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Six steps of business process management

How to achieve continuous process improvement and innovation

Drive process change that delivers ongoing value

No two business processes are alike, but all are in a near-constant state of flux. Sometimes leaders and teams tweak processes on the fly; other times they completely reengineer them. Business process management (BPM) is how organizations help ensure that any business process change is the right one.

Through effective BPM initiatives, your company can implement more efficient, flexible processes. More quickly and precisely determine where to deploy workflow automation and other innovative technologies. And achieve continuous business process improvement through monitoring and analysis.

BPM initiatives that drive meaningful change generally encompass the following business process management steps: plan, design, model, implement, monitor, and optimize.

These six stages of business process management comprise the BPM lifecycle. A structured, cyclical approach based on best practices, the BPM lifecycle provides a useful framework for modernizing operational, management, and support processes.

Step one: Plan your strategy

First, collaborate with management to create a business process management strategy that supports the organization’s core business goals. Companies want to invest in high-impact, low-risk projects that deliver measurable results tightly aligned with their KPIs.

Look at business areas where progress on meeting company objectives has slowed or stalled. Broadly define what needs to potentially change—and how—by categorizing the associated business activities into one of three main types of business process management:

  • Human-centric BPM. Largely lacking automation, a human-centric process revolves around people. Certain decisions, approvals, and other process tasks are uniquely meant for employees, customers, and other individuals to perform. In these cases, BPM should empower individuals with well-designed application interfaces and notification and tracking functions.

    Human-centric BPM examples include hiring processes in which HR personnel work with managers to post job openings, screen candidates, ask for referrals, and interview candidates. Another instance is customer complaint processes handled by service representatives.
  • Document-centric BPM. Processes involving paper- and electronic-based documents must be handled with care and in accordance with company, industry, and regulatory requirements. Document-centric BPM frequently uses workflow automation to promote efficiency and accuracy while maintaining compliance.

    Document-intensive BPM examples can be found in legal, finance, purchasing, and other departments that route contracts and agreements to multiple people for review and signoff. Another example is medical organizations that maintain electronic health records.
  • Integration-centric BPM. This category focuses on integrating and automating systems, such as enterprise resource management (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and human resource management systems (HRMS) applications. Integration-centric BPM enables people to quickly access apps, data, and services through connectors and APIs, enhancing user productivity and satisfaction.

    Integration-centric BPM examples include marketing and sales teams that use interconnected campaign, lead analytics, and CRM tools to share detailed information about potential and existing customers.

Step two: Design and map ideal processes

Once you’ve clearly defined strategic objectives and have support from the business, analyze and map each process targeted for improvement. Identify key process events, the manual and automated tasks required for each one, the people who perform them, timelines, and any technologies used. Look for bottlenecks and delays; redundant, unnecessary tasks; and areas characterized by excessive costs and human errors, customer dissatisfaction, or noncompliance.

Next, once you fully understand the “as-is” state, use the insights to establish new business requirements for the process. Then, design and map an ideal “to-be” state. Brainstorm various ways to solve problems. Also, outline metrics to track business process improvement. Ask process stakeholders, whose participation is critical to project success, to help collect assessment data and provide feedback on designs.

Early on in your BPM initiatives, your company may want to adopt a business process improvement methodology to further structure your approach and foster a shared sense of purpose. Although business process improvement methodologies have different principles and techniques, they all seek to help eliminate waste, remove obstacles, enhance collaboration, and drive cultural change.

Common business process improvement methods include:

  • Agile management
  • Kaizen
  • Lean management
  • Six Sigma
  • Total quality management

Also, take advantage of process mining, process mapping, and other business process management software (BPMS) to quickly analyze and visualize workflows. Similarly, intelligent BPMS (iBPMS) solutions can help enhance workflows with cloud, AI, and big data analytics capabilities.

