What Is Business Process Management? (+Challenges)


Business Process Management (BPM) is not just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental approach that empowers organizations to streamline their operations, enhance efficiency, and drive innovation. In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, the ability to adapt and optimize processes is a cornerstone of success. 

This article delves into the world of business process management, exploring its core concepts, methodologies, and the transformative impact it can have on businesses of all sizes and industries. From workflow automation to continuous improvement, BPM offers a roadmap for organizations to not only survive but thrive in an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace.

What Is Business Process Management?

Business Process Management refers to creating, operating (i.e., using them on a day-to-day basis), and optimizing business processes to enable you to achieve your organization’s goal (e.g., grow revenues, raise NPS to 90%, increase our profits to 80%, etc.).

A better way to model business process management would be to think of it as the art of creating scalable, repeatable techniques (including definite steps) for making work and growth predictable. Processes make it possible for—

  • Customer service agents to know when to escalate conversations to a manager.
  • Finance controllers to determine an employee’s monthly spending limit on an expense card and manage AP and AR without involving the CFO.
  • AEs and SDRs to know which status to assign prospects and when to move them through the funnel.

—without involving the executive team (CEO, COO, etc.) or always roping in higher-ups.

Benefits of Effective Business Process Management

Business processes help growing companies put their day-to-day operations on autopilot. As a result, you no longer need to have a roundtable to determine every small issue. Once you set up a business process, it can work seamlessly for years, eventually becoming an unquestionable culture that everyone respects without friction.

Considering that businesses can lose 20% to 30% of their annual revenues to inefficiencies and poor decision-making, BPM helps you cement the right systems in place and scale them infinitely as your company grows.

1. Enhanced efficiency and productivity

Forrester estimates that BPM can increase productivity by 30% and 50% for knowledge work and back-office tasks, respectively. Not surprisingly, since, for one, business process management software can automate repetitive tasks, keep workflows moving between human contributors and RPA agents, and tend to reduce the endless shuffling via email that stagnates work in corporate settings.

2. Improved customer experience

Business processes create repeatable frameworks for engaging buyers, dealing with customer issues, de-escalating conflicts, collecting feedback, and ultimately, making something people want to keep paying for.

3. Increased agility and adaptability

Business processes make it easier to roll out changes from the higher levels of an organization instead of nudging employees and assuming anything will change. For instance, let’s say you run a growth-stage startup with $80M in annual recurring revenues and a little over $50M in cash.

You’re struggling to raise more funding to lengthen your runway (assuming you’re in a recession), and you know you need to get expenses under control. Instead of a gentle, let’s-see-how-it-goes PSA, the finance team can limit purchases and make any expenses above $100 require approval. Almost immediately, you’ll see a steep drop in maverick spending and frivolous (although legitimate) purchases or work-related software and services.

And that’s just one example: business processes attack problems at the root and compel the rest of the organization to align instead of slowly coaxing change.

4. Cost savings and resource optimization

A report by the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership states that BPM increases productivity by 50%, reduces cycle time by 90%, and improves quality by 80%, and the reason why is simple: a single change to a business process optimizes it infinitely—every other instance of that process being executed will reflect those productivity gains from removing redundant steps or automating repetitive tasks.

5 Steps of the Business Process Management Lifecycle

The BPM lifecycle is a cyclical mental model for designing, launching, and improving business processes to get the maximum ROI. Think of it less as a static protocol set in stone and more as a reliable framework you can tweak on a case-by-case basis to fit your circumstances.

  • Design: The design stage is where organizations identify the problems they’re looking to solve, define them in practical SMART terms, and create a detailed breakdown of how their proposed business process will eliminate inefficiencies, speed up workflow, and progress from start to finish.
  • Model: The design and modeling stages are closely joined and somewhat similar, but with a subtle difference. In the first stage, stakeholders determine the problem to be solved and suggest models for the process in question, while in the modeling stage, they convert those ideas into a step-by-step sequence in a BPM tool or business process mapping software that shows input, output, and decision-making points.
  • Execute: Here’s where you build out your business process, train your employees and stakeholders on how to use it, and set up automation sequences to keep the process in motion (using if-then sequences) with minimal human input.
  • Monitor: After your process goes live, it’s important to keep track of business process adoption and its performance in absolute terms and compare it with your prior process. To do that successfully, you’ll need to determine metrics for measuring success in terms of time (hours of work), money saved, and how those improvements impact your company’s long-term health.
  • Optimize: Use the data collected through monitoring and analytics to improve your business process management: remove redundant tasks, reassign tasks to better stakeholders, and reduce direct human input to the bare minimum (creative work and approvals).

Keys to Implementing Business Process Management

Apart from the core business process management lifecycle, you’ll need to adopt certain tactics in your execution to ensure maximum efficiency. Likewise, you need to carefully observe your processes to discover opportunities to eliminate inefficiencies, choose the right BPM tools, and ensure your workforce is trained to use them effectively.

