This is a big blog post about Business Process Management (BPM) software.
If I’ve succeeded in doing what I set out to do, this article should provide pretty much everything you could ever need to know about BPM software.
At its core, the article is built around the following pillars of BPM software:
- BPM basics: The idea behind it
- BPM in practice: How to use it
- A glossary of BPM terms
- A list of top BPM software
- Use cases of BPM software
- Using Process Street for BPM
I have tried to distil the information in this article to only the most crucial elements, and many sections have been abbreviated where they deserve entire articles to themselves!
Thankfully, where necessary I have provided links to supporting material where these concepts are expanded upon, should you be interested in delving deeper.
So, this article is about BPM software. What’s the current outlook on BPM as a whole?
Let’s begin with some statistics to whet your appetite:
According to this report:
- The global BPM market accounted for $7.34 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.5% to hit $26.76 billion by 2026.
- Increased call for cost efficiency and a demand for automation to lower product or service costs are the driving forces of BPM market growth.
- Significant growth has been forecast in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sectors, which are adopting BPM solutions for process improvements in order to aid institutions in targeting and serving customers better.
- North America has the largest market share growth thanks to a large number of BPM vendors such as Pega, IBM and Oracle that are based in the US.
How great, I hear you mutter, but what about a really basic introduction to business process management?
We’ll get to that, but first, a handy list of the top BPM software, so those of you who’d just skim right over the basics can have at it:
Top BPM software
We’ll expand on this list and our reasons further down the article.
Now that that’s over and done with, we can begin by easing ourselves into the basics of BPM.
BPM basics: The idea behind it
In a nutshell, business process management is the ways a company creates, analyzes, and updates all of the processes that drive work in the business.
Different departments within a company are responsible for following and maintaining their own processes. There may be a dozen or more core processes that each department handles.
With business process management, the idea is to take a step back and look at all of the different processes, from every perspective; both as a whole and as individual processes. By analyzing the current state of the processes being used, areas of improvement can be identified in order to achieve a more efficient and effective organization.
What is BPM?
Business process management = creating and optimizing the ideal plans to achieve your business goals.
It’s not simply a technology, or a one time thing. You don’t ever consider your processes ‘fully managed’ or optimized. BPM is a continuous process: whether or not someone in the company has it in their job title or description, business processes are in a constant state of flux. BPM is constantly tweaking and challenging current operations.
In short, BPM is a methodology summed up by the idea of running an organization via processes.
This methodology differs depending on whether you’re a big or small organization, but BPM is equally useful for organizations at all scales. What’s different is the kind of BPM solution required to solve different kinds of problems faced at different scales.
Why use BPM?
When considering why you might want to use BPM, the following four core business drivers are common motivators for the adoption of BPM.
Improving a process or sub-process
Companies use BPM to improve processes.
These are not usually complete process frameworks or workflows, but sub-processes within a workflow. In these cases, BPM is able to find solutions faster. This also serves as a pilot to a first experience with BPM.
BPM(S) for Continuous Process Improvement (CPI)
BPM and Continuous Process Improvement methodologies like Lean, Six Sigma, SCOR, TQM, and so on are extremely compatible, and many companies who have embarked on a CPI initiative implement a business process management suite (BPMS) as the technology companion and enabler to their CPI program.
BPM for Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA)
Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) are being used with services for next-generation integration. BPM directly leverages SOA, and together the combined business process modeling suite is a higher-value system.
BPM, as the combination of BPM technology and CPI methods, represents the most
complete, comprehensive, and holistic framework for enacting strategic business transformation.
For example, let’s take a look at a couple of contrasting examples: a call center, and industrial engineering.
Example: BPM in a call center
Inside of a call center, processes are useful for doing things like streamlining the actual conversations (scripted) for outbound and inbound support calls, and simple tasks like monthly manager 1-on-1s.
BPM here can help to:
- Improve Customer Service – BPM bridges systems and functional units to help organizations offer more consistent, responsive customer service.
- Increased Productivity – BPM helps organizations streamline processes, reducing bottlenecks, by focusing resources on more productive activities positively impacting the efficiency of call center operations.
- Improved Employee Satisfaction – BPM gives managers and employees a view into core processes, enabling faster problem resolution through providing access to the information required.
Example: BPM in industrial engineering
For industrial engineering, processes could be used for many similar processes, such as equivalent 1-on-1 meetings, but more importantly they would be used to standardize important parameters of production, such as the same number of processes performed per hour, carried out with minimal human input.
With the real-time data analytics churned out by the software, you can deliver more accurate answers to suppliers and clients, make timely decisions, and perform smarter actions.
Key principles of BPM
Owning your processes
Ownership of processes is crucial to BPM. Processes should be owned by people, and those people in turn responsible for maintaining and optimizing them. This also makes sure the processes actually get used.
The best people to be in charge of creating and maintaining their own processes are those responsible for doing the tasks. As a writer at Process Street, part of my responsibility is to maintain the writing and editing processes with feedback and constructive discussion with the rest of the writing team. Our support team takes care of the support processes, and anyone else who uses these processes can make edits and suggestions to optimize them, too.
Managing your processes collaboratively
When you create and manage processes for just yourself, it’s easy to become complacent. Without others to enforce process adherence, or provide feedback for existing processes, you might not bother updating, or even using an old process because you know what it means and it doesn’t matter.
But here’s the thing: when that happens, you become the bottleneck.
You become the person slowing everything down with emails asking for clarification and wondering why your process talks about inserting the wireless dongle and logging onto Lotus Notes.
This is why you should make effort to keep your processes transparent. You should want other people to use them, offer their feedback and apply updates. After all, that’s how you improve them.
Zapier’s Wade Foster — who often talks deeply about processes — lets anyone edit a process in the company because it keeps the processes current and available, and promotes a culture of openness.
“The purpose of a document is the dissemination of knowledge. When access is restricted, it sends a message that the information is only relevant to a certain group of people. Remember that these documents are intended to reach readers and employees. Publish documents on a platform where your team will see them daily. […] Process documents are for the company to use, so feedback and new input can be incorporated to make them more effective.” — Wade Foster
When to use BPM
Knowing when to use BPM, and what approaches are most suitable for you is crucial in making sure you get the most out of your BPM software and methodologies.
Well, the first step is to address some important questions that will help narrow down your options. They are the following:
- What are your business goals?
- What’s your budget?
- What’s the size of your team?
- What are the top 3-5 problems you are hoping to solve with workflow software?
- Which features are you most in need of/interested in?
- Have you defined/mapped out your processes or are you starting from scratch?
- Where do you plan to be 12 months from now? (growth/roadmap etc.)
With all of this information clearly stated in a document, you can begin to answer the question of which workflow management software is the best fit for you.
Aligning BPM with business goals
Consider your overall business goals.
“Business goals” is another way of saying key performance indicators (KPIs), or where you want to be 6-12 months from now.
In order to align BPM with your personal business goals , you need to identify the KPI you’re trying to improve.
For example, if you were trying to develop a process for improving CRO projects, you could make the success metric carry over into the net percentage lift per each week, for the rest of that week. The only way to know if you’ve successfully optimized the process is to look at the hard facts.
Using BPM for SOPs
Since the 2015 revision of the ISO 9001 specification, it’s never been easier to make your SOPs highly actionable, and even automated using the power of BPM software.
With the right kind of BPM software, you can easily achieve ISO compliance and make sure your SOPs allow you to:
- Reduce human error
- Lower costs across the board
- Save time and money in general
- Guarantee compliance
- Achieve consistent success
- Support good workflows
- Maintain and manage quality
- Assign different tasks within a workflow
- Actually use them
Properly implemented BPM allows you to:
- Increase revenue
- Reduce costs
- Achieve compliance
- Mitigate risks
- Improve productivity
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Gain competitive advantage
- Change and scale your processes with agility
BPM in practice: How to use it
In practice, the application of BPM can be broken down into the following sections:
- Process discovery
- Process creation
- Process implementation
- Process analysis
- Process improvement
There are many different ways to do each of the steps listed above, but I have attempted to present an overview of a wide range of proven methods for you to select from.
The following sections will unpack various different approaches to each of the steps above, along the way to a full implementation of BPM.
If you want to investigate further into a particular method, links will be provided for more in-depth reading in their respective sections.
The first step, once you’ve decided you want to utilize BPM, is to figure out what processes you’re already using within your company.
Once such technique for process discovery is known as process mining, which is basically a data driven way to create, understand, and optimize your processes.
Automated Business Process Discovery
Automated Business Process Discovery is the technical term for what people commonly refer to as process mining. However, with process mining as a concept having been used for a range of different use cases, Automated Business Process Discovery can be thought of as a sub-section of process mining.
ABPD is about following event logs to discover what people are doing and then defining a process around the insight gained from these observations.
For example, a lot of the software I’m going to mention integrates with Salesforce. Salesforce keeps a record of everything the users do in the app. ABPD would look at all that information and then automatically lay it all out for you in the form of a process.
