The beginner’s guide to business process management (BPM)

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsJuly 14th, 20217 min read
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What is business process management (BPM)?

Business process management, or BPM, is the practice of analyzing and improving business processes. A business process is a sequence of tasks or activities your business performs to achieve a specific organizational goal. 

Why is this necessary? Over time, your business processes—which were likely built when you had fewer team members or before you used certain tools—may have become outdated, inefficient, or ineffective. BPM helps you analyze those processes and optimize them through tried-and-true process improvement practices. Oftentimes, this includes business process improvements like reducing bottlenecks, automating manual work, optimizing and streamlining inefficient processes, or re-orienting project goals around specific business outcomes. 

Critically, business process management doesn’t just help create a more efficient or effective business—it does both, at the same time. Without being efficient, effective processes may take more time to complete than necessary. Similarly, when efficient processes aren’t also optimized for effectiveness, they may be quick—but accomplish the wrong thing. To learn more about how to achieve both, read our article about the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.

Different types of BPM

BPM focuses on improving processes. But there are a lot of processes at your company, so there are additional types of BPM to help you get to the bottom of these improvements. 

You don’t necessarily need to use these terms, but understanding the three different types of BPM helps you know which one to use to improve your processes. 

Human-centric BPM

Human-centric BPM is business process management where people are an integral component. There are things that only people can do. In this case, you can’t create perfect efficiency and effectiveness even if you tried. So this type of BPM works to unblock humans, make it as easy as possible for them to understand the processes, and guides them through the process in real-time. 

Examples of human-centric business processes: 

  • Hiring. You can improve job postings, resume tracking, referrals—but there’s a uniquely human element to hiring a new employee. From that first phone screen to the onsite interview, improving hiring processes focuses on human-centric BPM

  • Creative work. You can’t automate the creative process. This process requires a human component—the designers or copywriters to provide the creative spark. In this case, Human-centric BPM makes it easy to review and publish creative work, and to unblock creatives on your team for high-impact work.

Document-centric BPM

As the name suggests, document-centric business processes are those where a document is the main thing being created. Think of a legal document, blog post, or any document that goes through multiple rounds of revision. 

Integration-centric BPM

Did you know the average knowledge worker switches between 10 tools up to 25 times per day? Integration-centric BPM works to solve that problem. By enabling integrations between tools, you can create a central source of truth for all of your information. Instead of manually updating your tools or searching through apps for the data you need, integration-centric BPM makes it easy to find information and prevents things from falling through the cracks.

Browse Asana app integrations

What type of process optimization is right for you?

There are a variety of processes to help you optimize your business. Here’s how BPM stacks up: 

Business process management vs. workflow management

Business process management focuses on the end-to-end business process. Instead of homing in on a specific workflow, BPM aims to improve efficiency and effectiveness across your organization. 

Part of BPM is workflow management. A workflow is an end-to-end process that helps teams meet their goals by connecting the right people to the right data at the right time. Workflows organize data in an understandable and repeatable way by focusing on three things: planning, execution, and review. An effective workflow is a repeatable, sustainable business process. 

Looking to improve a specific workflow? Learn how to create clear, repeatable workflows in 7 steps.

Read article

Business process management vs. project management office (PMO)

Business process management is a way to evaluate your entire process, model the ideal process, and then improve your work based on that process model.

A project management office (PMO) is also focused on improving business processes, but it goes about it in a slightly different way. Instead of tackling business processes, a PMO aligns your organization around project management best practices, defines how to execute core processes, and aligns strategic initiatives across the organization.

Looking for a PMO instead of BPM? Learn how to set and align project management conventions with a project management office.

Read article

Business process management vs. business process automation

BPM looks at your organization’s business practices holistically, then looks for ways to improve them. This often includes, but isn’t limited to, automating manual processes. Within BPM, this is referred to as business process automation (BPA).

Business process automation is critical because so many processes we do in our day-to-day lives are manual: duplicating work between tools, following up on the status of work, or even searching for information. However, you don’t need BPM in order to automate manual processes. Instead, look for any work management tool that offers workflow automation features to streamline manual processes. 

Want to automate manual processes? Get started with automation in Asana today.

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Business process management vs. task and project management

BPM helps you establish and align processes at the business level. When you implement business process management, you’re looking at your entire organization’s business processes and improving them. 

Task and project management are slightly different. Task management is for individuals looking to improve their personal efficiency and effectiveness. With good task management software, you can gain clarity on your work and get your highest-impact work done. 

As the name suggests, project management functions at the project level. Project management is a way for teams to organize, track, and execute work within a project. There are five phases of project management: project initiation, project planning, project execution, project performance, and project closure.

Track, organize, and manage work with project management. To see it in action, try Asana for project management today.

Try project management with Asana

The benefits of BPM

Without a big picture view of your company processes, you have no way of knowing how efficient and effective those processes are. With BPM, you have a way to understand, analyze, and improve your business processes. When you model a business process, you outline your ideal process. Then, if it doesn’t currently look like that, you figure out why, and you improve it. 

Remember, business process management isn’t a one-and-done process. Instead, it’s an ongoing effort to evaluate and improve your processes. As a result, you can drive meaningful process improvements, increased efficiency and effectiveness, and easier ways for team members to accomplish their goals faster and with less effort. 

