Process Management 101
For a moment, imagine that you have to show someone how every process in your company works within 24 hours. Can you do it?
Those who said yes probably have one of two things: Incredible luck or well-structured processes. But what is a process? And why do you need to manage them if there’s nothing wrong?
To start, a process is a group of related tasks that serve to achieve a final goal. Some examples include:
- Training a new employee
- Sending out an email newsletter
- Hiring outside contractors
- Writing a press release
- Adding new leads to your CRM
Chances are, if there’s nothing inherently wrong with your processes, you won’t even think of them. However, many only receive updates when something goes catastrophically wrong. Thankfully, many companies do not get to this point before making changes to their existing flows.
Good process management lets you visualize your business’s activities as they already are and then make changes before disaster strikes. Even more, once you’ve documented your processes, you can perform and optimize them more efficiently.
What is business process management?
Business process management is a term used to describe the documentation, analysis, optimization, and automation of a company’s processes. While business process management does not inherently involve technology, many businesses opt to use it in some part of their process. In fact, there are tech options for people of all skill levels, and they all have significant advantages over manual methods.
The ultimate goal is to align your business’s processes with your overall strategy. For example, if you provide solutions to your clients in half the time of your competitors, you want to make sure that you deliver those results. If you can give those even faster, then the data collected in your process documentation can show exactly what results you can achieve.
The processes involved in BPM can follow one set path every time, like driving the same way to the supermarket every day, or they can be variable and depend on several different triggers, like choosing to take a different route if there’s traffic. Either process should involve the framework for continuous testing and improvement. For example, you could add a method to track when you left and when you arrived.
What ISN’T business process management?
To understand what business process management is, it’s equally important to understand what it is not. The closest relative to process management is project management. What’s the difference between a process and a project? The difference is the frequency. A project only happens once and is a completely unique process. Processes are sets of tasks that occur multiple times, even if they have different variables. In either case, processes get documented with all of their variables, so the next step is always evident.
Another essential point to mention is that your processes must hold up no matter what, not only when it’s convenient to use them. Is your team (including management) using techniques the way they were designed, even when under stress? If not, there may be issues with the processes themselves or with your team’s buy-in.
The origins of process management
Project management is no new concept. In fact, the earliest example of someone using BPM was documented in 1776.
A Scottish economist named Adam Smith first described the concept of business process management as a way to think through how a task is completed and find ways to improve how it’s performed. He explained the concept with an example of a pin factory in which 18 different people collaborate to make each pin.
As he described it, one would draw out the wire, another would straighten it, the next would cut it, the following would sharpen it, then the following people would grind it at the top to fit with the head, and two or three steps would create the head itself. The next steps led to 18 people taking part in the making of each pin. However, it led to an increase in efficiency of 24,000%.
What are the different types of processes?
Business processes fall into three different categories; management, operational, and supporting processes. What differentiates them is who takes part in the operations, what part of the business they serve, and their ultimate goals.
Management processes involve directing teams in the most efficient way possible to accomplish a given goal. For example, a management process may tell an upper manager how to set deadlines and assign tasks for a product launch. They tend to be more flexible than operational and supporting tasks and focus on directing the company’s overall efforts.
Operational processes are the core tasks of your company’s day-to-day routine. For instance, a marketing agency’s operational processes may include creating content for a client’s Twitter page or writing a blog post for their website. These processes need to be detailed since your business’s success depends on their reliability. When done right, these tasks are the workhorses that drive a company’s growth.
Supporting processes do what they sound like-they support the other functions. These include hiring new employees, addressing technical problems, and providing support to your clients. Though these don’t necessarily drive growth themselves, they back up your other processes and improve the experience of both your employees and your clients. This means lower turnover rates for your company and higher customer satisfaction.
What are the benefits of business process management?
Here’s a rhetorical question: How can you make improvements if you don’t know what to improve?
Both small and large businesses fall victim to the idea that just because something works, it doesn’t need to be changed. No company ever got ahead by staying the same. In fact, those who change BEFORE it’s necessary to achieve the best outcomes.
Business process management has two main benefits; saving time and increasing efficiency. First, when the options are clear, individuals spend less time completing their tasks. Additionally, standardized processes lead to fewer errors. This ultimately means that they will spend less time correcting mistakes, and that time can then go to new projects that grow the business.