Remember, finding out what people are doing isn’t really the point. The point is what you can do when you know what people are doing. In the case of ABPD, the knowledge of what a person is doing is then used to construct or document a process.
This might be used by a company that wants to build out its standard operating procedures, or as a first step towards Agile ISO. Writing standard operating procedures in a large company which doesn’t yet have them defined is a time intensive task which needs input from a huge number of stakeholders.
Needless to say, it takes a very long time.
This is where process mining approaches like ABPD come into play.
By utilizing software able to track event logs, the company can automatically generate processes and process maps of pretty much the whole organization.
For certain roles it might need buy in from the team and some members may need to record their activities more than normal, but in general the process discovery is non-disruptive and can be done relatively quickly without too much labor commitments.
This is the classic element of process mining, and is super useful for existing teams who want to transition over to ISO standards or business process management.
Muda: Finding waste in your business
Alongside the intention to fully document all processes in use at any given time, is the intention to identify, optimize, and/or eliminate wasteful and inefficient processes.
The specific concept we’re tackling is muda. Muda translates roughly as waste, and refers to the inefficiencies within processes which you can seek to reduce or eliminate entirely.
As Rene T. Domingo outlines in his paper Identifying and Eliminating The Seven Wastes or Muda for the Asian Institute of Management:
The elimination of waste is the primary goal of any lean system. In effect, lean declares war on waste – any waste. Waste or muda is anything that does not have value or does not add value. Waste is something the customer will not pay for.
The original 7 forms of muda as defined by Taiichi Ohno are as follows:
- Waste of overproduction (largest waste)
- Waste of time on hand (waiting)
- Waste of transportation
- Waste of processing itself
- Waste of stock at hand
- Waste of movement
- Waste of making defective products
Problems and goals statement
A problem statement should quantitatively describe the pain in the current process.
It is an attempt to communicate the purpose of the process and to help us understand how our actions will relate directly to the end results. This should not look to define the solution, but instead focus on the following aspects:
- What is the pain point?
- Where is it hurting?
- When has it been hurting? Is it long term or short?
- What is the extent of the pain?
A goal statement defines the improvement the team is seeking to accomplish. It will typically start with a verb. Try not to presume a cause or include any kind of solution. There should be a deadline, though. It should be actionable, with a clearly defined focus.
In defining the goal statement, you should clearly define what your ultimate goals will be from the process improvement work we undertake.
This might be identifying something simple like a need to increase output per hour from 100 units to 200 units. Or it might be improving clearly measurable rates of customer satisfaction or other similar quantifiable variables. In a pure Six Sigma approach, your goal would be to improve your Sigma baseline and reduce whatever your defined defects are – but we’ll come to all that later.
The goal statement should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound.
Record the steps of your process.
How you do this doesn’t matter in principle. You can do this on paper with notes as you go from step to step or task to task, if you want.
But, if you want to save yourself the time and make it easier for yourself and anyone else who will need to interact with the process in the future, you might want to consider creating a template in Process Street.
Here are some informal guidelines (tried and tested by us at Process Street) for process creation, to ensure you get the most out of your processes, with a focus on usability and clarity from the start.
Golden guidelines for process creation
When you’re writing processes, consider these guidelines as best practices:
- Keep things brief, without sacrificing clarity
- Use simple, unambiguous language without jargon
- Begin each step with a clearly actionable command
- Make sure each task is a single action (not too complicated)
Below are 16 more specific steps that can function as guidelines for writing your processes. Originally tailored for ISO 9001 standard framework, they are just as well-suited to writing processes for BPM:
- Understand how you will present your SOPs.
- Gather the relevant stakeholders.
- Work out your purpose.
- Determine the structure of your process.
- Prepare the scope of the procedure.
- Use a consistent style.
- Use correct notation, if applicable.
- Work through all the necessary steps of the process.
- Try to assess potential problems in the process.
- Determine metrics against which SOPs can be judged.
- Test the process.
- Send the process to superiors.
- Clarify the method of optimizing the process.
- Run a risk assessment on the process.
- Consider creating a flow diagram.
- Finalize and implement the SOPs.
For a more in-depth look at each of these steps, check out this article on writing standard operating procedures.
Transitioning to paperless
If you’re an old school paper-reliant business then you’re probably suffering all sorts of problems like confusing, poorly organized filing systems, as well as processes that are inefficient, even time-consuming and difficult to update.
Your customers will also suffer. Writing for McKinsey, Shahar Markovitch and Paul Willmott put it perfectly:
“Customers wouldn’t phrase it this way, but they are demanding from companies in many industries a radical overhaul of business processes. Intuitive interfaces, around-the-clock availability, real-time fulfillment, personalized treatment, global consistency, and zero errors—this is the world to which customers have become increasingly accustomed. It’s more than a superior user experience, however; when companies get it right, they can also offer more competitive prices because of lower costs, better operational controls, and less risk.”
You heard ’em. Time to improve. The first step in doing this is also the first step in many process improvement methodologies. It all starts with understanding what processes you’re currently using, distilling them to their most essential parts, and then building them out in some kind of BPM software.
The guidelines above can be used to quickly build out your processes, if you don’t already have them documented somewhere.
Here’s an example of a vehicle purchase process that appeared earlier in the article, written out in Process Street:
Each time this process needs to be run, whoever is in charge of the process can open up Process Street and simply run a checklist. The department head can tick off task two if it’s approved, and the whole process will be tracked automatically, from start to finish.
You can even add email templates into the task that can be sent off in one click to the right person:
And, like in the original where a certain member is assigned to the step, you can make sure that’s set up by adding assignees:
And when the time comes for updating it, you don’t need to fish out the tattered old document from beneath the reams of paper stashed in some cursed alcove, or load up on printer ink and run process updates around the office. You just need to edit the template, and changes will be applied to all future processes.
When a process is run — for example, when a new vehicle is purchased — it’s represented as a checklist, like this:
That allows you to run, assign and track every process you own — not just keep it sitting around in a filing cabinet, gathering dust and going out of date before it gets chucked out with the rest of the rubbish.
Agile vs Waterfall: Overview
Waterfall is known as the “traditional” approach, and it’s all about taking things slow and steady.
Under the Waterfall methodology, you’re minimizing risk, and aiming for one big outcome at the end – the result of careful planning of each and every task in all of your processes.
Agile, meanwhile, is all about getting things done, fast. You’ll be prioritizing hitting those quick check marks throughout a project. This approach encourages iteration and experimentation, with a focus on a quick delivery of your product. Under the Agile methodology, you’ll be learning a lot from trial and error, relying on customer involvement.
Agile: What is it suitable for?
What projects are the Agile methodology suitable for?
You might want to consider using the Agile methodology if:
- Your team is responsible for the whole process during the project, i.e., you’re working closely with your colleagues and employees.
- Your client is involved during each step of the project and communicates feedback accordingly.
- Your project has a limited scope in terms of requirements and defined goals.
These factors are usually more suited for SMBs and startups who can adapt and pivot on the go (e.g. software development, marketing agencies, freelancers, and so on).
Waterfall: What is it suitable for?
You should consider using the Waterfall methodology if:
- You’re working on a project with remote workers and/or clients with whom you don’t communicate frequently with.
- Projects with a small time-frame, time, and budget.
- Projects where the client isn’t hands-on involved in.
These factors are usually more suited for bigger enterprises whose finished product is usually its final version (e.g. medical, construction, food and other similar industries).
If you want a more in-depth look into the two methodologies, check out this article on Waterfall vs Agile.
Design for Six Sigma (DFSS)
Design for Six Sigma, or DFSS is basically using the principles of Six Sigma to design and create new processes and products. Usually, Six Sigma techniques focus on the improvement of existing processes, so that’s an important distinction to make.
For a quick introduction to Six Sigma, scroll down to the relevant section on process improvement, or check out this article.
There are two popular approaches to DFSS:
- Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify (DMADV)
- Identify, Design, Optimize, Validate (IDOV)
I appreciate that you may not be thrilled to be reading this many acronyms in such a short span of time, but hopefully you’ll see the value in understanding all of these different approaches. At the very least, one of them will likely apply to you and your business approach.
So, let’s break down some of these beastly acronyms.
DMADV is the process which people generally refer to when they talk about Design for Six Sigma; the two terms are sometimes used synonymously.
Despite being somewhat less common, you will see IDOV from time to time.
To begin with, DFSS isn’t a lean methodology.
In DFSS, you put in extra work and planning beforehand in order to make the first iteration of a product or process as good as it can be.
Quality One describe it as follows:
Multiple redesigns of a product are expensive and wasteful. It would be much more beneficial if the product met the actual needs and expectations of the customer, with a higher level of product quality the first time. Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) focuses on performing additional work up front to assure you fully understand the customer’s needs and expectations prior to design completion.
We advocate for lean approaches a lot at Process Street, but we also realize that if you already have a solid customer base you may not want to deliver them a rough, unfinished MVP.
