what is business process management

Business Process Management for Small Business Owners

Business Process Management (BPM) is the strategic practice of optimizing organizational workflows to achieve operational excellence and business agility. Leveraging analytics, automation, and process modeling, BPM streamlines tasks improves efficiency, and enhances overall performance.

It is a powerful framework for continuous improvement, driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

As a systematic approach to making a firm’s workflow more effective and efficient, BPM makes business processes capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment. It enables understanding how different tasks and activities within your business connect and interact and then optimizing those processes for better outcomes.

This post breaks down the essentials of business process management and provides actionable insights to implement in your business.

Types of Business Processes

Typically, there are three categories of business processes:

  • Upper-Management Processes: These involve organizational governance and strategy. Think of it as the brain behind your business operations.
  • Operational Processes: These core processes create value for the business. For a restaurant, this could include food preparation and service. For a retail store, this might be inventory management and sales.
  • Supporting Processes: These help the core processes run smoothly. For example, HR, accounting, and IT fall under this category.

Book: “Business Process Management: Concepts, Languages, Architectures” by Mathias Weske

Understanding these different processes is the first step toward managing them effectively.

Why Should Small Business Owners Care?

Small businesses often face constraints like limited resources and tight budgets, making efficiency crucial. By focusing on BPM, you can identify bottlenecks, eliminate redundancies, and maximize the use of available resources.

Business Process Management: In-depth Considerations

Process Design and Mapping

Before you can improve a process, you need to understand it thoroughly. Create a map or flowchart that outlines each step, who is responsible, what resources are needed, and how long it takes. It will give you a clear picture of how things currently stand.

Business process management workflow

Interdepartmental Processes

Processes don’t happen in a vacuum; they often involve multiple departments. A flawed process in one area can affect performance in another, so it’s essential to consider how departments interact and rely on one another.

Metrics Matter

Consider other metrics like throughput, lead time, and utilization rate besides mean and standard deviation. These can give you a more rounded view of your processes’ efficiency and effectiveness.

The Role of Technology

Advancements in technology can help automate routine tasks, reduce or eliminate the risk of human error, and speed up the process. Tools like accounting software, project management software, CRM systems, and specialized inventory tracking can be game-changers.

Article: 9 Best Accounting Software for your small business

Legal and Regulatory Constraints

Understanding the legal constraints around your processes is crucial, especially if you’re in a highly regulated industry. Ignorance is not an excuse when legal troubles arise.

Dealing with Variability

Every process varies due to random chance or external factors like market demand. Identifying these variations is crucial because they can disrupt the smooth flow of your operations. Strategies to deal with variations include maintaining buffer stock or adopting flexible staffing solutions.

Four Sources of Variation in Business Process

  • Variety of Goods or Services: The more diverse your offerings, the more complex the processes become.
  • Structural Variation in Demand: Seasonal fluctuations and market trends affect demand and must be planned for.
  • Random Variation: Some variability is natural and can’t be predicted or controlled.
  • Assignable Variation: These are variations you can control. Identifying and fixing these can lead to immediate improvements.

Risk Management

Given the volatile nature of today’s business environment, having risk management strategies in place is essential. This could include contingency planning, insurance, or even a dedicated risk management team, depending on the size and scope of your business.

Global and Sustainable Considerations

Even small businesses often find themselves part of a global supply chain. Understanding how international factors can impact your business is vital. Sustainability is another growing concern, with many businesses opting for green practices for ethical reasons and for attracting eco-conscious consumers.

Business Process Management (BPM) Example: Streamlining Order Fulfillment in a Small Online Retail Business

Let’s consider a small online retail business that sells handmade crafts. The business has been growing, but the owner notices that customers often complain about slow shipping times and, occasionally, incorrect orders.

Book: Notes for Business Process Improvement, Process Mapping, and Leadership

The owner decides to employ Business Process Management (BPM) techniques to address these issues.

Step 1: Identify and Map the Process

The owner begins by identifying the order fulfillment process, which consists of several steps: receiving the order, picking items from inventory, packing, shipping, and sending a confirmation email to the customer. These steps involve various departments, including Sales, Inventory Management, Packing, and Customer Service.