1. Identifying processes for improvement

Improving processes starts with asking the right questions, questioning assumptions, and sometimes, comparing your organization’s benchmarks with wider industry trends or anecdotes from your industry peers.

Here are some discovery questions that can help you identify if/where a process needs improvement:

  • Are the current goals and objectives of the process clear and aligned with the overall organizational goals?
  • Are the goals measurable and achievable?
  • Are there unnecessary steps or redundancies in the workflow?
  • Is the process consistently producing high-quality outputs?
  • Are there frequent errors or defects?
  • Are there any recurring issues or trends in feedback from stakeholders affected by this process?
  • What key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to evaluate the process’s success, and are the KPIs meeting their targets?
  • Are the technology and tools used in the process up-to-date and relevant?
  • Are there better tools or technologies available that could improve efficiency?

The discovery process opens up the core of your existing processes, highlights redundancies and issues, and fixes you can apply to them immediately.

2. Building cross-functional teams

Processes tend to be cross-functional in nature and often rope in stakeholders across teams and departments to complete workflows. Now, we’re not suggesting you reorganize your teams, but you can create ad hoc relationships that can last for the length a process stays in usage.

For cross-functional processes to work, you need an informal agreement between teams to cooperate, keep workflows going, and contribute their bit whenever necessary to ensure processes achieve their stated goals.

3. Selecting BPM software tools

Similar to the discovery process for identifying potential improvements in your existing processes, selecting the appropriate BPM platform that suits your company’s size and technical complexity requires a combination of hands-on experience, advice from industry peers, and asking the right questions, such as

  • Is the BPM tool user-friendly and intuitive for non-technical users?
  • Does the tool provide a visual process modeling and design interface?
  • Can you create, modify, and document processes easily?
  • Can the tool automate repetitive tasks and workflows?
  • Is there support for complex conditional logic and routing?
  • Does the BPM tool integrate with your existing systems and applications (e.g., CRM, ERP, databases)?
  • Does the BPM tool offer robust analytics and reporting features?
  • What security features does the BPM tool offer to protect sensitive data?
  • Can you customize and tailor processes to your organization’s specific needs?
  • Can the BPM tool scale to accommodate growth in process volume and complexity?
  • What is the pricing model (subscription, per-user, or one-time fee)?
  • Are there any hidden costs, such as maintenance or support fees?
  • Does the BPM provider offer training and resources for users?
  • What type of customer support (e.g., email, phone, chat) is available, and during what hours?

4. Training and change management

Adequate training educates your employees and ensures they can effectively use your BPM of choice instead of letting it become another piece of shelfware. A consistent, ongoing training regimen helps stakeholders understand a tool’s features and functionality and how it fits into their daily work processes.

On the other hand, the change management process helps you make a smooth transition and prevents you from sabotaging your existing systems until you’re ready to make a switch to a new BPM setup (including systems and tools).

Create personalized learning & training flows for your enterprise apps with Whatfix

Challenges in Business Process Management

What are some pitfalls and obstacles an enterprise might face when trying to make business process management a core part of its operations? These are internal problems that result from poor planning, inadequate training, or preparation for change management.

1. Resistance to change

It’s not unusual for stakeholders or even entire departments to stick with legacy solutions that barely work, especially if their wider organization has a history of adopting shiny, new SaaS solutions, pushing adoption aggressively, and abandoning them after a few quarters.

If you want to minimize resistance to new BPM tools and frameworks, your change management strategy needs to start from the planning stage, where you:

  • Clearly communicate the purpose and benefits of your new BPM methodology and technology. 
  • Engage key stakeholders, including managers and employees, who will use the BPM tools from the outset. Involve them in the decision-making process to gain their input and buy-in.
  • Offer thorough training programs to ensure that employees are confident and competent in using the BPM tools.
  • Offer ongoing support and resources to users as they navigate the transition.

2. Integrating legacy systems

Again, making sure your BPM platform of choice and your process management approach are compatible is a concern that needs to be addressed during the discovery process. Here’s a step-by-step process that can help:

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of your legacy systems. Document the existing processes, data structures, and technologies in use.
  • Determine where legacy systems interact with your business processes. Identify the touchpoints, data flows, and dependencies.
  • Choose BPM tools that offer robust integration capabilities and support for legacy systems. Look for tools that can connect via APIs, web services, or middleware.
  • Develop data mapping and transformation routines to convert data between legacy system formats and BPM tool formats. This ensures that data is usable and accurate.
  • Implement robust error handling mechanisms and logging to track integration issues and troubleshoot them quickly.
  • Test integrations thoroughly to validate data and process flows.