BPM:

  • Maps and improves your processes

  • Automates processes where possible 

  • Reduces waste

  • Eliminates bottlenecks

  • Cuts down on errors

  • Improves efficiency and effectiveness

  • Generates better services and products

  • Leads to better customer satisfaction

  • Streamlines inefficiencies

  • Ensures your business processes are clearly contributing to business outcomes

Business process management isn’t just effective for large, enterprise organizations—even small teams can benefit. If you have a business strategy with key business objectives, BPM helps you optimize processes and achieve those objectives. 

5 steps to business process management

Business process management helps you reduce inefficiencies and optimize business processes. To get started, follow these five steps:

1. Analyze

Before optimizing your processes, you first need to understand what they are. The first step of BPM is Analyze—though it’s sometimes referred to as the Design step. During this step, take a look at your current business processes and map them end to end. At this point you aren’t making any changes to your business processes; you’re simply understanding what they are. 

For example, imagine you work at a small business. You want to improve the way you engage with your customers. To begin improving the customer experience through BPM, analyze what you currently do. How are tickets filed? Who responds? What happens when a team other than the customer service team needs to get involved? How quickly do you get back to customers? What’s their satisfaction rate? What’s the most recent NPS score? Do you use a CRM? Answering these questions helps paint a full picture of your customer experience process.

To help your team work more efficiently, you first need to understand a current process from start to finish. Then identify steps that can be cut or improved. Finally, train the team on the new process and roll it out, ideally via a template in Asana so the team can own future improvement.

2. Model

Now that you understand the process from start to finish, model what it should actually look like. Ideally, you’ve identified inefficiencies during the Analyze phase that you can trim, or places where work is being bottlenecked. Model the ideal process and flow of data, so you can begin to implement it in the next step. 

To return to our example, one big blocker your team has is getting responses from people who aren’t on the customer service team, since they use a different tool. Your customer service members spend a lot of their time manually copying information from one tool to another. To streamline and automate these workflows, you decide to integrate your CRM with your work management tool. Now that you understand what you want the process to look like, model the behavior you want to see before implementing it.

3. Implement

During the Implement step—sometimes called the Execute step—put your model into action. As you do, establish metrics for success or failure, in order to evaluate whether this process is better than the one you already had in place. 

Depending on the scope of the change, use a change management process to roll this out, especially if it’s a new technology or system your team isn’t familiar with. Luckily, we’ve got you covered—read our article on 6 steps to build a successful change management process.

To continue our example, you’ve modeled the ideal behavior between your work management and CRM tool. Now, you implement an integration-centric business process management model to do this. With effective integrations between your two tools, your customer service team can stop manually ferrying information from one tool to another and spend more time doing what they do best: serving your customers. 

When you are beginning to implement new things and bring new things to your business, work with your leaders and your managers around change management of what's coming, how the organization will change, and what's required of everybody to be successful together. It’s much more than just flipping a switch or bringing in a new tool.
Read: Jones Knowles Ritchie designs brands for scale, disruption, and good with Asana

4. Monitor

Once you’ve Implemented new processes, monitor them to see how well they’re doing. Have these new processes actually improved bottlenecks and inefficiencies? Are people using them? Sometimes, things that look good on paper—or even do well during a small test—don’t work during an organization-wide rollout. If that’s the case, pull back the rollout or consider pivoting to something else. By monitoring these processes, you can proactively identify any issues and jump on them if necessary. 

For example, after rolling out a new integration between tools for your customer service team, monitor tool usage. Are people using the integration? Has the amount of manual work done by your customer team gone down? If not, host additional training and enablement sessions to encourage adoption. 

5. Optimize

During the Optimize step—sometimes called Automate—continue to tweak and improve your business process. Even if the process you implemented worked perfectly, look for additional inefficiencies or manual processes to improve. This is also where business process automation comes into play. BPA is the process of automating business processes to make them more efficient and reduce manual work. 

To return to our customer service example, you now want to automatically push updates between your two tools, instead of having the customer service team manually initiate the integration. Or, look for adjacent activities to automate. For example, create a rule to automatically send a customer feedback email after a ticket is closed, in order to gauge customer service efficacy and continue improving processes down the road.

Read: The beginner’s guide to the theory of constraints

What is business process management software?

BPM software is technology created to help you map and capture business processes. These technologies typically: 

  • Map current, existing processes

  • Model ideal processes

  • Help you automate processes

  • Track ongoing work to help you continuously manage and improve processes

BPM tools sometimes also:

  • Offer adaptive analytics tools to proactively identify business process opportunities.

  • Offer templates for specific business processes or workflows.

  • Offer tools for A/B testing before you roll out business processes—especially for large changes that require change management.

  • Track new processes to ensure team members are using them correctly, and enforce change if they aren’t.

Improve efficiency and effectiveness across your business

Coordinate plans, projects, and processes—across your entire organization—with Asana. Asana is a work management tool that makes it easy to automate manual processes and unlock high-impact work. With a shared source of truth, you can empower every team to focus on executing the work that grows your business.

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