Step three: Model and test process flows

In this step, put the ideal design to the test. Build a prototype model that digitally represents all process activities, business rules, and data flows. Then, run simulations against the model using different combinations of variables, such as time, costs, and resources. Based on the results, continue to adjust and test the model, modifying existing workflows or creating new ones to drive optimal business outcomes.

Simulation modeling provides a cost-effective way to analyze how a process performs given different conditions. BPMS tools that automate modeling, testing, and analysis can significantly streamline this step. They can also help your company more quickly determine how to improve a design before rolling out changes in the work environment.

Step four: Implement improvements

You’re ready to go live with your optimized process. Start with a proof-of-concept solution in which a small group tests the process. Then, use their feedback to evolve the process accordingly. Take advantage of BPMS prebuilt templates and connectors to develop intuitive user interfaces for newly automated and integrated processes.

Before you formally launch the process with the larger organization, put plans and resources in place for project and change management. Transition teams appropriately so you can smooth out initial kinks, avoid operational interruptions, and promote adoption. Also, finalize the metrics, and use business intelligence (BI) tools to build dashboards and generate reports that provide real-time or near real-time insights.

As part of your change management plan, update job roles and responsibilities and hold training sessions with employees. Notify affected customers and suppliers and offer support.

Step five: Monitor and track performance metrics

In this phase of the BPM lifecycle, identify potential areas for further change by monitoring data for generating performance metrics. Depending on your objectives, you can delve into different aspects of new process efficiencies, such as how well:

  • A workflow functions within a process.
  • A process functions within the larger organization.
  • A process operates from a technical perspective.

Also, talk with stakeholders to learn more about time and cost savings—both realized and potential—and uncover bottlenecks.

Use BI tools to generate, visualize, and report on metrics, comparing the statistics with industry benchmarks and evaluating how they measure up to your organization’s KPIs. Once again, take advantage of BPMS solutions to assist with data collection and simulation modeling. Monitor performance as regularly as possible to ensure the BPM initiative continues to meet its aims and support the organization’s larger business goals.

Step six: Optimize based on fresh insights

Your monitoring and tracking efforts have generated a plethora of actionable insights. Now is the time to use this information to double down on business process improvement. Through continuous iteration and innovation, keep refining the process and its workflows to achieve new operational efficiencies. Often, you’ll uncover additional opportunities for automation, standardization, and integration.

The quest to generate greater business value never ends, and neither do process monitoring and optimizing activities. Business strategies, marketplace conditions, and regulatory requirements continue to change, so be ready to adapt your processes in response.

If circumstances call for significant updates, begin the BPM lifecycle again. By now, your enterprise has made the stages of business process management its own. Leaders and process stakeholders can come together to strategize on new initiatives.

Turn inefficiencies into a thing of the past

If your company is ready to take the steps necessary to increase process efficiency, Microsoft Power Automate can help. Anyone from basic business users or IT professionals can improve business process management with its no-code/low-code platform for workflow automation.

Frequently asked questions

What are the steps of business process management?

The steps of business process management (BPM) commonly include six phases: plan, design, model, implement, monitor, and optimize. These steps provide a structured, cyclical approach for business process improvement, including streamlining manual processes through workflow automation.

What is the BPM lifecycle?

The BPM lifecycle is a standardized, step-by-step framework for iterative business process improvement. It encompasses strategy, design, model, implement, monitor, and optimize phases. Companies often use business process management software to simplify and accelerate activities within every stage, especially when automating manual processes.

What are the various business process management types?

Business process management can be categorized into three main categories: human-centric, document-centric and integration-centric. The extent to which BPM uses automation and integration depends on the degree to which only people can perform critical process tasks.

Where can I find examples of business process management?

BPM examples exist within and across all types of organizations. For example, human-centric BPM focuses on creative processes. Document-centric BPM spans legal and accounting processes. Integration-centric BPM facilitates processes for online purchases and banking.

What are the different business process improvement methodologies?

Common business process improvement methods include Agile management, Kaizen, Lean management, Six Sigma, and Total quality management.