Instead, you’d want to start with a quality offering and then iterate to a better product as time goes on.
The DMADV methodology is a process designed for just that: designing and delivering a quality product off-the-bat.
DMADV isn’t just about process design in the abstract, it is an organizational tool to use to assist different stakeholders within a company to come together to successfully complete the process design.
Six Sigma, after all, is not just about improving processes but improving organizations.
IDOV, which you may stumble across on your DFSS travels, has a lot of similarities to DMADV but focuses more on optimizing the process or product once it has already been designed rather than spending as much time and effort before the design process begins.
In practice, these processes can be essentially the same, depending on how they are executed. The acronym is broken down like so:
Difference between DFSS and DMAIC
DFSS is best for developing new products or processes whereas DMAIC is better for improving or optimizing existing processes.
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
In its most simple form, FMEA is a method for identifying potential problems and prioritizing them so that you can begin to tackle or mitigate them.
It is how you approach your process management from a worst-case-scenario mindset. The perfect job for a pessimist.
Failure Mode and Effects Analysis can also be seen referred to as:
- Potential Failure Modes and Effects Analysis
- Failure Modes
- Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA)
Let’s start with some basic terminology to put things into context.
- Failure modes – In any process, there is more than one way things can go wrong. Each of these ways you can think of are known as modes, according to FMEA. A failure mode could as simple as Bill from accounting is off ill and this creates a problem for the accounts receivable department. Or it could be some huge, multi-layered problem in a massive manufacturing plant operating with automated technology. The core concept is still the same – the way something can go wrong in the process is seen as a mode of failure; a failure mode.
- Effects analysis – This one is more straightforward. What are the effects observed when a process fails? Is it that Bill’s work gets delayed a day? Or does Darren have twice the workload that day to keep things on track? But what is the effect of either of those outcomes on the broader company performance? What if the extra workload on Darren causes him to make some errors in the rush? Darren’s a nice guy, but he’s only human. Analyzing the effects of the initial problem means following the path of causality and investigating each potential problem from there.
We’ve included a Process Street template below which you can run as a checklist every time you conduct a Failure Mode and Effect Analysis.
Implementing processes is all about getting a process to the point where it’s actionable, and then acting it out.
How to enforce processes
Here are some common problems faced when trying to enforce processes:
- Making sure processes are followed in the right order
- Making sure processes are followed within a specific time frame
- Making sure tasks are assigned to the right people
- Making sure certain information is collected at certain parts of a process
A big difficulty with process implementation is making sure processes are followed properly. If you have a process where a certain task needs to be completed within a specific time frame, how do you enforce that? BPM software makes it easy to ensure processes are implemented properly.
For example, in Process Street, stop tasks can be set on certain tasks to make sure a process is followed in a specific order.
By the same principle, dynamic due dates ensure tasks are completed within very specific and customizable time-frames. You can have dynamic due dates activate based on very specific criteria, such as only when the task before has been completed, or based on the start of the checklist, etc. All of these features serve to enforce processes the way they were supposed to be followed, and help minimize things like process failure and human error.
Another problem is making sure certain people are completing certain parts of a process. You might have a task half way through a blog post
production process that needs to be completed by the graphic designer. How do you make sure that person is allocated that task, without wasting time and creating additional work for everyone involved?
One solution is task assignments in Process Street. You can assign users and groups to individual tasks in your checklists, making it easy to see who is responsible for what task. The person assigned will be automatically notified and simply have to follow their assigned tasks as part of the checklist. Simple as that.
What about ensuring that necessary information is collected when it needs to be? The answer is having required form fields for storing information and data as part of certain tasks in a process. With Process Street, it’s easy to mark a certain form field as necessary before moving forward in a process.
Increasing buy-in from your team
A surefire way to increase team buy-in is to involve everyone on the team in the implementation process. Start simple and try out early iterations of a process as a team, and figure out what works (and what doesn’t).
There is of course more to it than just this.
Streamlining processes, and eliminating tedious work which doesn’t feel valuable can greatly contribute not only to company morale, but the widespread adoption of processes throughout the workplace.
This might take the form of a clearly actionable process, one that can involve assigning tasks to other team members, putting stop tasks in place to enforce actions, or using conditional logic to build flexible complex processes, keep sales reps on track even when circumstances or scenarios have more variables.
As Process Street CEO Vinay Patankar points out in this webinar on building a scalable sales process, one of the most effective ways to get reps to follow a process is to make it easier and better for them to follow it than not. This comes down to good process design over time as you iterate.
He points out that sales reps typically only spend 32% of their time selling! The rest is often spent on admin:
“If you can reduce the amount of admin that a rep has to do to complete that same process, they’re much more likely to adopt it and keep using it.” – Vinay Patankar, CEO at Process Street
It’s for this reason that we at Process Street have built in automation elements to our product, and continue to do so; including integrations with Zapier‘s library of over 1000+ other apps and webapps.
If you want to really dig deep into automating administration tasks and letting your sales reps focus on what they do best, then check out our ebook: The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation
The idea of a process-oriented culture is not something exclusive to process implementation; it underlies all stages of the BPM approach.
However, it is specifically important for process implementation and improvement.
Process implementation and improvement requires right kind of organizational culture to support it. Here are few key ingredients that you can consider while building your organization for better process improvement results:
- Focus on the customer
- Utilize data to drive BPM
- Facilitate a culture of collaboration
- Prioritize problem prevention over after-the-fact problem solving
- Create an atmosphere which strives for perfection, but tolerates (and makes the most of) failure
A company’s culture is the sum of its attitudes, policies, and personality. Some companies are strict, some allow for more leniency. Some depend on rigid hierarchies with many levels of management, while others encourage transparency and open communication between departments and positions. Workplace culture sets the tone for the work done, and can have a massive impact on productivity and happiness.
Adopting a process-oriented culture can also help to build employee accountability.
That’s because empowering your team to modify or create the processes they use gives a sense of ownership.
According to Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino:
“Giving [employees] ownership of ideas, a team of people, or a product can dramatically improve their sense of engagement in and happiness with their jobs, and their productivity as well”.
By collaborating with your team to develop processes based on their tested methods, you’re both helping to improve your team’s consistency and giving them ownership over the way they work.
An LRN study authored in 2014 found that businesses with employees that display a “high level of freedom” are 10-20 times more likely to outperform those with low freedom scores. Allowing the freedom to choose tools and processes gives employees ownership of their work. It makes them feel proud of the output, listened to, and like they’re working for a flexible company rather than a tyrannical one.
Combining a process-oriented culture with Agile ISO
By adopting a process-oriented culture, you position yourself to deploy principles of Agile ISO to achieve widespread ISO compliance and process standardization across your organization.
Agile ISO is about taking the boring rigidity of ISO standard operating procedures and replacing it with digital tools where process iterations can be rapid and work instructions can be created from the bottom up, not just from the top down.
This echoes the Agile vs Waterfall debate mentioned above, but this time Agile is about using software to achieve the fully developed process libraries where necessary, and also being able to quickly build new processes in collaboration with others while able to iterate them rapidly over time.
Some processes need planning out from the start in detail, others can just get started and form a process as experimentation continues and different stakeholders weigh in to determine what works and what doesn’t.
This standard operating procedure template is designed for you to use as a blueprint; a skeleton to flesh out and support your own QMS mini-manual. The placeholder text in this template provides instructions as to the kind of content you will need to include.
Below is an example of what the above template structure might look like once it’s completely filled in, using the fictional Brightstar Marketing company. Use it as a reference point for how to properly fill out and use your template.
A framework of widespread process adoption and accountability will also set you up for deployment of a Quality Management System throughout your organization.
Quality management systems function to align business operations with the goal of achieving a consistent and predictable standard of quality. But, if a QMS standard or record is erroneously published, traditionally rectifying that error (or simply improving on an existing QMS) is an incredibly slow and laborious process.
With Process Street, your QMS can be easily edited with new information and shared between interested parties so that each person can easily make changes as necessary, without the sluggish constraints of bureaucracy typical at this level of corporate regulation.
Learn more about implementing and improving your QMS with BPM software in my policy and procedure template article.
Process analysis is all about making sure things are happening as they should be.
This often involves taking a look at what has been achieved or not based on processes used, for example in a monthly review meeting, or using techniques like process modeling to build a high-level overview of process usage and effectiveness.
It’s a kind of problem solving, which always keeps key business goals in mind. Figuring out why certain goals haven’t been achieved, or why certain metrics were lower than expected.
Let’s look at a few techniques for process analysis.
Using business process mining for analysis
Another application of process mining is utilizing it for analysis; understanding how well a process is constructed and how well people are using it.
This relies on event logs collected during standard process mining techniques.
We can see from event logs certain information like how long it has taken a person to do a specific task. Perhaps it’s clear from looking at this that certain tasks could be done more quickly? Identifying the potential inefficiency within the log can lead you to go-see (genchi genbutsu) the potential inefficiency in real life to investigate and see whether it can be improved.
