Point of View

A traveler's guide to getting started with business process management

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Today, business process management (BPM) is a well‑established, multibillion dollar field. Many organizations have some form of process management system in place, if not a full BPM suite. Yet few realize the true potential of BPM, which only comes when you choose the right processes, select the best vendor, and adopt an intelligent, agile approach to your journey.

Unfortunately, there are common bumps in the road that can hinder process change initiatives. It is only by overcoming these obstacles that you can set your company on the golden path to success, i.e. faster, more standardized, and automated processes that can pivot in today's changing markets. This is a journey not only to better processes, but also true business transformation.

Happy travels.

Travel checklist: Top things to remember

1. Think BIG but start small.

2. Plan for iterations and analyze what happens.

3. Properly train teams before deployment.

4. Keep it simple – simple applications are much faster to develop.

5. Don't try to build an application that meets all requirements in the first iteration.

6. Use an agile approach whenever possible.

Choose your destination: selecting the right processes

It's no secret that most organizations are loaded with repetitive, tedious processes. While some of these processes may work well, others are inefficient, time-consuming, and involve too many people. When rolling out a BPM solution, you must first identify your processes in need of improvement and automation.

Here are some practical guidelines:

1. Look at your goals across the horizon
The first step is to clearly identify and understand your company's primary goals – both large and small. You then need to closely examine your existing processes to determine if they are effective in reaching these goals. If not, they could use a change.

2. Get your ear on the pavement
Visit each department, interview the heads of each team, and ask what is working and what is not. At the end of this step, you should have an initial list of processes to work with.

3. Determine process shortfalls
Once you have your list together, you can identify the core problems causing these processes to fall short of your company's goals. The problems could be around process design, the work of an individual or team, or system-related issues.

4. Set your sights on potential and value
In addition to identifying problems, you should also take the time to discover opportunities where changing a process can significantly benefit your organization. Try to match up each process with a specific business goal.

5. Be practical and start small
In this step, you can narrow down a small, initial set of processes and map out a hypothetical idea for how a BPM solution could work. Think about what the resulting processes would look like and whether they would benefit your company. At this point, it is a good idea to consult with BPM analysts, vendors, or experts who can determine which processes would require more time and budget during a second round of your BPM initiative.

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Once you go through the process selection phase, you can move on to the next step in your journey – selecting a BPM solution that will bring your plan to fruition.

Best in flight: what to look for in a BPM solution

Just as there are dozens of airlines that can fly you to any destination – from budget-friendly carriers to luxury airbuses – there are numerous BPM vendors on the market, ranging from small startups to global household names. To choose the right BPM solution provider for your company, start with a simple question: Are your challenges primarily technology related? For instance, you might be struggling to coordinate processes across multiple systems. Or do you need better human process management? For example, you might be dealing with duplicate work or outstanding requests due to lack of communication across staff, slowing things down.

Some BPM vendors lean more toward the system-centric end of the axis, while others are more human-centric. This can be a critical factor in deciding whom you go with. Alternatively, if you require a combination of both capabilities, an intelligent BPM suite can often address both areas.

Flexibility is another critical factor to consider. Look for a provider whose technology enables process change in response to real-time information, rather than just the execution of pre-programmed steps. This will enable you to keep your solution relevant as time goes on and facilitate continuous improvement. Also, think about if you plan to have business users develop processes or just developers. There are an increasing number of user-friendly BPM solutions on the market that are accessible enough for everyday users and do not require months of training or development knowledge. Put these on your radar if ease of use is important.

Taking off: starting your first BPM project

Now that you have selected some initial processes and the right BPM solution, it is time to embark on your first BPM project. A good idea is to start with “quick wins." These are your processes that have:

  • High ROI with a low risk to the business
  • Well-defined steps that are feasible for change and automation
  • Buy-in from stakeholders and business owners
  • Demonstrable business benefit in rapid timescales
  • Minimal complexity

It is also smart to adopt an agile approach to development, focusing on quick deployments that constantly evolve and improve according to lessons learned and changing conditions. Agile methodology can help you get the project off the ground faster, with an upward trajectory.

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Once you have a vision for your process change initiative, a consensus on the scope of work and vendor, and defined roles, you can start getting your hands dirty and really begin to roll out your BPM project. You can break the overall project up into the following stages:

1. Requirements gathering – This is where you pull together business requirements so that the development team can design a process. Pay careful attention to making sure you capture enough details. During this stage, you can ensure that the agreed scope of work for the first iteration meets expectations and is agreeable between all end users and stakeholders.

2. Envisioning – The envisioning stage involves a workshop focused on identifying and prioritizing strategic business objectives, related processes, and the metrics used to measure the identified processes. Using this information, it is possible to identify, quantify, and discuss the quick-win processes that will form the basis of your first BPM proof of concept (PoC).

3. Discovery – Once you identify good “candidate" processes, a discovery workshop ensures that you will be able to capture the business and functional requirements in a structured manner. This workshop helps you make sure that you consider all perspectives when compiling the business case.

4. Estimation – In the estimation stage, you approximate the work involved with each process. This is important for understanding the size of the project, as well as prioritizing processes according to their importance.

5. Construction and design – A process design is required for every piece of development. A design helps developers ensure they take into full account all business requirements in the new process model.

6. Designing workflows – Having gathered the business requirements, you can then define the process in detail for implementation stages. Getting this wrong will negatively impact project delivery and business user expectation.

7. Development – Your development team should work hand in hand with SMEs and BPM experts to understand the high-level business requirements and finer, technical details. Once some functionality has been developed, the team can then look to the end users for approval. With any feedback, the team can then adapt the design as needed to fit the users' needs and expectations.

8. Sprints – Progress with development is achieved in “sprints" – short, iterative rounds of work that help break down larger, complex projects. During each sprint, conduct daily meetings attended by all team members. At the end of each sprint, hold a retrospective meeting to review progress and make improvements for the next sprint.

9. Testing and deployment – With everything fully designed and developed, you are ready to see all of your effort put into action. But before you fully deploy the solution across your business, you will likely have to do some testing and fine-tuning.

Congratulations! You have made it through the first phase of your BPM initiative. Keep in mind that you should continue to monitor the processes from this first phase and use the feedback for continuous improvement. There will surely be other processes ripe for improvement through BPM in subsequent phases. Your journey is not over. It is only beginning.