Business Process Management (BPM): Illustrated & Explained

BPM means to identify, evaluate, and optimize individual processes in order to meet business goals. Learn more about a common BPM framework.

What is BPM?

What is BPM?

Business process management (BPM) refers to the work of identifying, evaluating, and optimizing individual processes in order to achieve business goals. BPM initiatives usually aim to improve a product, customer experience, or operational efficiency.

According to BPM experts John Jeston and Johan Nelis, business process management is the “achievement of an organization’s objectives through the improvement, management, and control of essential business processes.”

BPM definition: more context

The term “business process management” has been used in a few different ways over the years, including as a label for a range of software products that support BPM, but which are not in themselves BPM.

At the same time, some see BPM as simply the most recent spin on process management. Its predecessors include total quality management (TQM), business process reengineering (BPR), and enterprise resource planning (ERP).

This history has created some ambiguity around what BPM really is. To help clarify, keep in mind the following:

  • BPM is complex. It involves assessing and coordinating all the people, inputs, outputs, information, workflows, and technology that make up a process and produce a particular outcome. Be wary of any resources or solutions that oversimplify BPM.

  • BPM often relies on new technologies or software to improve processes, but BPM is not the technology itself. BPM ≠ BPM software.

  • BPM requires the vision to plan and improve processes, but it also depends on the the ability to implement necessary changes. While analysis and planning are important aspects of BPM, it’s the management part that’s often the most difficult to carry out.

  • BPM often involves automation, but only when automation makes sense and it helps achieve a business goal. While tasks, workflows, and processes can be automated, BPM does not necessarily have to involve automation. Automation that plays a role in BPM strategy is usually referred to as “business process automation” or BPA.
See how workflow automation harmonizes processes and improves collaborationLearn more

Business process management components

Although BPM can vary in terms of its overall complexity, the basic components of any BPM strategy remain the same. BPM involves processes, people, and technology.

ProcessesThe tasks and workflows that build the process and produce an outcome.
Understanding the end-to-end process and how it contributes to overall business strategy is key.
PeopleEveryone who contributes to or is affected by the process, including employees with their “hands on the work,” managers, and customers.
TechnologySoftware, systems, and tools that enable the process. This may include a wide range of apps, an automation platform, or BPM software.

7 Phases of BPM

There is no single right way to undertake business process management, but it is possible to build a common framework that’s useful for most organizations.

According to Gartner, BPM is “a discipline that uses various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve, and optimize business processes.” Gartner also provides a framework for BPM:

  • Discovery
  • Modeling 
  • Analysis
  • Measurement
  • Improvement
  • Optimization

What Gartner’s definition doesn’t emphasize is the importance of strategy in any BPM initiative. With a BPM strategy, teams are able to better understand how the investment of time and money into process improvement helps the organization meet its objectives.

Below is an example BPM framework that includes this strategic component, as well as a description of each phase. It draws on both the Gartner definition and the approach developed byJohn Jeston and Johan Nelis.

PhaseNameFocus
1StrategizeWhat is the end goal of BPM? 
What resources are available for implementation? 
What is the timeframe? 
Who will manage the project? 
How will success be determined or measured? 
What is the impact of changes on employees and customers?
2Discover & DesignWhat is the end-to-end process that leads to the target outcome? 
Which people, systems, and workflows contribute to the process? 
What isn’t working? 
How can the process be improved?
3InnovateWhat does the to-be process look like? 
What changes need to be made to produce the desired outcome? 
Which systems and workflows within the process should be modified?
Which elements of the process can be automated?
4ExecuteImplement changes to workflows
Modify systems, software, and tools
Test the changes
5MonitorMeasure the new processes effectiveness, its impact on users and customers, and determine whether or not it meets target KPIs or metrics.
6OptimizeIf the new process model does not meet expectations, identify and implement opportunities for improvement. Continue to reassess optimization at regular intervals.
7SustainMake sure the new process has the resources and management to maintain its success in the long term. Choose a point in time to assess its performance and determine if the process is working as planned.

BPM vs. other terms

BPM is one approach to solving a universal business problem: ineffective processes that fail to produce desired outcomes. Other methods that aim to achieve process improvement include Six Sigma, Business Process Reengineering (BPR), and Lean Management.