That’s a simple example, but the complexity of analysis you can go into depends largely on how much time and effort you want to put into analysis and the depth of data you can gather.
Check out our article on process mining for more details.
The 5 Whys
The 5 Whys is a technique used to better understand the cause-and-effect relationship of any given problem. It essentially relies on repeating the question “Why?” to figure out the root cause of a problem or defect.
Let’s look at an example.
Imagine a vehicle that won’t start (this is the problem we’re trying to solve).
- Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)
In theory you can continue questioning to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations is usually good enough. It’s important that the person asking the question avoids making assumptions and logic fallacy, and instead makes sure to diligently trace the chain of causality in clear, direct increments, one step at a time, from an effect to a root cause that still has some connection to the original problem.
In the example above, the fifth “why” is sufficient, because it clearly uncovers a broken piece of the process.
It also points to a process. This is one of the most important aspects in the 5 Why approach – the real root cause should point toward a process that is not working well or does not exist.
Untrained facilitators will often observe that answers seem to point towards classical answers such as not enough time, not enough investments, or not enough manpower. These answers may be true, but they aren’t things we can reasonably act on and ultimately change in our favor.
Therefore, instead of asking the question why?, ask why did the process fail?
This can be summed up with the phrase “people do not fail, processes do”.
Process mapping vs process modeling
What’s the difference? Well, you could say that process models are an extension of process maps, often “enhanced” in some way.
All that means is that process models are often created using software, enabling it to contain rich operational data, details regarding relationships to business goals, and adapt to change dynamically through various software integrations.
A process map, on the other hand, represents a static, linear sequence flow of tasks that aren’t necessarily concerned about other business processes or the environment as a whole, focusing instead on only one particular flow of activities. Think of it as a snapshot of how a process is currently executed, like a balance sheet is a snapshot of a company’s financial health.
“Business process mapping is the tool focused on documentation. It shows how work is done, not necessarily how it should be done. Business process modeling is more about in-depth analysis and optimizing inefficiencies and bottlenecks.” – Smartdraw
Therefore, we can say that process models are a sort of extension of process maps that offer greater potential for executing process improvement initiatives as the business grows and experiences unforeseen changes.
Process monitoring and tracking
It doesn’t matter if you’re using the most efficient software on the market, have an amazing team, or are taking every step to ensure you’re documenting and improving your methods to smooth out all the rough edges and smash those bottlenecks – you’ll still fail if you can’t track your processes.
Monitoring and tracking your processes is the only way to know for sure that your methods are being followed, that work really is being completed, and to have a clear view of the state of your business at any given time.
There’s an easy way to do this with Process Street.
If you’ve ever used a spreadsheet, think of an interactive version of that, except all of the information is automatically formatted based on your Process Street checklists.
It’s called the “Template Overview” tab, and you can use it to see what work has and hasn’t been completed by your team.
Similarly, our Inbox feature allows you to make task and process management as easy as working through a single list.
Now that you’ve built out your process you can move forward to improve it.
A collaborative approach to processes brings together the expertise of the whole team and helps make sure that the processes are suited to the people using them on a day to day level.
If you’ve built your processes in Process Street, you can easily change their structure, make them interactive, and add instructional detail.
To improve the processes, explain to the teams who use them what your aims are in advance. This way, the team can be thinking about possible improvements as they follow the process.
It is important to make sure your processes are thorough but not overbearing.
Improving processes is all about figuring out how to make sure the process is doing what it should be doing: advancing your business goals.
Assuming your processes are aligned with your business goals, there are a few simple steps you can follow to quickly start improving your processes as a small business or startup.
Five actionable steps for process improvement
- Run the process. Use the process even if it is very simple.
- Identify the essential parts of the process and eliminate non-essential tasks
- Each time you use the process, think of one or two things you could improve.
- Spend no more than 5 minutes each time improving the process. Let it improve gradually and iteratively.
- Automate repetitive manual tasks
This is a rough, informal methodology to get you started with process improvement. The most important thing is to start using your processes with the intent to understand how they work better, and ultimately improve them.
Once you get the process up and running, the next step is to identify all the key components of the process.
These should be fundamental, unchangeable aspects of the process. To identify key components, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the goal or desired outcome of this process?
- When does the process begin and end?
- What activities move the process forward?
- What departments and/or employees are involved?
- What information is being transferred between steps?
For instance, the following questions should be answered in the case of employee hiring:
- What is the goal or desired outcome of this process? To hire a qualified candidate for the job.
- When does the process begin and end? It begins when an application is received and ends with the decision to hire or reject.
- What activities move the process forward? Application reviews, interviews, approvals and rejections.
- What departments and/or employees are involved? HR and the applicable department managers.
- What information is being transferred between steps? Applications, resumes, cover letters, interview dates/times and notes from reviewers.
Remember, we’re not thinking about how the process is done, only what is done. Keep it simple.
After you’ve broken the process down into its essential parts, you should start to think about potential areas for improvement. Consider every step that is involved in the process you’re analyzing, then ask the following questions:
- Which tasks take the longest to complete?
- Could anything be done differently?
- How many man hours are required to complete the process?
- Of those hours, how many are spent doing redundant or extraneous work?
- Where does the process stall and why?
- When do errors occur?
Compare these answers against your key components list. You’ll realize tasks that seem essential, like photocopying a document for every department manager, don’t actually align with the process goal. You’ll also realize that correcting an error is only essential if an error is made—focus on eliminating the error to begin with, and you get rid of an extra task that does nothing to drive the process forward.
Let’s look at another example. RMS, a medical device manufacturing company, answered the above questions and found that its document management processes were inefficient. Important information for each order was compiled in a large folder and hand-delivered between departments across a 155,000 sq. ft. shop. RMS threw out the book (literally) and starting using business process automation (BPA) tools to digitize orders and automatically route them to the appropriate departments at the appropriate times. This cut order processing time from 8-10 weeks to 72 hours and saved over 200 hours of staff time annually.
The intention of business process improvement is to reduce or eliminate waste of all types. Time, resources, costs, bottlenecks, and errors – these are all types of waste that slow down and detract from the process. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the overall business goal that the process is geared towards, could potentially be eliminated.
Beyond this, you can improve efficiency by determining which manual tasks are repeated most frequently and automating them. Not only will you be able to save time and money by eliminating manual work, you’ll also be increasing success rate by way of removing human error that would normally be present in the manual completion of repetitive tasks.
It helps to think about processes as being in a constant state of optimization. Just like with any element of business, you can follow best practices to get a ballpark idea, but you won’t nail anything unless you regularly test, get feedback, iterate and test again.
Ship now, fix later
That said, it’s sometimes worth simply deploying a working process, even if it’s not perfect, and using the experience of shipping it out to improve things. Sean Ellis explains:
The process for improving a process
Here is a detailed process for optimizing a process:
This particular template was built out as an example for our policy and procedure template article.
It’s important that you take the right approach to building your processes. You should build them with flexibility in mind, so they don’t break when faced with slightly unexpected circumstances.
A lot of the time, BPM approaches suffer from over-documented, under-documented, or wrongly-documented processes. Even with good intent, the fact of the matter is that without planning, certain processes will be prone to failure in certain circumstances. This is where the idea of process flexibility comes in.
That’s where the idea of process flexibility comes in. Understanding the reality that in real life, processes will almost certainly come up against external forces and unpredictable circumstances.
Your processes don’t have to (and nor could they) predict all these external influences in advance; they just need to be able to adapt to them as they arise.
Process flexibility can be broken down into four separate stages, as defined by Schonenberg et al in their paper Process Flexibility: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches:
- Flexibility by design
- Flexibility by deviation
- Flexibility by underspecification
- Flexibility by change
Flexibility by design
Flexibility by design is defined in the aforementioned paper as the following:
Flexibility by design is the ability to incorporate alternative execution paths within a process model at design time allowing the selection of the most appropriate execution path to be made at runtime for each process instance.
It’s clear that the process in the example above was designed to be flexible from the very beginning. The people designing the process understood the need to design flexibility to account for variables the process user would meet, so they built strategies for incorporating the effects of these variables into the process.
This could be something simple like our company research process, embedded below.
By using conditional logic, whoever is running that checklist is only shown the exact tasks they need to see. The checklist is able to “decide” what those tasks should be in real time, based on the user’s input to the checklist.
Observe the image below: you’ll see that the user has filled in the company details, and declared in a form field that this particular information hasn’t been added into the company CRM yet. So, the user will proceed accordingly, based on that conditional response to the checklist.
A different response to that form field asking whether the information was already in the company CRM would mean the checklist produced a different set of tasks for the user.
Because the process was able to recognize that research is no longer necessary, the task is no longer there. In its place is a task to assess the business relationship with this client.
The tasks in the checklist have changed based on the user’s input. it’s thanks to variables, which we built into the very process at the design stage.
