What Is a Business Process & Why Is It Important to Define?

A business process is an activity, or set of inter-related tasks, that when completed accomplish a pre-defined organisational goal. Although the subject can vary, every business process must include clear inputs and outputs to be effective. Ultimately, the output must contribute towards organisational objectives by adding value (directly or indirectly) to a product or service.

Originally described by economist Adam Smith in 1776, the term has evolved from a description of basic labour division to a framework that can be developed to improve operational efficiencies. In recent decades, a series of related concepts have grown around the core principle of process management. These include, but are not limited to, business process management (BPM), knowledge management and total quality management (TQM).

It is widely accepted that there are three key types of business process which these concepts seek to improve, as described in The Complete Business Handbook. These are as follows:

  1. Management processes. These systematic processes govern organisational needs and are widely used to execute an activity, such as implementing new projects or developing company strategy.
  2. Operational processes. Much more common and widespread than management processes, these create & contribute to the primary value stream — such as product manufacturing or distribution.
  3. Supporting processes. These do not contribute to the primary value stream, but are necessary for an organisation to function correctly. Examples include accounting, recruitment and sales.

Defining Your Business Processes

While understanding the concept of a business process may be beneficial, it is of equal importance to define and manage the processes that take place within your own organisation. This should be achieved by identifying inputs and outputs rather than departmental functions.

Breaking down processes by department alone can lead to unnecessary silos, hindering communication and providing an incomplete picture of the organisation.

Processes should always be designed to streamline activities and balance increased value with resource allocation. Unnecessary steps, or stages which add little value should be eliminated where possible. In order to simplify complex processes, difficult or lengthy items can be broken down into sub-processes, each of which include their own inputs & outputs, to form a super-process.

To implement process standardisation throughout the organisation, it is recommended that only one modelling technique is used. Though there are a variety of options that can be employed to achieve this, BPM (business process management) is the most commonly used. The purpose of BPM is to visually represent all business processes, then use the resulting diagrams to find ways in which existing processes can be optimised — improving organisational efficiencies.

BPM is traditionally carried out by a team comprising of business analysts with modelling experience and process specialists who understand the tasks involved in every stage. The result of a successful BPM project may be reduced costs, increased value, speed or even quality — depending on the needs of the company. It is important to note that while technology is not required to undertake BPM, it is often a key driver of project demand due to the need for artefact documentation when implementing new IT systems.

Becoming a Process-Driven Organisation

Smart organisations aren’t waiting for technological advancements to create a need for business process management, but adopting a process-driven approach to actively improve efficiencies.

Many businesses fail to achieve this due to a lack of understanding regarding what exactly a process-driven approach means.

To become process-driven, it is important to dispel a few myths surrounding the approach. Many organisations believe that simply documenting all existing processes and providing employees with a handbook explaining each is a process driven approach. However, this alone does not contribute to any of the goals that business processes aim to achieve. It also favours operational processes, leaving management & supporting items undocumented.

Instead, a process-driven organisation establishes a culture of learning, adaptation and encourages employees to manage complexity. As the business grows, the number of systems in place naturally grow as well. Therefore, it is key for employees to have access to current processes, as well as a mechanism through which to suggest improvements and contribute to process refinement.

By implementing an employee empowerment & change management strategy, it is possible to source regular improvements to any process from those that carry it out most often. However, to ensure that the business becomes truly process driven, an organisation must follow three key steps:

  1. Document all current processes, broken down by objectives to avoid departmental silos. Ensure employees are aware of all relevant processes and have the tools required to complete the actions.
  2. Provide a managed platform for employees to develop process improvements and submit suggestions to a central implementation team.
  3. Create a dedicated business analysis function with a mandate and the equipment to improve processes within the organisation. This function will act as gatekeepers to process innovation and review all suggested improvements.

While there is no single way to guarantee a return on BPM investment, providing your team with a robust, easy-to-use system which can be used to develop, refine and deploy new processes is vital. Low code application development environments are a vital aspect of business process management, as these tools enable employees to easily create & suggest mobile apps that replace traditional paper-based systems — thus improving efficiencies.

By providing a platform through which employees can engage with process development (even without technical knowledge), organisations can find significant gains in efficiency — with a comparably low level of investment.

The CommonTime Infinity platform is one example of a low-code platform that utilises a process-driven approach, allowing employees to easily map actions to application pages & artefacts.

To achieve BPM success, all three elements of a process-driven approach must be adopted. Organisations must consider carefully the role of employees, specialists and processes themselves — while maintaining situational awareness and a clear vision of future growth. Ultimately, only companies that successfully navigate the complexity that growth entails will thrive in the decades to come.

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