Step 2: Establish Metrics

The owner decides to measure:

  • Throughput: The number of orders processed per hour
  • Lead Time: Time taken from receiving an order to shipping it
  • Utilization Rate: Percentage of working hours in which employees are productive

Step 3: Analyze and Identify Bottlenecks

After gathering data, the owner identifies that the Packing stage is the bottleneck. The metrics reveal that packing takes twice as long as any other stage in the process.

Step 4: Implement Solutions

The owner finds that the Packing department is understaffed and often runs out of packing materials, leading to delays. To solve this, the owner:

  • Hires an additional part-time staff member for the Packing department
  • Sets up a system to regularly restock packing materials
  • Invests in a barcode scanner to expedite the item-picking process and reduce errors

Step 5: Review Regulatory Constraints

The business ships products internationally, so the owner reviews customs and export regulations to ensure the process remains compliant.

Step 6: Deal with Variability

The owner establishes a buffer stock of fast-moving items to handle seasonal demand spikes and negotiates flexible working hours with part-time staff.

Step 7: Monitor and Re-assess

After implementing these changes, the metrics show a 40% improvement in throughput and a 30% reduction in lead time. Customer complaints about shipping times and incorrect orders also decreased significantly.

Step 8: Continuous Improvement

The owner made it a routine to review the order fulfillment process quarterly, monitoring metrics and customer feedback for continual improvement.

This example demonstrates how a small business can utilize BPM to identify issues, implement solutions, and improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Conclusion: Business Process Management

Business Process Management is not a one-time project but an ongoing commitment. Regular audits, continuous monitoring, and a willingness to adapt are key to successful BPM. Implementing BPM in your small business might require an initial investment of time and resources. 

However, the long-term benefits—greater efficiency, higher customer satisfaction, and increased profitability—make it worth undertaking.

Further reading: “The Complete Business Process Handbook: Body of Knowledge from Process Modeling to BPM” by Mark von Rosing, Henrik von Scheel, and August-Wilhelm Scheer


Most frequent questions and answers

Business Process Management (BPM) is the systematic approach to analyzing, optimizing, and monitoring organizational workflows. In simpler terms, it involves mapping out existing processes, identifying areas for improvement or inefficiencies, and implementing changes to enhance productivity and effectiveness. 

BPM aims to enable an organization to be more agile, efficient, and capable of delivering higher-quality products or services.

A Business Process Management tool, or BPM tool, is specialized software designed to facilitate the planning, execution, and analysis of business processes. These tools offer functionalities like workflow automation, data analytics, and process modeling. 

By using a BPM tool, businesses can simplify the management of complex processes, enhance collaboration among team members, and monitor performance metrics in real time.

In Business Process Management, several key factors are essential for success:

  • Identification: The starting point is to know and map out what processes exist.
  • Analysis: Evaluate how well existing processes are performing using quantitative metrics.
  • Optimization: Finding ways to improve processes, eliminate waste, or increase efficiency.
  • Automation: Utilizing technology to automate repetitive tasks and reduce human error.
  • Monitoring: Regularly reviewing process performance to ensure they meet expected outcomes.
  • Adaptability: Processes should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the business environment.

The five core business processes that many organizations should focus on include:

  • Product Development and Management: This involves designing, creating, and updating products or services.
  • Operations and Supply Chain Management: This focuses on a business’s procurement, manufacturing, and distribution aspects.
  • Marketing and Sales: This includes processes related to attracting leads and converting them into actual clients.
  • Customer Relationship Management: CRM entails managing interactions with existing customers to foster loyalty and encourage repeat business.
  • Finance and Administration: This process involves the management of financial transactions, budgeting, and human resources.

A Business Process Management course is an educational program designed to teach individuals the principles, techniques, and tools for managing and improving operational processes in business. These courses often cover process mapping, workflow automation, data analytics, and performance metrics. 

The best course aims to equip students with the skills needed to analyze, optimize, and maintain efficient business processes, whether they are part of a large corporation or a small business. Courses may be available in various formats, including online, in-person, and hybrid models, catering to different learning preferences.

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