Flexibility by deviation
This one’s quite simple. From the paper:
Flexibility by Deviation is the ability for a process instance to deviate at runtime from the execution path prescribed by the original process without altering its process model. The deviation can only encompass changes to the execution sequence of tasks in the process for a specific process instance, it does not allow for changes in the process model or the tasks that it comprises.
It can be understood as giving the process flexibility so that certain tasks can be followed in a non-linear or non-standard order, should the need arise.
For example, Schonenberg et al use the example of a doctor greeting a patient.
Under normal circumstances, the doctor greets and assesses the patient first, taking their details and entering them into the system. In an emergency scenario, however, that all goes out of the window and the first priority is to treat the patient to some degree; the admin and pleasantries coming after the treatment.
In this case, deviance of the standard process is acceptable, because it’s clear that treating the patient is more important to the ultimate goal of providing care to the patient.
However, some processes need to be followed step by step, and this is just as important for understanding flexibility by deviance.
To continue the example, the doctor will follow the steps for treating the patient in pretty much the same order every time: first locate a major vein, then enter needle, etc. That part of the process cannot change.
Certain parts of a process need to be followed in a very specific order. If you are trying to utilize flexibility by deviation, you need to understand all of your variables at the design phase and determine what parts of a process cannot budge, and which make sense to be able to deviate from, when necessary.
Flexibility by underspecification
Another definition from the Schonenberg paper:
Flexibility by Underspecification is the ability to execute an incomplete process model at run-time, i.e., one which does not contain sufficient information to allow it to be executed to completion. Note that this type of flexibility does not require the model to be changed at run-time, instead the model needs to be completed by providing a concrete realisation for the undefined parts.
This can be understood by acknowledging that for large, complex processes with a lot of variation, trying to nail down an exact step-by-step process won’t be helpful, and can in fact sometimes be detrimental.
So essentially the inverse of the flexibility by design approach described above.
A useful example is the writing process here at Process Street.
When I begin work on a piece of writing, there is never a single process that I use exclusively, unwaveringly, start-to-finish in order to get something finished.
Of course, there are ways I typically approach it, and the problems I face are often very similar, but the actual process is not a hard-and-fast, consistent one I can just follow to-the-letter. It changes every time, depending on the nature of the subject matter. More importantly, my process or processes likely differ from the flows of the rest of the team too. Writing an article simply doesn’t lend itself to a clinical defined process.
However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a process for it.
We have a blog creation process which takes us from the very beginning of writing to the moment of hitting publish.
The process begins with defining the keyword and sending image specifications to our designer for the header image. The process finishes with all the formatting and SEO tasks. It’s a long complex process that upholds internal standards and best practices, while also tying the designer and editor into the flow.
The process we have works: it’s a “good” process.
But it has a big gap in it: the actual writing process. There are no specific, step-by-step instructions for that.
That’s because we’re using the principle flexibility by underspecification to keep certain parts of the process open. That particular aspect of the process would not benefit from in-depth detail and formal standardization. That’s partly because it’s a creative process, and partly because the challenges faced each time are different, and require different, flexible solutions.
It’s a way of fitting a complex, varying, undocumentable task into a larger business process. We define parameters and build a framework around certain tasks, but leave the space in the middle open for a more variant creative process to take hold, as and when.
Flexibility by underspecification won’t work for everything, though. It’s also important to recognize that this methodology means you won’t be able to document certain parts of your processes. Just recognize that certain tasks are more suitable for this approach, and you should recognize when they do.
Flexibility by change
As defined by Schonenberg, et al:
Flexibility by Change is the ability to modify a process model at runtime such that one or all of the currently executing process instances are migrated to a new process model. Unlike the previously mentioned flexibility types the model constructed at design time is modified and one or more instances need to be transferred from the old to the new model.
So, less focus on process problems and more focus on process improvement.
This requires that you can recognize change and then actually build it out into your process in real-time. For that to work, you really need to be using lightweight, agile methodologies for maintaining and updating your processes.
Here’s a nice, long quote from the paper to help explain what that means:
In some cases, events may occur during process execution that were not foreseen during process design. Sometimes these events cannot be addressed by temporary deviations from the existing process model, but require the addition or removal of tasks or links from the process model on a permanent basis. This may necessitate changes to the process model for one or several process instances; or where the extent of the change is more significant, it may be necessary to change the process model for all currently executing instances.
There are two key takeaways from this example:
- Sometimes the process model is wrong
- Sometimes the process model needs to be improved
We do this all the time internally at Process Street. We design our MVP (minimum viable process) then keep tweaking and redeploying whenever we feel is necessary.
Fortunately for us, Process Street is designed to be easy to make rapid changes and redeploy them easily, so all we need to do is update a single checklist template and the changes are sent out across the board, even to checklists currently in use.
Six Sigma is an approach to process improvement which grew out of the production systems of electronics company Motorola. The engineer Bill Smith is credited with implementing Six Sigma ideas and refining its core techniques and tools during his time with the company.
The most important idea of Six Sigma is one of honing and refining a production system to reduce defects.
Defects occur all the time in various forms of production and our search for efficiency or quality is reliant on our ability to reduce the frequency of these defects.
The maturity, or effectiveness, of a production process can be measured in terms of a sigma rating. The higher the yield – lower the defects – the higher the sigma rating.
When we talk in terms of Six Sigma we’re referring to how many defects per million products occur in a production line. To achieve a Six Sigma production system you need to be defect free at least 99.99966% of the time at each defect opportunity. That means only 3.4 defective features per million defect opportunities.
Needless to say, achieving that level of process implementation is very difficult.
To properly understand and use Six Sigma, we’ll need to understand a couple of key terms:
- Unit: in the Six Sigma context refers to a single item of the product. This is our smallest indivisible point of reference.
- Defect: refers to a problem with the product which has arisen from an issue in the process.
- Opportunity: refers to the potential points within a process where the possibility for a defect occurring is present.
These terms are important for understanding how Six Sigma comes together as a methodology for problem solving and process improvement:
- Defects per unit (DPU): number of defects / total number of units
- Defects per opportunity (DPO): number of defects / (number of units x number of defect opportunities per unit)
- Proportion defective (p): number of defective units / total number of units
One of the core techniques behind any process improvement, particularly in Six Sigma, is referred to as the DMAIC process.
The DMAIC approach
DMAIC stands for:
- Define: Planning the project and understand your aims
- Measure: Gather the data to understand performance
- Analyze: Understand the root causes of existing problems
- Improve: Work out how defects could be reduced
- Control: Plan out how you will implement your solutions
All of the DMAIC steps form a cycle, designed for application to business processes to root out problems, inefficiencies, and defects, and try and improve upon them.
The DMAIC process is a huge topic, which we’ve covered at length in this article.
DMAIC can be summed up as the desire to improve, optimize, or stabilize existing processes. That’s important – that the processes already exist.
DMAIC isn’t suitable for every situation. It’s best used when certain situations arise.
So, when is the best time to use DMAIC?
Consider these three points when making the decision:
- There is an obvious problem of some form with an existing process or set of processes.
- The potential is there to reduce variables like lead times or defects while improving variables like cost savings or productivity.
- The situation is quantifiable; the process itself involves measurable data and the results can be appropriately understood through quantifiable means.
Scientific process improvement: DMAIC in terms of Y = F(X)
Bear with me, as this next section requires a bit of jargon. Don’t worry though, because it’s actually really easy, and we’ll break it all down, step-by-step.
First, think about a process you use. Any one, it doesn’t matter. Now think about what that process is supposed to do. The “output”.
That output, we’re going to call Y. Don’t worry about what Y is supposed to stand for, just yet.
Simple enough? Now think about the work you do to advance from one step to the next in that process. This is the “input”.
We’ll call the input X.
So, Y is the output of a process and X is the input. The f represents the function of the variable X. Or, in other words, the f represents what’s happening to X to turn it into Y.
Y is the output, and that’s always important in a process. We care about Y.
X can be multiple different variables which impact on Y. Here’s an example from iSixSigma:
For example, if you call your major department store to ask a question, the ability to have your question answered (Y) is a function (f) of the wait time, the number of people answering the phones, the time it takes to talk with the representative, the representative’s knowledge, etc. All of these X’s can be defined, measured and improved.
At this point, you don’t need to work out the Y=f(x) relationship in full, but you can start bearing it in mind. It is considered best practice to keep work oriented around the Y=f(x) formula.
Remember, Y is simply a variable which is defined by the relationship between our Xs and their functions. So, if we want to improve Y then we should identify which X has the biggest impact on the Y value and improve that X.
Our ultimate aim is to better understand the relationship represented by this formula and to round out errors from it. For example, there may be an X which has a major impact on Y but is not due to a process problem but simply a natural or unchangeable element of the manufacturing process. In which case, we need to identify that this particular X, while important, is not one we can tackle as part of our process improvement.
Our job isn’t just to find the Xs which contribute to Y, but to find the right Xs.