When processes are completed the same way every time they’re performed, you can collect data to improve your current flows. For example, if a clothing retailer tracks how long it takes after an order is placed for it to ship and arrive at the customer’s house, they can see if any process takes longer than expected and find out why. Then, they can improve that piece of the process and provide an overall better customer experience.
If your company sells software, you can track how long prospects spend in each part of your sales process and see if they drop off at any particular stage. Then, you can find out why by examining the reasons given and giving new leads what the old ones had lacked. This may be additional material for the decision-making stage, more responsive sales representatives, or more tailored demos of your software.
When you improve your company’s internal processes, your overall customer service improves. Why is this? When your team uses a reliable and efficient flow, they consistently provide a high-quality experience to your clients.
Another benefit of proper process management is that you can plan for theoretical situations that haven’t happened yet. For example, what if you wanted to perform the same task with half the time that it currently takes? Or, what if you wanted to do it with only 80% of your current budget?
A well-documented process would let you closely examine which parts of each function can be simplified, automated, or eliminated. Data from your current processes can give you an idea of how the final results will look and eliminate unnecessary risk before putting a new procedure into place.
Who is involved in managing business processes?
Successful business process management needs buy-in from your entire team. Though it may be tempting only to involve high-level executives and managers, every team member who will use these processes must understand how they work. Many project management methods, such as Agile, Scrum, and Lean, can be used when designing these procedures.
Involvement from the whole team is vital for a few different reasons. One, if you document processes without consulting the people who perform them every day, you’re missing out on valuable information and risking missing pieces in your description of the task.
Additionally, if a proposed method is not practical for the people executing it, implementing it without feedback will almost certainly result in problems. Why is this? For a moment, think about everything that you do on a given day. Now, think about what another person watching you might notice that you may miss.
For example, think about a medical billing company asking a claims specialist to work one account every fifteen minutes. Without understanding how long it takes to process complicated accounts, you can expect the time limit to increase quality errors and incentivize them to work only on more straightforward accounts.
For this reason, many teams bring on a business process consultant or a fractional chief operating officer to document and improve their flows. A fresh pair of eyes will pick out crucial parts of your routine that members of your team may not even notice.
Additionally, reluctance from team members to admit what is going wrong is not uncommon. Some individuals may worry about retaliation when they have to communicate their department’s inefficiencies to their higher-ups. This is why it’s crucial to bring in an unbiased individual to help guide the company as a whole. With the right tools, mindset, and key players, proper business process management sets up a business for stable, dependable growth.
How do you get started with process management?
If you’ve noticed your company’s need for better processes, you don’t have to wait for the whole team to be on board. You can start in small ways with your tasks or department and demonstrate the value to those who need to see it most. Words are cheap. Results are what truly matter.
Let’s look at this from the view of a social media manager. They know they’re spending hours on their process and want to encourage their higher-ups to find a more efficient way to create and post content on their business’s three social media platforms.
Their past efforts to discuss new methods found resistance from management, often justified with the perceived lack of resources. However, without management’s understanding of the process itself and what is holding them back, of course, they would be reluctant to try something new. If they don’t understand the value of a new method, they will stick with the safer option of a process that works, even if just for now.
The first step to making a change is documenting the current process. The social media manager notes that because the company is using a free plan with their posting software, they are limited to scheduling 30 posts. With ten posts allocated to each platform, they can only schedule ten days in advance. Additionally, they work in a niche industry where relevant content is difficult to find. Each time they search for a new blog article or video to share, they read or watch the entire piece before deciding if it’s relevant. This leads to hours spent evaluating content that doesn’t even make it to the company’s page.
After writing out the steps to complete their social media management tasks, the social media manager visualizes their current process, encompassing much more depth than a conversation. Now that they can see this process, they can test new variables.
For example, if ten hours are spent gathering and posting content per week, they could see how much time can be saved using an RSS feed aggregator to display blogs from websites with more relevant content. Then, they could evaluate different software with bulk scheduling options, allowing them to post months of content at a time. When looking at the cost of each hour spent posting content with the current method versus the cost and savings of better software, the social media manager and their higher-ups can make the wiser decision for their company.
Good process management is the backbone of a successful company. Due to the wealth of resources available, companies of all sizes can find the methodologies, software, and experts to help them succeed. For those that currently feel the effects of bad processes, the choice to improve is easy. Those that understand the benefits can also make the change before feeling the adverse effects. If you’re ready to see more ways your business can improve, learn what a strategy consultant looks for when helping a client’s business grow.