Business Process Management

Peter Strempel

Put simply, the processes referred to in business process management (BPM) are the sequence of activities people carry out to do their jobs. This includes business logic built into supporting information systems, and hierarchies of approval and delegation.

All of these come with a cost in time, infrastructure, and money. That’s a powerful reason managers should spend time considering what improvements could be made with BPM methods to save on costs. The other reason is that well-designed processes can add value to existing products and services, improving customer satisfaction, generating new business, and boosting bottom-line profitability.

BPM is today widely practiced by business process analysts, sometimes referred to as just business analysts, to design better processes, or improve existing ones. They draw on a set of integrated tools and methods to model processes, analyse efficiency both quantitatively and qualitatively, and apply techniques like ‘Lean’, ‘Six Sigma’, and ‘total quality management’ to reduce waste and defects.

One of the methods used to more easily visualise and analyse business processes is the visual Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) language.

FIGURE 1: A hypothetical travel booking process in BPMN.  Click the image to see a larger view.  The diagram is less a working model than an example designed to show some of the features of the visual language.  Most BPMN models are very large and cover many printed pages to capture all the necessary details of the processes they describe.
FIGURE 1: A hypothetical travel booking process in BPMN. Click the image to see a larger view. The diagram is less a working model than an example designed to show some of the features of the visual language. Most BPMN models are very large and cover many printed pages to capture all the necessary details of the processes they describe.

BPM is commonly practiced by people who specialise only in its own methods and techniques, but it is interrelated with other areas of specialisation, as shown in Figure 2 below.

To offer a more comprehensive service than most business analysts, when I produce work in this area my experience and training allows me to employ a wider framework of reference than most others, including —

    FIGURE 2: Business process management shown in the context of a wider management domain.
    FIGURE 2: Business process management shown in the context of a wider management domain.

  • enterprise architecture, allowing me to see processes in their broader strategic contexts;
  • ITIL IT service management, allowing me to ensure smooth service transitions as part of process improvements;
  • PRINCE2 project management, allowing me to visualise and carry out entire process improvement projects;
  • public affairs management experience gives me the skills and experience to craft and tailor clear and effective communications in process analysis, benefits realisation descriptions, and the communication necessary when BPM involves change management; and
  • transformational management, allowing me to factor change leadership and management into BPM projects, including professional and clear communication and training plans.

Why is it important to have this broader outlook?

  • BPM needs an architectural framework to avoid the myopia that comes with focusing too closely on a single process, or even a related set of processes. If these aren’t integrated into an organisation’s broader strategic direction, they are likely to be expensive failures;
  • Where process changes affect IT operations, insights from IT service management methods also add value in anticipating how to align and integrate changed or new IT process requirements into existing or new service catalogues;
  • Most BPM endeavours are discrete projects in their very nature, so putting a project manager in charge is a logical move, and offers the reality check of framing process design and improvements in terms of work packages and project products, and then to devise a workable plan to implement the designed and improved processes according to planned timelines. Thinking about process improvements in this way reduces the chance of failing to achieve hoped for efficiencies, budgets, and realistic rime-frames; and
  • Even good BPM practitioners can fail at their efforts for lack of clear communication in explaining benefits, features, functions and changes. Sometimes the ability to professionally communicate the details of BPM projects is almost as important as the process design and improvement.

Still confused about BPM?

Contemporary BPM practices, along with IT Service management (ITSM) and project management, are based on a ‘continuous improvement cycle’ pioneered by American statistician and management consultant William Edwards Deming. In the 1950s he was tasked with helping Japanese industry re-build after its almost complete destruction in WWII.

Deming’s advice about focusing on the continuous improvement of every existing process was a significant factor in the Japanese economic miracle of the 1960s and ‘70s, and led to the now globally ubiquitous quality management approach. The Deming cycle of continuous improvement is illustrated in Figure 3 below.

FIGURE 3: The Deming continuous improvement cycle.
FIGURE 3: The Deming continuous improvement cycle.

 

The idea behind the cycle is a continuous and iterative approach to observing processes, planning for improvements based on observed performance, implementing the improvements, fine-tuning them, and then repeating the cycle.

The business process management life-cycle borrows heavily from the Deming model, adopting the same continuous and iterative approach, but also incorporating other techniques, and shown in Figure 4.

FIGURE 4: The BPM lifecycle, incorporating the Lean Six Sigma principles.
FIGURE 4: The BPM lifecycle, incorporating the Lean Six Sigma principles.

Following the stages described in Figure 4 require a baseline audit of ‘as-is’ processes. That may seem like a waste of time. You may think you already know all about how things work right now. However, experience shows that until you place any process under the magnifying glass, many peculiarities, flaws, and inconsistencies are never recognised or taken into account. That is particularly the case if people inside the organisation are so close to every-day operations they can no longer ‘see the forest for the trees’.

TIn such cases it can be easier for an outsider like me to come in and analyse the process from start to finish with fresh eyes, but also by working with the organisation’s subject matter experts to ensure nothing is missed or undervalued.

BPM can be applied to one, many, or all processes, depending on the ambition of the project. Organisations with modest resources might want to start with just one process they know to be a problem area.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the BPM lifecycle is innovation. Imagining what is possible in improving on existing ways of doing things, or designing entirely new procedures, requires concentrated effort in turning strategic goals into workable processes that achieve their intended outcomes. It is more strategic planning than process management, and will always test the ingenuity of BPM practitioners, particularly if they have never progressed beyond applying textbook techniques to existing modes of operation.

My experience in strategic analysis, professional communication, managing projects, and leading teams allows me to elicit the information necessary to understand a process quickly, and to pass on the knowledge necessary to embed a continuous improvement process in your business to ensure cost savings and profit maximisation.

My training in business management and enterprise architecture allows me to make sure that whatever I do will integrate seamlessly into your overall strategy and operations. My PRINCE2 project management background gives me the insight and knowledge to lead a complete BPM transformation project.

If you would like to discuss your BPM needs, use my contact form and I’ll respond as soon as I can. An initial discussion won’t cost you anything.

In the meantime, if you would like to know more about the origins of BPM, I wrote a short history of it, outlining its roots in Taylorism and its development through the post-war era into total quality management techniques. See also my comment on why it’s a mistake to use business process management to dehumanise jobs and customer service, and a lighthearted look at Lean Six Sigma.

RELATED: Read my case study on the 2016 online census project for a discussion of how business process analysis might have saved a lot of pain.