The image below, from iSixSigma helps to illustrate how that process runs through the heart of our investigation.
Estimating the Sigma baseline (DPMO)
Let’s run a quick calculation to figure out the Sigma value in your organization.
To find the Sigma value, calculate your Defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO) and run it through a handy conversion chart.
DPMO is calculated by multiplying your DPO by a million. It’s easy.
To make it even easier, just use this Sigma Calculator and put your own values in.
Here’s an example calculation:
Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma is a framework that combines lean methodologies of waste reduction (like muda) with the problem-solving framework of Six Sigma. The result is a methodology which facilitates faster and more efficient process improvement.
This approach is less rigidly defined than its constituent parts, but you can think about Lean Six Sigma as adhering to the following seven principles:
- Always focus on the customer
- Understand how work really happens
- Make your processes flow smoothly
- Reduce waste and concentrate on value
- Stop defects through removing variation
- Get buy-in from the team through collaboration
- Make your efforts systematic and scientific
Lean, separate to Lean Six Sigma, is an entire manufacturing principle based around the idea of waste reduction.
To that end, one of the core lean manufacturing principles to follow is to make sure that there is as little waste as possible in your processes. That includes making sure process automation is used wherever possible.
Now imagine if you could cut operating costs by up to 90%.
Both of these things are possible, and BPM software is the first step, swiftly followed by setting up a framework for automation to enable processes to run as smoothly as possible.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using Asana, Salesforce, Trello, or MailChimp, every app has processes which can be automated to cut down on the amount of time you spend on menial tasks that are taking the focus away from your main business goals.
Automation and productivity go hand-in-hand, as you are minimizing the waste in time and resources that the original, manually-intensive process contained.
If you haven’t already, check out our Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation for all you need to know about applying automation to the processes you’ve built or are currently building.
In conclusion: CPI
Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) methodologies like Six Sigma and Lean are an inseparable part of BPM. These proven approaches to process optimization are amplified in their force and power when combined with BPM technology.
BPM is the platform that takes CPI to the enterprise level. BPM accelerates the adoption and execution of CPI methodologies, and propagates best practices throughout the enterprise. BPM sustains the effectiveness of CPI.
A crucial part of any lean Six Sigma process is to keep the principle of continuous improvement in mind. Within lean philosophies we might refer to this as Kaizen. In Japanese this translates to “change for better”, but within the world of process improvement it has come to reflect a continuous iterative model for gradual change.
When to use CPI
One size of continuous improvement doesn’t fit all parts of the organization. The kind of rigor required in a manufacturing environment may be unnecessary, or even destructive, in a research or design shop. Sure it’s important to inject discipline into product and service development, but not so much that it discourages creativity.
Just like you might have a tight structured process for a sales call but not for writing an article, you should use kaizen techniques where they are suited rather than shoehorning them in.
Improve or remove?
Far too many continuous improvement projects lose sight of what makes a good process good, and a bad one useless. They focus on gaining efficiencies that they don’t challenge the basic assumptions of what’s being done.
An efficient process isn’t necessarily a good process. It may be that the company’s needs define a particular process as an inhibition rather than a necessity. Perhaps the people organizing that process decide to it’s better if that process was removed and an alternative system devised. Sometimes change is necessary, and good.
As well, Innovation requires exploration and failure. Focusing too hard on the high performance of a process can inhibit the discovery of new ways to operate, and stifle innovation. It can also ignore intangible benefits or metrics which are harder to measure. However, data isn’t everything. If you need to prove yourself via data, you may opt for solutions which give you better data – and they might not be the ones which deliver better results.
Glossary of BPM terms
There’s an “S” that you’ll sometimes see on the end of BPM. The “S” in BPMS stands for “Suite.” A BPMS is the suite of BPM technologies — including all the functional modules, technical capabilities, and supporting infrastructure — integrated into a single environment that performs all the BPM technology functions seamlessly. A BPMS is the total package.
iBPM, also known as Intelligent Business Process Management, is basically using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to enrich existing BPM tools and methodologies.
The differences between BPM software and iBPM software is chiefly in the “intelligent” designation, but in practice this is very little, as one is the extension of the latter. BPM is a tool used for designing and executing business processes, whereas iBPM is just a subcategory of BPM that leverages a BPM’s analytics and intelligence capabilities.
Business process networks (BPN), also known as business service networks or business process hubs, enable the efficient execution of multi-enterprise operational processes, including supply chain planning and execution.
To do these things, BPNs make heavy use of integration with applications in order to support a particular industry or process, such as order management, logistics management, or automated shipping and receiving.
Robotic process automation is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, with the end goal of automating business processes.
Using RPA tools, a company can configure software (or “robot”) to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.
RPA scenarios might range from something so simple as generating an automatic email response to the deployment of thousands of bots programmed to automate jobs in an ERP system.
HPaPaaS refers to rapid application development platforms which provide business developers with the tools to build enterprise applications rapidly and which are offered as a service with one button deployment and other composite capabilities.
It stands for High Performance Application Platform-as-a-Service.
Automated Business Process Discovery (ABPD) is a specific kind of heavily automated business process analysis that is heavily dependant on algorithmic and computational logic building.
The principle of ABPD is that similar types of business analysis tools automatically gather data from documents such as audits and event logs, and compile it into useful information that is able to identifies process models while also exploring variations, giving users a much better picture of what a specific business process looks like, and how changes would affect the business as a whole.
Automated Business Process Discovery is also known as process mining. However, in academic literature the term Automated Business Process Discovery is used in a narrower sense to refer specifically to techniques that take as input an event log and produce as output a business process model.
Business Process Conformance Checking ( BPCC)
Business process conformance checking (a.k.a. conformance checking for short) is a family of process mining techniques to compare a process model with an event log of the same process.
Hence, conformance checking may be used to detect, locate and explain deviations, and to measure the severity of these deviations.
Business Process Performance Analysis (BPPA)
Business process performance analysis is the foundation of any business process optimization initiative. Tools for business process performance analysis enable timely determination of business process breaks and malfunctioning.
Business process analysis starts with definition of measurable parameters that have to be monitored and managed. Also Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be defined to be tracked on a regular basis.
Process mining is a group of systems in the field of process management that help the investigation of business processes by utilizing information gleaned from event logs.
During process mining, data mining calculations are connected to event log information so as to distinguish patterns, examples and subtleties contained in event logs recorded by a data framework. The goal of process mining is to improve process effectiveness and better understand how processes work.
The term Process Mining is used more broadly to allude any kind of process for finding process models within a given system, but as well to refer to strategies for business process conformance and performance analysis based on event log information.
You can think of Business Process Model & Notation (BPMN) as a flow chart on steroids.
It’s pretty much the one reliable way to graphically map your processes, while being a globally-recognized, standardized method. In other words, it’s information any business looking to draw dependable process maps needs to know.
When you map your processes (especially with a standardized method like BPMN), you start being able to:
- Get a clear vision of exactly how everything in your business works
- Save time by eliminating unnecessary tasks
- Reduce the rate your employees forget, overlook, or wrongly execute work
BPMN lanes & pools
Pools represent different organizations or entirely separate processes. Lanes represent different teams or individuals within the same organization.
- Activity: represents tasks
- Event: represents work done during a process
- Gateway: deals with logic and decisions
- Flow: represents the order which activities are completed
Sequence flow the basic line that connects together elements of your map. It shows the flow of work, and is necessary for connecting together activities. Without a sequence flow, your map is invalid.
Message flow is used when different departments or organizations send information between one other. Since you don’t get up and go and oversee the work in different departments when you want a task done, message flow represents a request or the sharing of information, not a strict action. It’s the only kind of flow that can take place between pools or lanes (organizations or departments).
Documents, databases, and other elements are tied together with activities. For example, if you had an activity to sign off on a purchase order, you could use a document symbol and an association line to link the two together.
Similar to diamonds in regular flow charts, gateways represent a split or convergence in the process chart.
For example, when deciding on what to eat, the process will split depending on the final meal choice, but will converge at the point where the meal is eaten, because no matter which meal is chosen, it will eventually be eaten.
BPMN event gateways
But, not all event gateways represent choices.
It could be that the process needs more data in order to proceed, or it may be waiting for a specific time, or some other condition to fulfil. In that case, it’s represented as an event gateway, and branches into whichever event takes place next.
For example, if you’re waiting for over a week for your delivery to come, you might reach a point where you decide whether to wait patiently, or call the shipping company. You’d have an event-based gateway at that point, branching into waiting more time, or into calling.
BPMN parallel gateways
If two tasks aren’t dependent on one another, best practice principles of efficiency state that they should be allowed to be started and completed in parallel.
To represent this on a BPMN map, a parallel gateway is used.
All that means is that there is now a chance for both subsequent tasks to be started: the process breaks down into two parallel branches.
BPMN exclusive gateways
Sometimes, processes are limited by their design. Or rather, they can go only one of two (or any number of) ways.
