What is business process management? A BPM guide

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
February 14th, 2024
11 min read
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Summary

If outdated processes are holding you back, business process management (BPM) can help. In this article, learn how to streamline essential business processes so your company can get more done, faster.

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processes—which were likely built when you had fewer team members or before you used certain tools—may have become outdated, inefficient, or ineffective.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.

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Why is BPM important?

According to Gartner, a foremost authority in BPM research, the importance of business process management lies in its ability to synchronize people, systems, and information to achieve targeted business outcomes.

Here's how BPM helps both project managers and business process managers improve team and organizational process performance.

  • BPM systems streamline operational efficiency by improving business operations to become more efficient.

  • BPM enhances productivity by identifying and correcting inefficiencies, which leads to an increase in team productivity.

  • BPM drives innovation by aligning organizational processes and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Consider a software development team whose ad-hoc processes and frequent communication breakdowns caused delays in their project timelines. After adopting BPM systems, they established a clear workflow, assigned specific roles and responsibilities, and set measurable SMART goals. As a result, project completion rates improved significantly, and team collaboration became more efficient.

In essence, BPM helps project management professionals not only manage business process performance but also transform how teams achieve their goals.

Read: Process documentation guide with examples

3 types of business process management

BPM focuses on improving processes. But there are a lot of processes and use cases at your company, so there are additional types of BPM solutions 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 caters to processes predominantly carried out by people. There are things that only people can do and often involve numerous approvals and tasks carried out by individuals. In this case, you can’t create perfect efficiency and effectiveness even if you try. So this type of BPM system works to unblock humans by integrating simple notifications, user-friendly interfaces, and effective tracking capabilities. All of which optimize people's understanding of the processes and provide them with real-time guidance. 

Examples of human-centric business processes: 

  • Hiring and onboarding. 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 addresses that problem through digital transformation—adopting technology to use and integrate tools in one central platform. 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.

Create a business process management template

5 stages of the business process management lifecycle

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

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.

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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.”
Joanna Roth, Senior Project Manager, American Medical Association

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.

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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.”
Casey James, Head of Creative Operations, JKR Global
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

BPM best practices

Effective BPM implementation can transform an organization's operational efficiency and align it with strategic objectives for optimal business value. Here are the top best practices essential for the success of any BPM initiative:

  • Engage diverse perspectives: Involving stakeholders from various departments, including the CIO and project management teams, ensures a broad range of insights. This diversity is key to re-engineering processes for improved performance.

  • Establish a BPM Center of Excellence (CoE): Create a central hub of BPM expertise, staffed with professionals skilled in Six Sigma and Agile methodologies. This CoE guides BPM projects to align with the organization’s strategic set of activities and business goals.

  • Manage expectations: Clearly define the project scope and objectives with all stakeholders to ensure that the BPM system is aligned with the business value it seeks to create. A well-defined scope prevents misinterpretations and sets a clear path for project success.

  • Integrate performance measurement: Incorporating clear performance metrics and KPIs is key. This enables the BPM process to be continuously monitored and improved, guaranteeing that it continuously generates business value and satisfies stakeholder expectations.

Benefits of business process management

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 and small business users can benefit. If you have a business strategy with key business objectives, BPM helps you optimize processes and achieve those objectives. 

Read: 4 steps to create an employee onboarding process

What is business process management software?

BPM software is technology created to help you map and capture business processes. A BPM suite of tools helps your organization understand, monitor, and streamline business processes. 

Business process management systems typically: 

  • Map current, existing processes

  • Model ideal processes

  • Automate processes to achieve business goals with less manual work

  • Track ongoing work for continuous improvement of business processes

Business process management tools sometimes also:

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

  • Offer templates for specific business processes or workflows.

  • Offer BPM 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.

Types of BPM technologies

Business process management software makes use of various BPM technologies to help organizations manage their processes more effectively. By integrating tools for process design, execution, control, and analysis, it enables automation and optimization of workflows. Successful BPM implementation requires selecting the appropriate technology for your organization's unique requirements.

Process design

Process design technology focuses on the creation and modification of business processes. It involves tools that help in visually mapping out process flows, defining steps, and setting parameters for how a process should operate.

An e-commerce company may employ process design tools to revamp its order fulfillment system. The software helps visualize the entire order-to-delivery workflow, identifying bottlenecks and enabling the redesign of steps for faster processing and delivery.

Process mining

These tools analyze data from various business systems to discover, monitor, and improve real processes by extracting knowledge from event logs readily available in today's cloud-computing information systems.

A healthcare provider could use process mining tools to analyze patient flow through its facilities. The insights gained may lead to improved scheduling and resource allocation, which could significantly reduce wait times and enhance patient satisfaction.

Process performance

This type of BPM technology centers on monitoring and optimizing the performance of business processes. It involves tools that track key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of processes.

A manufacturing company might implement process performance tools to monitor production lines. These tools track the speed, quality, and downtime of each line, providing data that helps fine-tune operations for maximum efficiency and product quality.

Business process examples

Business process management plays a transformative role in various departments of an organization. 

By looking at specific BPM examples, we see that it's more than just improving process performance. BPM aims to make organizations more agile, responsive, and strategically aligned. BPM, whether in sales, HR, or finance, can have a substantial impact on a company's success and competitiveness.

Read: 7 types of process improvement methodologies

Sales

In sales, business process management can streamline the entire sales process, from lead generation to closing deals. It helps in managing customer data, tracking sales performance, and ensuring that sales activities align with business strategies.

Example: Consider a technology company implementing BPM to manage its sales pipeline. The BPM system automates lead tracking to ensure timely follow-ups. By analyzing sales data, the system identifies successful patterns and areas needing improvement. This allows the sales team to focus on strategies that yield the best results.

Read: How to create a sales forecast template (with examples)

Human resources

BPM in human resources (HR) can automate and optimize various processes like recruitment, onboarding, employee performance management, and leave requests. This results in a more effective HR department, which enhances employee satisfaction and talent management.

Example: In a large retail corporation, business process management is used to streamline employee onboarding. The system automates document submissions and training schedules and integrates with payroll systems. This efficiency reduces the onboarding time, improves the new hire experience, and allows HR staff to focus on more strategic initiatives like employee engagement and retention.

Read: 4 steps to create an employee onboarding process

Finance

In the finance department, BPM can be used to manage processes such as budgeting, invoicing, compliance, and financial reporting. It enhances accuracy, speeds up financial operations, and ensures compliance with regulatory standards.

Example: A manufacturing firm employs BPM for its budgeting process. The system allows for real-time budget tracking and variance analysis, enabling quick adjustments. This process ensures that the financial resources are optimally utilized, reducing waste and enhancing the company's ability to make data-driven financial decisions.

Read: Cost control: Monitor project spending and profitabilityCreate a business process management template

What type of process optimization is right for you?

There are a variety of process methodologies 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. This type of no-code platform provides an intuitive user interface, so employees without technical expertise can still streamline manual processes. 

What is robotic process automation (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a type of specialized business process automation. RPA helps your business build, deploy, and manage software robots that perform repetitive tasks—so your employees don’t have to. These robots can mimic all sorts of human-computer interactions, like copying and pasting or moving files from one location to another. 

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.

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