3. Maintaining process consistency

In larger organizations, stakeholders often adopt one-off hacks and shortcuts while trying to contribute their bit to a business process. And, of course, a single instance of this doesn’t change anything much and might even hasten the process a bit. But, when you have dozens or hundreds of stakeholders making unsanctioned changes to requirements, reordering processes on the fly, and applying their best judgment without keeping their coworkers in the loop, the result can be detrimental.

As a result, the larger your organization, the more effort you need to invest to ensure everyone involved stays committed to specified process flows, avoids retroactive changes without consultation, and checks with their peers before making any change that might affect another employee’s workflow down the chain of responsibility.

4 Use Cases of Business Process Management

How does business process management manifest on a day-to-day basis? How do these bits of tasks, automation sequences, and cross-department communications help you achieve your company’s long-term goals?

1. Order processing and fulfillment

Depending on your company’s size, processing orders and shipping deliverables to customers is complicated.

First, you need to communicate with the customer, understand what they’re trying to buy, and possibly redirect them to another better-suited product if necessary. Once the order is received and payment is verified, it’s logged in the systems with specific instructions to the production/creative department, including technical specifications, decisions, timelines, etc.

After production, the delivery goes through quality assurance, the customer’s payment is verified again, and finally, the requested shipment is delivered.

At every stage of this process, it’s the business process management systems put in place that make it possible to understand what the customer actually wants and whether an alternative would suffice, ensure their order is produced and customized to their taste, and that deliveries are made on time.

2. Employee onboarding

After an employee accepts an employment offer and completes customary background checks, they’re invited (via email) to submit necessary onboarding documents and paperwork, including tax (e.g., W-4) and benefits enrollment forms.

A dedicated employee onboarding platform might give them a checklist of set-up tasks to complete, including 

  • Welcome briefs to read, with start times, office locations, dress code, and any necessary items to bring on their first day.
  • Technology setup: collect your work devices from IT and set up your email and SaaS account accesses.
  • Security: claim your badge, keys, and access codes.
  • Tour: Notify your onboarding buddy when you’re ready so they can introduce you to the rest of the team, walk you through the office you’ll be working out of, and review company policies together.
  • Schedule long-term follow-ups with your onboarding mentor or superior to check in on your progress over the next six months.
  • Complete onboarding training within a month of your arrival, etc.

None of this would be possible without a coordinated business process management approach that makes it possible for new hires to seamlessly navigate through the onboarding process without stagnating.

3. Loan application processing

Banks and credit institutions need reliable systems to process millions of loan applications, create custom credit reports for customers, assess their risk profile, and send them notifications about approvals and issues via real-time channels (push notifications, SMS, email). 

Business process management is the only reliable methodology for managing such sensitive workflows and processing large volumes of data concurrently. For instance, BPM systems can

  • automate the application review process, including data capture, verification, and validation of applicant information.
  • integrate with credit scoring models to assess the applicant’s creditworthiness and help loan officers make informed decisions.
  • serve as a single source of truth for managing the collection, indexing, and storage of loan-related documents, ensuring compliance and easy access.
  • assign tasks to relevant staff members based on predefined rules and priorities, ensuring timely processing.
  • maintain detailed audit trails, making demonstrating compliance to regulatory authorities easier.
  • send automated notifications to applicants, informing them of their application status, required documentation, and next steps.

4. Supply chain management

BPM tools can automate significant bits of the supply chain management process, loop in overseers and approvers when irregularities arise, and prevent common issues like overstocking. Among others, BPM tools can—

  • Automatically route orders to the appropriate fulfillment centers, warehouses, or suppliers based on predefined rules, ensuring timely order fulfillment.
  • Optimize inventory turnover and minimize carrying costs by ensuring timely restocking and reducing overstocking.
  • Automate the demand forecasting process by analyzing historical data, market trends, and customer orders.
  • Trigger notifications for contract renewals, quality control checks, and supplier performance reviews or when demand patterns change, allowing for proactive adjustments in production or procurement.

—depending on their level of customization and integration with the rest of your supply chain management tools.

Analyze, build, and deliver better business processes with Whatfix

The Whatfix digital adoption platform emerges as an indispensable tool in the quest to analyze, build, and deliver better business processes. With its robust features, such as process analytics and process automation, Whatfix empowers organizations to gain deep insights into their existing processes, identify bottlenecks, and swiftly implement improvements. 

It facilitates the creation of guided workflows, enabling seamless onboarding and training for employees. Moreover, by providing real-time, in-app support and performance analytics, Whatfix ensures that users can navigate complex processes effortlessly and efficiently. In this era of constant change and digital transformation, harnessing the power of the Whatfix digital adoption platform can be the key to achieving operational excellence and staying ahead in the competitive business landscape.

To learn more about Whatfix, click here to schedule a free demo with us today!

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