Another way to explain this is to imagine a podcast recording. Either the recording is accepted and moves onto the editing stage, or it’s rejected and moves back to the editor for another pass.
This is an example of an exclusive gateway in action — because there’s no third option in this case.
BPMN inclusive gateways
One way to understand inclusive gateways is by thinking about them as processes that fork based on a specific customer’s response to a survey. LucidChart explains:
“One process is triggered if the consumer is satisfied with product A. Another flow is triggered when the consumer indicates that they are satisfied with product B. A third process is triggered if they aren’t satisfied with A. There will be a minimal flow of one and a max of two.”
Inclusive gateways mean that multiple possible outcomes can be selected. E.g. one of your customers could be both ‘dissatisfied with A’ and ‘satisfied with B’, and in that case they’d be sent the voucher and also get added onto the B list.
In simple terms, Universal Modeling Language (UML) is a framework for visualizing software program structures through diagrams.
More specifically, it was created to forge a common, semantically and syntactically rich visual modeling language for the architecture, design, and implementation of complex software systems both structurally and behaviorally.
It was not originally designed to model business processes, and therefore its application in BPM is significantly limited in how complicated it can be in comparison to its application in software engineering or development.
UML Structural diagrams
Structural diagrams are designed to represent static components of a software system. They are focused on the system’s underlying structure. The 4 main types of structural diagrams are:
- Class Diagram
- Object Diagram
- Component Diagram
- Deployment Diagram
The class diagram is by far the most commonly used of the four listed above. From a software development perspective, it is one of the most useful UML diagram types because it clearly maps out the structure of a system by modeling its classes, attributes, operations, and relationships between objects.
In other words, it holds the ability to provide both detailed insight and a quick, big-picture overview of a system’s structure, making it the foundation for creating systems.
UML behavioral diagrams
Behavioral diagrams, on the other hand, visualize, specify, construct, and document the dynamic aspects of a system.
The most commonly used behavioral diagrams are:
- Use Case Diagram
- Sequence Diagram
- Activity Diagram
Use case diagrams are designed to show how users might interact with a system. Users include people, organizations, or external systems.
Diagrams displaying certain use cases are not intended to be complicated; they’re supposed to give a clear picture of how users are interacting with a particular system and whether or not those interactions are happening as intended.
Sequence diagrams are used to illustrate how objects or tasks communicate and interrelate, and in what sequential order. They are one of the most commonly used interaction diagrams.
Activity diagrams are popular as well, and are ideal for modeling business processes because they are the only type of UML diagram that accounts for the flow of actions.
Best BPM software
Rather than presenting a list of BPM software all trying to serve the same needs, the following section will present a selection of various different BPM software, each of which could be considered the “best” in fulfilling the particular role it was designed for.
I will try and take into account different use cases (i.e. BPM for SMBs vs large corporate bodies) and describe what each of them are good at.
Process Street is an easy but powerful way to manage your companies processes, procedures and workflows.
As a BPM platform, it enables you to quickly and easily deploy processes in the form of checklists, without the need for specialized training or long periods of getting used to the software.
Our mission is to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere.
By using Process Street to document your workflows and processes with checklists, you are instantly creating an actionable workflow in which tasks can be assigned to team members, automated, and monitored in real-time to ensure they are being executed in the way they are intended to be, each and every time you run them.
Process Street was designed to make it easy for you to minimize human error, increase accountability, and provide employees with all of the tools and information necessary to complete their tasks as effectively as possible.
Tasks in a checklist can be packed with rich customizable form fields, from text, file upload forms, sub-checklists, and rich media so each individual working on the process knows exactly what is required and has access to relevant information.
Making changes to a process is easy too; with Process Street’s template editing system you can quickly and seamlessly make edits on-the-fly, without disrupting existing workflows.
Process Street also integrates with over 1000 other apps, many of which you’ll already be using as part of your regular recurring processes. This means you can create automation between Process Street and the tools you already use for truly all-encompassing business process management.
Formerly Altosoft, Kofax Insight combines process monitoring and analysis of real-time data with intuitive visualizations, analytics and data integration to deliver complete end-to-end process visibility for fast, fact-based decision making.
Typical BPM software might collect data, but Kofax Insight goes one step further by monitoring data in real-time.
Kofax insight’s focus on real-time data for business process monitoring and analysis means it beats out the competition by offering key insight into processes, workflows, and any potential issues that may exist with current implementations.
Compared to other similar BPM offerings, Kofax Insight is typically implemented in much shorter (one tenth) timeframes, at less than half the cost.
Great for those wanting to implement RPA in their business due to the focus on data-driven insights.
Celonis is a BPM tool designed specifically for process mining, using a data-driven approach to analyze and visualize business processes.
Utilizing methodologies of process mining, Celonis is able to highlight weak areas in your business processes and improve transparency, overall speed, and process cost-effectiveness.
Acclaimed by Gartner as a market leader in process mining, Celonis aids organizations in rapidly understanding how to improve operational process flows for positive business transformation.
Large enterprises of the world including Siemens, GM, 3M, Bayer, Airbus and Vodafone use Celonis create new, automated business processes that save them millions while greatly improving the experience of their customers.
Great for ABPD and process mining in general.
ProM, or Process Mining framework is an Open Source framework for process mining algorithms.
It provides a platform to users and developers of the process mining algorithms that is easy to use and easy to extend.
Granted, ProM is a more academic-facing platform, it is undoubtedly an invaluable tool for process mining and event log tracking, and
what’s more is that it’s completely free, being open source.
ProM has established an active community of contributors and users, and strives to create awareness for the power of process mining technology by promoting applications and industrial uptake.
The caveat is that it can be somewhat difficult to get set up compared to other BPM tools, requiring some dedication to the various resources they provide on their website for getting started.
Nonetheless, ProM is a fantastic tool for anyone looking to implement a specialized BPM tool on a budget.
LucidChart is a free tool for business process modeling/mapping.
An easy to use drag-and-drop interface combined with a BPMN shapes library makes it easy to rapidly create maps and models of your business processes. There’s also a selection of ready-made templates to choose from. You simply sign up, log in, and start using the tool for any of your BPMN needs.
You can also stylize lines, format text, and reposition elements to get the look you need. Afterwards, share, download, or export your diagram however you like.
LucidChart is ideal for quickly and easily modeling your business processes, and the fact that it’s free adds a ton of value.
Zapier is a lightweight process automation tool that can easily connect 1000s of different tools together into unified workflows.
Basically, it allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time. It’s also quick and easy to set up, with no technical requirements to use.
Because of how flexible and ubiquitous Zapier’s integration potential is, it really is one of the ultimate tools for BPM.
With Zapier, you don’t have to learn complex new tech, or pay high rates for custom software. There’s a free trial as well as various paid plan options, and it’s designed so that you can connect your existing processes together and maximize time and money saved through automation.
While arguably not a dedicated BPM software in its own right, the importance of automation as a principle of BPM earns Zapier a spot on this list of crucial BPM tools.
Oracle BPM Suite 12c
Being one of the most time-worn players of BPM software means that Oracle’s Suite 12c has earned a strong market position among the big enterprise firms.
With Suite 12c you can diagram new processes quickly, and edit them while still in action.
Though perhaps lacking in terms of impressive new features, the system does provide some impressive reporting tools for businesses to use, including predictive analytics.
Suite 12c is definitely limited by its price plan, however, and this is where smaller firms may be deterred. According to the 2017 Oracle
Technology Global Price List report, the Unified Business Process Management Suite is listed at $1,150 per named user, with a Processor License at $57,500, and Software Update License & Support at $12,650.
Its role in Microsoft Office Suite and ubiquitously widespread use in so many large corporations means Sharepoint has to have a mention.
Launched back in 2001 to be integrated with the Microsoft Office suite, it was intended to be used as a kind of document management system, but as it turns out it was designed to allow for highly flexible and customizable usage.
So many organizations use Sharepoint partly because of its age (being one of the first available offerings for BPM software) and partly because of its role within the range of Microsoft products which were such a big part of the operational procedures of so many businesses at the time.
Once a large company with a huge number of staff has a product like this embedded within its organization, it is difficult to navigate away from it.
However, despite its long-standing presence in the market, Sharepoint does have its drawbacks. It is arguable quite cumbersome and difficult to use when compared to more recent offerings in the field.
If you already utilize SharePoint, then it could be worthwhile to try and utilize the full capacity of its BPM potential. If you don’t, and you have the choice, then other options exist that are better suited for a wider range of use cases.
Use cases: BPM software in action
BPM for property management
This template is designed for landlord onboarding with property management and estate agencies.
How to run a Process Street checklist from Salesforce
We’re going to create a custom button in Salesforce which launches to an external link. The external link we’ll use is a run link for a checklist from our Client Onboarding template. We will edit the URL of the run link to merge data into Process Street from Salesforce.
1. Create a run link for the checklist you want to launch
On the template you want to create a run link for, you can find the run checklist link button on the menu on the right hand side.
