Business process management (BPM) is an important concern for small business entrepreneurs and owner/operators. The discipline focuses on improving business processes through specific steps, designed to optimize various aspects of a commercial work flow. BPM is not a one-off effort, akin to managing an individual project. Rather, the undertaking represents a series of ongoing activities, aimed at continually improving a process or processes.
Understanding Business Processes
A business process can be dissected and analyzed for its unique attributes, but a generalized definition need not be overly complex. At it’s a core, a business process is an activity or a series of activities undertaken to achieve a specific outcome.
Processes are deliberate actions, occurring at all levels of an organization. The structured activities are commonly repeated many times and are subject to improvements and adjustments. Typical business practices shared in a recent article, include examples such as:
- Manufacturing – A maker follows a set of sequential steps to produce a finished product.
- Procurement – Broken in to several distinct steps, the procurement process includes activities such as purchasing, receiving, and settling invoices.
- Sales and Operations Planning – A common organizational process that includes planning inventory levels. Variables such as production capacity and consumer demand influence sales and operations planning.
- Information Technology – IT processes address change management, facilitating change requests for systems. The proposed changes are then evaluated, developed, implemented, and reviewed.
- Customer Service – An essential process for most businesses, customer service processes are designed to address complaints and customer care issues. Internally, a customer service process accounts for failures, establishing mechanisms through which problems are recorded and corrected.
- Asset Management – This periodic review process accounts for equipment and other assets at least once a year.
- Performance Management – Performance management serves as an internal assessment process, requiring members of the management team to evaluate direct reports. The process typically involves setting goals for each staff member and then following-up to evaluate their performance reaching objectives.
- Marketing – In general, the marketing process encompasses all the activities required to bring a product to market and promote it through various channels.
- Infrastructure Management – Managing infrastructure includes process features such as conducting periodic review, identifying deficiencies, and making infrastructure improvements.
- Sales – The sales process captures all the essential phases of selling, including drafting proposals, attending to orders, delivering goods and services, and billing for everything provided.
Although each business requires unique processes, these common examples cross over in to many different industries.
Managing Small Business Processes
Project management is focused on a particular objective from start to finish. In much the same way project management accounts for various aspects of a campaign, effective BPM strives to facilitate efficient, productive outcomes. In contrast to projects, however, processes are repeatable, facilitating consistency completing similar tasks, again and again. Project success often relies on the processes companies develop and perfect over time. Process modeling is commonly used to craft and refine workable processes.
Whether they are following formal processes, such as shipping and receiving, or acting out of habit alone, small business owners perform wide-ranging processes, during the course of day-to-day operations.
A recently published Mediafeed article highlights the importance of effective process management. According to the author, business processes typically fall in to one of three dominant commercial categories.
- Operations – Essential operational processes enable you to deliver your products and services. Processes in this category directly add value for your customers, as well as facilitating continuous operational improvements.
- Support – Though these processes don’t directly service your customers, they support the operational processes required to get the job done.
- Management – Management processes can help you coordinate various aspects of your business, often serving as a crucial link between operations and support.
Effective process management yields diverse benefits. Among other things, consistent outcomes facilitate greater efficiency and streamline delivery of products and services. Maximizing process performance helps small business owners avoid costly mistakes, reduce wasted time, and utilize resources to their fullest. Poor process management, on the other hand, leads to low employee morale and may stymie organizational growth.
Ad hoc work flow management risks missing revenue opportunities and leaves customer experiences to chance. Effective BPM helps small business owner/operators
- properly align commercial functions with the specific needs of customers,
- efficiently allocate resource, for maximum effect
- minimize risk,
- avoid errors,
- reduce costs,
- facilitate customer satisfaction.
Business Process Management Life Cycle
Mediafeed contributor, Audrey Sellers, identifies five components of the business process management life cycle. According to the author, BPM is defined by the following sequence.
- Design – Engineering business processes includes examining the individual tasks required to create consistent outcomes, capable of delivering the desired results, time and again. This stage of the BPM life cycle also identifies who is responsible for each task.
- Model – Modeling a process lays out the essentials and refines the flow, including attention to conditions and deadlines. The exercise helps establish a “normal” sequence of events and defines how data flows through the process.
- Execute – Before expanding the process to all users, the execution stage includes an evaluation period, during which the process is put to the test by a small group of subjects.
- Monitor – Under scrutiny, it is possible to identify problems with the process, including inconsistent flow patterns and efficiency shortfalls.
- Optimize – After identifying failures, you can adjust various aspects of a process, with an eye toward greater efficiency.
Your organizational commitment to business process management prioritizes process improvements, enabling you to keep pace with market conditions and evolving client needs. Over time, consistent, effective BPM may actually create a competitive advantage within your niche. Core elements of effective business process management include
- Alignment – Effective business process management aligns with your overreaching organizational strategies, accounting for your goals and priorities. BPM allows you to deliberately design and implement processes that further your professional objectives.
- Transparency – BPM is an inclusive undertaking, clearly identifying each employee’s role in established processes. Additionally, effective business process management also lays out guidelines for decision making and includes rewards for successful process outcomes.
- Methods – Efficient BPM consistently relies on proven tools and techniques for approaching various business scenarios. Six Sigma and other methodologies are chosen and deployed, based upon what you hope to accomplish.
- Technology – BPM strategies are often IT-heavy. In the past, process management software and tools aimed at large organizations, with substantial budgets. Today’s solutions are accessible to small businesses, enabling small ventures to monitor and improve work flow.
- Human Resources – The people powering your BPM solutions are essential to successful outcomes. For consistent results, delegate tasks to the individuals within your organization who are best prepared and equipped with skills sets suitable for managing processes.
- Professional Culture – An organizational culture that supports process management yields the best results. Encouraging employees to own their roles in the management process and providing the support they need to succeed are two ways to stimulate positive BPM outcomes.
Effective business process management continually improves processes and stimulates greater organizational efficiencies. Well-conceived BPM efforts keep your business moving in the desired direction, allowing you to adapt as conditions change and to speak directly to the needs of your customers.