Admit it: you still use Post-it notes, email chains or spreadsheets to track project assignments and business processes. Despite the explosion in cloud-based project management software, many startups, and small business owners still "do things on the fly" -- figuring out processes as they go. As a small business owner myself, I'm certainly guilty of relying on ad-hoc solutions as issues arise, rather than taking the time to document processes in advance. When you're a department of one, it's easy to get away with this or supplement your current processes with the occasional productivity hack. But if you want your business to scale, you need to not only establish clear processes but also optimize these processes. That's where business process management, or BPM for short, comes into play.
What is Business Process Management?
Business process management is the "modeling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimization of business activity flows" to maximize the impact of inputs (time, money, resources, etc.) by optimizing outputs. Practically speaking, this means evaluating the current processes your business has in place and then identifying opportunities to improve performance outcomes.
For example, invoicing and contracts are two of the most common opportunities for BPM improvement. Reducing paperwork and utilizing remote workers can streamline the process by bringing new efficiency to the system and reducing overhead expenditures.
Think about why a quick service restaurant like McDonald's operates so efficiently: every employee is part of a well-oiled machine following the same documented processes regardless of a franchise location, management teams, or franchise ownership.
According to the Cleanify blog on why McDonald"s franchises are efficient because of BPM, "Everything has a system and a process. They tell you exactly how to pick up a bag of French fries and hand it to a customer. It is a very specific way, and if you do it wrong, you are corrected by a manager. This is why they're so successful. They have a reason behind everything they do."
But there's more to BPM than just ensuring your French fry order is ready faster. The perception of BPM's importance is rising. There's a growing belief among large organizations that BPM should be sponsored at a senior level. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents believe that BPM should be treated as a C-level concern. Decision makers in business are also finding that BPM offers a systematic approach through which a firm's business processes become better, providing a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace.
When processes change, they influence how employees interact with business information and with others. BPM can synchronize these business processes with customer needs and aid business decision makers with their planning, monitoring, measurement, and deployment of company resources as needed. When BPM is applied correctly, it enhances productivity, decreases costs and keeps errors to a minimum. However, the term "properly" cannot be stressed enough. If BPM is to exert any meaningful effect, it needs to be understood fully by all parties.
Improving ROI and Business Value
Companies that implement BPM benefit from as much as a 41 percent increase in ROI within one year, according to AIIM research. Other benefits include better routing to and between persons (62 percent), fewer review and approval cycles (33 percent), and greater routing and organizational agility between processes (42 percent).
Bringing BPM to Your Small Business
Ready to bring codified processes to your business or streamline existing ones while supercharging your ROI? Increasingly, companies of all sizes -- including startups and small businesses -- are acknowledging that BPM is critical for improving efficiencies, reducing waste and boosting their bottom line. Getting started can feel a bit daunting, however. Here's how to take the plunge:
- Start with what you have. Already have a few processes outlined? Great! Start building from there. Are all your processes just "in your head"? That's okay, too. Over the course of a typical business day, start writing down everything you do. Soon, you'll start to notice process patterns emerging, as well as common bottlenecks.
- Don't assume automation will fix all your problems. Yes, automating common processes can save you time and money, but only if the processes you have in place are effective. A bad process will not improve via automation.
- Root out waste. Look for the root cause of the business problem to discover and nullify inefficiencies.
- Assess what you have. Log your current BPM capabilities and note what is missing regarding requirements, so you only invest in missing technologies and avoiding unnecessary duplication.
- Start with business needs and build out. Track the business requirements and use them to build your functional requirements accordingly. Use functional needs to develop technical requirements and assign these to your existing technology sets.
- Go mobile. Investigate if mobile and cloud technologies, including mobile apps, may provide solutions for your present needs and help stakeholders and remote staff in your processes. Take the time before implementing these technologies to understand how they will align with your current enterprise applications. Remember, BPM can also play the role of the integrating mechanism.
- Build in real-time optimization. Adopt an ongoing improvement program that will continuously monitor and optimize changes in real time. BPM isn't a "one and done" project. Successful BPM requires an ongoing, cross-functional effort from all stakeholders.
BPM empowers flexibility, versatility, and adaption within organizations of all sizes, including small businesses. Sure, you may not run a giant fast food empire like McDonald's, but that's no reason to avoid codifying and streamlining your processes. Your bottom line will thank you.