The pop up box which shows will give you the ability to add a variable to your run link. Each variable will add to the end of the URL you have generated. These variables will allow us to move data back into Process Street later on.
2. Create your checklist button in Salesforce
In Salesforce, go to the lead you want to add the button to. Select the drop down menu in the top right and click Edit Object.
In the Object Manager, click on Buttons, Links, and Actions.
Click on New Custom Button or Link and you will be presented with the screen where you build your new button. Enter the name of your button in the top box and enter your run link into the large box provided.
In the URL for your run link, there are Xs in each of the variables you added. These Xs can be replaced by code from Salesforce.
Where the variable in your URL says checklist_name and is followed by Xs, highlight those Xs and click on the dropdown Insert Merge Field.
Then select the merge field which corresponds to the name you want to automatically generate for the checklist, such as the client’s name.
To make sure this button appears where you want it, return to the Object Manager, back into the Lead, and click on the Page Layout button on the menu at the top of that page.
Then click on Lead Layout for the manager for the main view you use in your profile. Which should look like this.
Then select the new button you have just made and drag it down the page to Custom Links where you can drop it.
Make sure you save your setup before you check it is working.
Return to one of your leads and navigate to the Details tab.
If you created it as a custom link, you should now see a custom link with the title you gave it added at the bottom. If you created it as a custom button instead, you would see it on the dropdown menu on the top right.
3. Use Zapier to send information back to Salesforce
Within this process, Zapier is used to send information through four different zaps back to Salesforce.
In the screenshot below you can see how these zaps are constructed.
The zaps are:
Add attachments from Process Street comments to Salesforce opportunities
Record checked tasks within Salesforce as a note
When a checklist is created it is added to the description in Salesforce
Comments left on tasks in Process Street are recorded in Salesforce
Create a new trigger from Process Street.
Select the trigger to be New Task Checked.
After you have configured which template and task it applies to, select Salesforce as your action.
Then choose the action Create Note and finish off setting up your zap.
When you have finished configuring the zap to your system, run through the process from start to finish to check every aspect of your Process Street and Salesforce integration is working.
More property management templates:
BPM for sales
This template is designed to qualify your sales leads.
How to use Close.io and Process Street to manage your sales qualification process
If you want to integrate this template with Close.io, just follow this video:
More sales templates:
BPM for client onboarding
This template is designed to streamline the client onboarding process for a marketing agency.
First, we need to add form fields into our client onboarding checklist in Process Street. These can be used to record data when working through the checklist, which we will later push into Google Calendar as a new event.
The gif below shows how to add form fields while editing a template.
In this case, we’ve set up form fields to capture the following information:
- Client name
- Client email
- Client company name
- Initial meeting date
- Initial meeting agenda
Add form fields to your own checklist to let the person working through it record important information (such as the elements above). Think of everything you’d like to transfer to your static employee onboarding records in Google Sheets, and add a form field for each to be captured.
After that, it’s time to make sure that your spreadsheet is set up and ready for the information to be pushed through.
Set up your calendar in Google Calendar
Next you need to make sure that your calendar in Google Calendar is set up and ready for the information captured in your checklists to be pushed through.
There’s not much to this step, other than that you’ll need to have an account set up and (depending on your preference) have a separate calendar in place to track your client meetings.
If you have a Google account then it’s as simple as logging into the Google Calendar site with it.
Make a Zap in Zapier to create a new event in Google Calendar when a task is completed in your Process Street checklist
Zapier is a tool that connects over 750 different apps. Any action in the supported apps (like forwarding an email or adding an attachment to a task) can be set up to trigger another app’s features automatically. Zapier integrates with both Google Calendar and Process Street.
The whole recipe (Trigger + Action) is called a Zap.
Log into Zapier or create an account, then click ‘Make a Zap!’
In your new Zap, select Process Street as the trigger and choose New Task Checked:
Connect your Process Street account, and move onto Edit Options. From the drop-down menus, choose the template and task that contains the form fields from earlier.
Before you go on to test the step in Zapier, make sure you’ve created a checklist, filled in the form fields, and checked off the task that you’ve set Zapier to detect. This way, Zapier has some test data to pull in and validate.
Congratulations! You’ve just set up Process Street as your Trigger for the Zap. Next it’s time to set up Google Sheets as the place where your Action will take place.
Configure the Zap to push information into the event from your checklist
Choose Google Calendar as your Action app and “Create Detailed Event” as the Action. This tells Zapier to create an event in Google Calendar when the task you previously selected in your Process Street checklist is checked off.
Connect your Google Calendar account and then move on to setting up the template for the event that will be created. The only required elements you need to fill in are the calendar you want to use and the start and end date of the event.
Now, we want the start date of the event to be the value recorded as our “Initial meeting date” in the client onboarding checklist. To do this, we have to push the information into Zapier as a custom value in the “Start Date & Time” field.
This can be done by clicking the “Insert a Field” button to the right of each entry, and then using the search bar to enter the name of the checklist form fields to find the right data to link.
For the end date you’ll also want to add a “+Xh” after the form field data (with a space between them), where X is the number of hours you want the initial meeting to take.
In the same manner, we also linked the following data:
- The event “Summary” to be “Client onboarding”, then the client’s name and company name
- The event “Description” to be the “Initial Meeting Agenda”
- The “Attendees” to include the client’s email address
Once you have your own Zap set up, continue through to the test phase, complete this, then head over to your Google Calendar to make sure that your event has been created.
Once that’s done, name and save your Zap, then test it out again by creating a new checklist, completing the required form fields, and ticking off your Trigger task. Make sure that the event is created correctly with all of the relevant information in the right place.
And there you have it! Here’s to saving time and energy that’s better spent on your more important tasks.
More client onboarding templates:
- Client Onboarding Checklist for Financial Planners
- Client Onboarding Checklist for Criminal Law Firms
- High Touch Client Onboarding for SaaS Companies
- Website Design Client Onboarding Template
- Landlord Onboarding Checklist
- Client Onboarding Checklist for an Accounting Firm
- Patient Intake Checklist for a Dental Clinic
- Patient Intake Checklist for a Medical Clinic
- Client Onboarding Checklist for Real Estate Sales
- Client Onboarding Checklist for a Managed Service Provider
- Client Onboarding Checklist for a Software Development Company
- Client Onboarding Checklist for Management Consulting
- Client Onboarding Checklist for an Insurance Broker
BPM for customer feedback
This checklist is designed to run for each support ticket in a customer feedback process.
Running checklists from Zendesk with a two-way sync
If you want to integrate this template with Zendesk, then simply watch this video to get started with setting up the Zap:
More customer support templates:
Using Process Street for BPM
How Process Street can help you with BPM
Create processes in seconds
Process Street was designed to be easy to use. You can create new processes in literally a matter of seconds, with no prior training or experience.
This applies to updating and improving processes, too.
Utilize rich content and media
With form fields and the wide range of rich content and media you can include in your checklist templates, you can design processes that are clearly actionable, informative, and able to collect extensive data as they’re being followed.
Use Process Street’s dynamic due dates feature to set times for certain tasks to be completed, increasing adherence and making sure processes are working for you.
Keep track of your processes
With Process Street’s Template Overview and Inbox features, you’ll never have to worry about losing track of work done again.
Control permissions and delegate work
Task Assignments allow you to assign certain tasks in a process to appropriate personnel in your organization, streamlining the process and saving time in what would otherwise be a time consuming manual process.
Easily share your processes
You can share direct links to your processes, embed them in a HTML widget, and provide read or write access all from the Process Street interface.
Controlling access to your processes is good BPM practice, as it means you can facilitate a culture of accountability as well as collaboration and transparent communication.
Those final points also tie into the next:
Designed for collaboration and communication
Quickly and easily collaborate on processes with others in your organization by sharing and editing processes. A dedicated comments framework means you can provide and receive feedback on checklists and templates with anyone you grant access to (assuming they have a free Process Street account).
Create flexible processes
Using conditional logic, you can make your processes truly robust and ultimately flexible. Certain tasks will be able to be hidden or shown based on conditions met as the checklist is worked through.
You have free reign to design processes with as much complexity as you need, and it’s designed with absolute ease of use in mind.
And most importantly, Process Street’s conditional logic is seamless, so those running your processes won’t have to think twice about it.
Check out this introductory webinar for a hands-on look at using Process Street for your BPM needs:
How to automate your BPM with Process Street
It should be said that process management ≠ process automation.
Despite the fact that it’s often true that automated processes are more efficient, some tasks are just better off done manually. Computers can make errors too, and we lack one thing that they’ll never have (for now, at least): common sense.
Again, it’s something to test out for yourself and think properly about. While you figure out the best way to implement BPM, I’d suggest checking out our ebooks on business process automation and management:
This article covered a lot of ground, and I hope you found something useful in there somewhere. Because of the scope of this article, I tried to keep it to the most crucial information. Do you think anything needs revising, or perhaps you have additional insight you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!