These alternate methods for process improvement are distinct from BPM, but all share the same basic goal: exert more control over business processes in order to increase their efficiency and effectiveness.

Two other terms that are closely related to — and sometimes confused with — BPM deserve a quick review. These are “digital transformation” and “business process automation.”

Digital transformation

“Digital transformation” refers to the use of technology to modernize, modify, or improve existing business processes, or to create processes that are entirely new. Digital transformation is similar to BPM in that both strategies aim to improve processes. However, they differ in the degree to which each relies on technology to accomplish this goal.

BPM isn’t always spurred by the emergence of new technology, nor does BPM require changes to existing technology in order to be effective. In fact, a great deal of BPM can be accomplished without any changes to existing tools or software. For example, rerouting service requests to avoid bottlenecks or reconfiguring production lines to improve working conditions are examples of how BPM can improve processes without introducing new technology.

Digital transformation, on the other hand, is a path to process improvement that is always driven by the introduction or adoption of new technology. Examples include digitizing written records to speed up processing, using chatbots or self-service functions to improve customer and employee experiences, and automating workflows to improve employee productivity.

One final difference between BPM and digital transformation is scope. BPM initiatives are usually focused on specific process improvement. Digital transformation efforts may be much more expansive and affect more than one process at a time.

Business process automation

Although business process management is a broad strategy for controlling and improving processes, business process automation (BPA) is a specific tactic that may or may not play a role in a BPM initiative. BPA uses software and apps to reduce the amount of manual or repetitive work that occurs in a given business process.

For example, HR teams that receive and process a high volume of employee requests may automate the process in whole or in part. These requests can be captured from a form or email, converted into a request record, and then routed to the appropriate person for review. Receipt confirmation, status updates, and other notifications in the workflow can also be automated.

Even though BPA doesn’t necessarily play a role in BPM initiatives, organizations that are analyzing their processes often uncover opportunities to automate certain elements to improve user experiences, increase speed, or enhance efficiency. Over the past few years, it’s become clear that human-centered automation frees up a great deal of time (for most U.S. jobs about 12 hours a week) that can then be used for more meaningful, impactful work.

See how Pipefy builds exceptional employee experiences through HR automationLearn more

BPM software

The terms “BPM software” and “BMP suites” have sometimes been used interchangeably with “BPM.” This has led to some confusion as to whether BPM is itself a type of product or technology. 

BPM is a strategy for improving processes. 

BPM software is a tool that may be used to accomplish BPM. 

Different types of software can be used within a BPM initiative, and they vary widely in terms of their complexity and features. Some are marketed as “BPM software.” Others are not. 

Since no two BPM initiatives are the same and process complexity varies widely, the type of software used will vary. For organizations that see value in using BPM software, choices include BPM suites as well as process/workflow automation tools. In many cases, a workflow automation tool can provide most (if not all) of the features needed for BPM. One benefit of using workflow automation software is that it’s more cost effective since it doesn’t include the expensive add-ons that many companies won’t use. 

BPM software features

The right software, suite, or tool option for your organization will depend on the complexity of the workflows, budget, and scope of the BPM project. 

The software features that are most relevant for BPM include a visual interface for mapping and modifying processes, as well as reporting options that track KPIs and other metrics. Automation capabilities that eliminate high-volume, repetitive work are also useful in most BPM projects.

automation features
Popular BPM software features

Future of BPM

Every business creates processes that help it achieve its goals. In order for those processes to remain effective, they must be monitored, assessed, orchestrated, and improved. This is especially true anytime a new technology (or competitor) emerges. 

Whether it’s called “business process management” or by some other name, BPM will continue to play a critical role in business strategy for the foreseeable future. For some organizations, BPM will continue as its own initiative. For others, BPM may be part of a broader digital transformation strategy.

In either case, what matters most is that organizations find and use the tools that make the most sense for the complexity and scale of their particular business processes. For some, that will look like conventional BPM software. Others will find that workflow automation software provides the features and capabilities they need to orchestrate and optimize all of their business processes. 

See how Pipefy unlocks the door to digital transformation through scalable process managementWhy Pipefy?