November 25, 2019 Operations & Technology en_US Small businesses can streamline their business processes through business process management. Learn about BPM steps and what you need for effective BPM. What is business process management?
Operations & Technology

What is business process management?

By Audrey Sellers November 25, 2019

Business processes are at the heart of every business. How well you manage your business processes can make or break your company.

The phrase “business processes” might sound like a complex series of tasks, but it’s not. Business processes are simply structured activities that produce a result.

Unlike a project, which has a defined beginning and end, a process is repeated many times. It’s often carefully designed to be effective and productive. When considering project management, process management can improve a project’s outcome by using a repeatable process. This process can be determined through process modeling.

Business processes often fall under one of three main categories:

  1. Operational: These processes are vital to running your business. They help you deliver your product or service, and bring value to your customers, helping establish a continuous improvement process.
  2. Support: While these processes don’t directly add value to customers, they are necessary for ensuring operational processes can function. For example, your hiring process would fall under this category.
  3. Management: These processes link operational and support processes. Through management processes, you can control and coordinate all aspects of your business, from communications to budgeting.

As a small business owner, you perform hundreds of business processes every week. Some are documented, such as your return or shipping policy. Some you do out of habit, such as responding to customer emails or unpacking inventory.

Some small business owners outsource their business processes. According to research from Clutch, more than one-third of small business owners outsource a business process, mostly to increase efficiency or gain expert assistance. Some of the most commonly outsourced tasks include accounting (37%), IT services (37%) and digital marketing (34%).

Whether you perform tasks yourself or delegate responsibilities to your employees, it pays to streamline your business processes to maximize process performance. Poor business processes can lead to wasted time, wasted resources, costly errors and demoralized employees.

That’s why business process management (BPM) is so important. BPM is how a company creates, changes and analyzes business processes.

Gartner defines business process management as “the discipline of managing processes (rather than tasks) as the means for improving business performance outcomes and operational agility. Processes span organizational boundaries, linking together people, information flows, systems, and other assets to create and deliver value to customers and constituents.”

When it comes to BPM, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. There are dozens of BPM tools and BPM software options for small businesses, many of which offer a free trial. Take a look at BPM Online Studio, Zoho, intelligent business management (iBPMS) software or KissFlow for a small sample of the several BPM tools available. There’s also the business process management initiative (BPMN), which is a graphical display that notes which business processes make up a business process model.

So, why does BPM matter?

BPM allows companies to align their business functions with customer needs, leading to greater customer satisfaction. BPM also allows small business owners to properly assign, manage and measure company resources. This means you can minimize risks and errors, while reducing costs and increasing efficiency, eliminating ad hoc workflow management.

When thinking about BPM, it helps to understand the steps in a BPM lifecycle. BPM involves these five steps:

  1. Design: This step involves breaking down a process into multiple tasks and examining each part individually. It’s important to identify who will own each task in the workflow.
  2. Model: In this BPM step, create a visual layout of the process and fix details, such as conditions and deadlines. This helps illuminate the normal sequence of events and flow of data through a process.
  3. Execute: Test the process live with a small group to examine the execution, and then open it up to all users.
  4. Monitor: By closely observing the process as it runs through the workflow, you can identify any issues, locate bottlenecks and measure efficiency.
  5. Optimize: During your workflow, take note of any changes you can make to improve efficiency.

It’s also helpful to know the different types of BPM. Depending on the purpose, you can categorize BPM into three types:

  1. People-centric: These processes are usually performed by people and require extensive approvals. They provide quick tracking and simple notifications.
  2. Integration-centric: These processes jump between a company’s existing systems, such as CRM and ERP, without the need for human involvement.
  3. Document-centric: These processes allow for documents to be routed, formatted and verified as the tasks move along the workflow.

While you might think you don’t have time to take on one more task, BPM should be an essential part of your overall business strategy. With BPM, you can view processes as valuable assets of your organization that must be understood, managed and refined to deliver value to customers.

If you don’t prioritize process improvement, you’ll struggle to keep up with changing customer needs and market demands. Small business owners who work to streamline their business processes and innovate with new processes can create a competitive advantage.

Read on for an overview of the six key elements of effective BPM.

Core element #1: Alignment

It’s essential for your business processes to align with your company’s overall strategy. What are your goals, objectives and priorities? Through BPM, you can design, implement and manage processes in accordance with the direction you’re taking your company.

If you don’t connect your processes and priorities, you don’t have an effective BPM system. Take the time to synchronize your processes with your organization’s overall direction.

Core element #2: Transparency

All your employees and everyone involved should understand their roles for the different levels of BPM. From the beginning, be sure to clarify and clearly communicate responsibilities as the process moves through the workflow.

You should also set clear guidelines on how to make decisions and establish rewards programs. This helps ensure transparency and accountability, and keeps everyone on the same path forward.

Core element #3: Methodologies

BPM requires using methods, tools or techniques to approach different scenarios. Some of the most common BPM methodologies include Six Sigma, Lean and BP Trends. Which methodology you choose depends largely on what you hope to accomplish. For example, consider whether you are starting some local process improvements, or if you want to customize something specifically for your business.

Core element #4: Technology

Many BPM initiatives rely heavily on IT-based solutions. To run effective BPM at your business, spend some time researching BPM software and BPM tools. Until recently, BPM software was only readily available for big businesses with sizable budgets. Now, there are many affordable BPM tools that allow small businesses to easily plan, execute, optimize and monitor workflow.

Core element #5: Manpower

Without the right people involved, information systems and technology won’t accomplish much. As a small business owner, it’s critical that you delegate specific people on your team to carry out your business’ BPM initiatives. Look for those employees who have a process management skill set and ensure that they say aligned with your organizational goals.

Core element #6: Organizational culture

Business process management flows into every part of your business. Whether you work with a team of two people or 20, take time to create a culture that supports BPM initiatives.

A few ways to do this include:

  • Helping employees feel responsible for processes and their outcomes. When people don’t feel connected to the work, they won’t promote change.
  • Providing effective support. Give your employees the tools they need, and empower them to collaborate.
  • Encouraging an open atmosphere. To make continuous process improvement part of your business’ culture, encourage employees to share ideas and discuss any challenges they’re facing.

Improve your bottom line with BPM

With BPM, you can streamline your processes, introduce new processes, reduce waste and keep your business moving forward. Remember that BPM isn’t a one-and-done project, but rather, an ongoing effort. When you commit to embracing BPM, you can run a more efficient business and better serve your customers.

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Audrey is a former magazine editor in Dallas-Fort Worth who now works with B2B and B2C clients on various copywriting projects. Her passion is crafting copy that keeps readers coming back for more. Read more