do if the invoice software breaks?
- What happens if production slows down and we get a shipment of raw material while the warehouse is full?
Also, do note that questions can be made not only to identify problems, but also to help improve the current design.
- Why is this task split between two different teams?
- Is there a way to reduce this machine’s idle time?
- If we upgrade this equipment, will it save us money or time in the long run?
Oftentimes, this stage will also involve mapping out measurable variables (such as number of employees, number of orders, or even tax rates) and changing them around to see how the process will behave.
Step 3: Execution
Now that the process is designed and hypothetically tested, it’s time to implement the changes and see if everything goes according to plan.
This stage will usually involve training people in the new parts of the process, and acquiring or setting up software to perform tasks that were previously mapped out and designed.
For example, when talking about a hypothetical billing process, a company may probably need to:
- Set up software to automatically send invoices according to deals closed or subscriptions renewals.
- Train their staff to correctly input information in a way the software can use for this process, and maybe even perform a routine check to see if every invoice was sent correctly at the end of the day.
In Execution, it may become clear that some of the parts you designed are not feasible or won’t work as well as intended. That’s ok. It just means it’s back to the drawing board.
One of the main concerns of this stage, however, and one of the most important things to keep in mind, is that the best execution is one that leaves no margin for error, or at least minimizes it as much as possible.
For example, if someone has to input a certain date in a software, good execution dictates that you should probably make it so the software does not accept anything other than a date.
Step 4: Monitoring
So, after implementing a process, how do you understand if everything is going as intended? Or, an even better question may be: how do I know things changed for the better? (it is entirely possible to design a process worse than its previous, organic iteration)
This is where Monitoring comes in. This stage is where you’ll track and measure indicators that can show you how well a process is performing. For example, if you’re designing a process for answering support tickets, one of the criteria you can use is how fast the tickets are being solved. So Average Solving Time may be an apt indicator.
You may note that this part of the process is very focused on two things: data and transparency. If you want to create indicators that accurately reflect reality, you will need to accrue data on each step of the process. In the same vein, if you want to be able to jump into the middle of a process to evaluate how things are going and check for potential undetected bottlenecks, you need a way to access information (such as an order’s status, or a deal’s notes) in real time.
This is usually accomplished by using software that provides this access to past and real-time data, but we’ll get back to that when talking about Business Process Management Systems.
Step 5: Optimizing
Finally, the last stage in the iterative life cycle is Optimizing. This is the stage in which you can take all the knowledge and empirical data collected in the previous stages and get to improving the process as a whole.
For example, imagine you have a sales process that seems to be working incredibly well. Conversion rates are high and most leads are qualified. However, you notice that this isn’t translating to the revenue you would expect given the high volume of leads.
After monitoring the process for some time, you notice the problem is not with the sales team itself, but that the finance team is not being able to send the agreements quickly enough, and they have an enormous backlog of complete sales that are not being properly signed and invoiced.
You then decide to automate the agreement signing process using electronic agreement software, so that as soon as the sales team closes a deal in the CRM the client gets their agreement sent to their email automatically.
With most of the manual work automated, the finance and billing team can focus on just sending invoices, and now the sales team’s efficiency is properly reflected in the company’s revenue numbers.
As you can see, this process went through a successful stage of Optimization, bringing more value to the company, as the increased revenue is far greater than the electronic agreement software’s costs. Not only that, but overall stress on team members also decreases, which can lead to improvements in other metrics such as productivity and employee turnover.
What are the Benefits of BPM?
Amongst the many different competitive advantages a company benefits from adhering to good Business Process Management practices, some stand out:
- Increased productivity
- optimizing processes will often lead to increased productivity, that is, doing more with the exact same infrastructure. This allows for companies to gain competitive advantages such as better prices, or even faster delivery times.
- Reduced costs
- on the other side of increased productivity, we have cost reduction. Sometimes, a company may not need to increase their output (for example, if they have no market to expand into). However, they may still benefit from being able to maintain their output while reducing fixed or variable costs due to process optimization.
- a good process makes results predictable. That is, by introducing standardization, a company can control variation in the outcomes of processes. This ensures a minimum of quality all across the board, and also makes the company less dependent on an individual skill or unspoken knowledge.
- in order to properly manage processes, you’ll need to implement a minimum degree of transparency to them. This means being able to open a certain request or iteration of the process and be able to see exactly what’s happening. Bad processes often start and end without any sort of clarity during its steps, but good processes will allow you to jump in at any time and see not only what was already done, but what the remaining steps are.
- bad processes can be impactful not only on a time and money scale, but also security-wise. Bad quality assurance processes can lead to dangerous products, or that someone gets access to information they shouldn’t have. In short, bad processes equals liability. Good processes minimize risk and ensure business continuity.
- Error prevention
- even when not impactul from a security standpoint, errors will always cost something. They may cost time, money, and even employee satisfaction. Good processes can reduce errors that arise from human mistakes, and in turn reduce stress and time lost.
- processes that are not optimized don’t scale, even with infinite resources. Volume and increased error points will eventually diminish return on investment. At some point, things start breaking down and results stagnate, if not move backwards. On the other hand, optimized processes will ensure investment brings increased value.
BPMS (Business Process Management Systems)
A common mistake people make on the subject of Business Process Management is mistaking the discipline itself with software used in order to manage processes.
We usually call such software BPMS (Business Process Management Suites or Systems). They can encompass a wide array of features, from documentation to integration and automation.
A lot of different software claim to be BPMS or BPM-inclined, but the truth is not all of them provide all the tools needed for proper process management. While it is possible to use a combination of many different software to achieve the desired results, a good rule of thumb is that good BPMS is software that allows you to go through the whole process life-cycle without resorting to creating a Frankensteinian network of different platforms.
We have compiled a list of common features and tools used for process management.
Top 5 tools and features for BPMS
Here are the key features to look out for when searching for BPMS.
- a staple of process management, kanbans allow users to keep track of unresolved tasks or issues and operate them in a chronological or categorical order. From CRM to Recruiting to Support Tickets, most processes can benefit from kanbans in some capacity.
- forms are a wonderful way to keep data input fast and concise. Not only that, good forms will prevent users from making mistakes, such as typing a letter in a numeric field. Things can be improved even further with conditional forms that show buttons or fields according to context.
- monitoring numbers are a vital part of process management, and dashboards are one of the best ways to keep track of key parts of the process. From charts to indicators, setting up good dashboards are a must when focusing on continuous improvement.
- reducing manual work is an important part of optimizing, whether you’re aiming for minimizing mistakes or improving efficiency (or both!) Being able to set automations is one of the most powerful optimization features one can look for when looking for software.
- while good BPMS should be versatile, it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll be able to keep everything inside a single tool. In fact, sometimes that may be downright impossible. With that in mind, your software should be able to integrate with other tools easily.
While those are probably the most important features to keep an eye on, there are other things that can be important depending on the nature of the process you’re managing or even the nature of your company. As such, it’s always important to see what else a tool brings to the table. Choose a tool that is evolving and keeping up with the times–you don’t want to be stuck with outdated software (or worse, have to migrate in five to ten years).
Jestor is the best tool for business processes management
By providing a wide array of enterprise-grade features with a delightful to use UI, Jestor stands out as the best tool for business process management. With beautiful kanbans, conditional forms, interactive dashboards and no-code/low-code automations and integrations, it will cover pretty much all of your needs with a lot of BPM benefits.