Business Process Management (BPM) has been mostly believed to be focusing on automation of business processes using IT, and aspiring to achieve Straight-through Processing (STP). Over the last few years though, BPM has extended its reach to integrate human-centric or pure manual steps with technology.
BPM life-cycle typically follows distinct phases, viz. Design, Analyze, Execute, Monitor, Optimize. Of late, re-engineering phase is considered by many experts as an integral part of the BPM life-cycle, as it achieves efficiency and increased productivity when optimization does not have the desired outputs. Once potential changes are identified, either through optimization or re-engineering, the BPM life-cycle begins again. In other words, BPM is a continuous, ongoing life-cycle.
Holistically, BPM looks at the whole enterprise as a set of business processes. This view allows for a cross functional process approach towards change, mainly through automation. Change methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, etc. use various techniques to isolate / identify the root causes of problems, and find solutions to address them through re-engineering or process improvements. In this way, BPM can be considered a super set of all change methodologies.
Tools used in BPM
Each phase of BPM life-cycle focuses on specific objectives, and if successful, leads to the next phase. For a process to be successfully managed, there are commonly used tools that help achieve the objectives of each phase in BPM. Brief details of the key tools are provided below phase-wise.
Tools in Design Phase:
The focus of design phase is to gather process data, prioritise processes for improvement or re-engineering, and represent current and target state processes.
Some of the tools used during the design phase are described below.
For gathering process information: Tools such as process library, catalogues, etc. can be used. Process data related to activity times can be obtained using tools such as Time and Motion Study. Software such as OpenText Discovery and OpenSpan Desktop Analytics can be used to capture user interactions on desktops, and generate reports for analysis
To prioritise processes: Tools such as value stream mapping (VSM), business case, project charters or A3 techniques can be used. ROI (Return on Investment) Modelers are also useful in comparing the cost savings and other quantifiable benefits of the proposed solution, and to determine project feasibility.
To create process flows: There are several process modeling tools depending on the IT domains that support implementation. If required for mapping or flowcharting purpose, MS PowerPoint, Excel or Visio can be used to create process flows. If processes are to be modeled to enforce standard design methodology, re-use of components, and transformation to executable format, specialized BPM software can be used to design executable processes. For example, iGrafx, Oracle BPA Suite, Aris Express support industry-standard notations and support interoperability.
Tools in Analyze Phase:
The focus of analyze phase is to experiment with what-if scenarios, statistical analysis and simulation of processes, that help decide on the optimal processes to implement.
Some of the tools used during the analyze phase are as below.
- For what-if scenario analysis, simple tools such as Cause and Effect Diagrams (5 Whys or Ishikawa), Pareto charts, etc. help to understand the possible underlying problems based on various scenarios
- For detailed analysis (where data is available) and for predictive modeling, software such as JMP, Minitab, etc. offer features that support regression analysis, partitioning of data to close in on most probable causes and distribution models
- For simulation of processes, some of the smart BPM tools like IBM BPM, Aris, OpenText ProVision can be used to capture variable data for events, activities, and decisions in their process flows and perform simulation runs using the Monte Carlo or Discrete Event simulation methods
Tools in Execute Phase:
The focus of execute phase is to implement or deploy processes created in Define phase, and enhanced with detail during Analyze phase. Application of business rules, creation of automated or human task services, task clients and user interfaces are also achieved in Execute Phase.
To deploy process: Business Process Management software, and technologies such as SOA. Gartner publishes a magic quadrant of Intelligent BPM Suites (iBPM) tools annually, the latest one shown alongside. Most iBPMS software come with tooling and run time environment for process design and execution, along with built-in SOA components for extensive enterprise-wide service integration and orchestration.
For business rules: Most iBPMS software has built-in rules engine capability to define and execute rules. Companies such as Pega Systems, AMS, Computer Associates, Sapiens, etc. offer stand-alone business rules engine platforms, if required. Sophisticated systems support easy understanding and maintenance of the rules by business users.
Tools in Monitor Phase:
The focus of monitor phase is to measure the performance of executed processes against established metrics, and create reports, dashboards, etc. and help analyze the process for ongoing improvements.
The tools used during the monitor phase are described below.
- For measuring performance: Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) components are again available in most iBPMS tools, that can measure and display performance related information real-time. These are very useful in measuring critical-to-life processes, and in processes where this are huge reputational and financial risks.
- For reporting: Though many software support creation and templates for standard reports, it is useful to harness the specialized functionalities of Business Intelligence (BI) software available in the market. Depending on need for scalability, ad hoc query loads, mobile features, etc. various products are available. Cognos BI, Crystal Reports, MS SQL, Oracle, Hyperion, etc. are leading products.
- For process mining: This is a field that has been growing over the last decade, primarily researched as part of an ongoing project in Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. Process mining involves extraction of knowledge about a business process from its process execution logs (such as, the audit trails of a workflow management system or the transaction logs of an enterprise resource planning system, electronic patient records in a hospital, etc.) The project has developed an open-source framework called ProM, which provides a platform for users and developers of the process mining algorithms. Process mining provides insight into perspectives such as the process (or control) flow, along with the performance, data, and organizational perspectives. More details are available on their project website http://www.processmining.org.Process Mining functionality is also offered by other commercial vendors. To name a few – Disco, from Fluxicon; ARIS PPM, from Software AG and Celonis Process Mining, from Celonis.
Note: Process Mining is by itself a vast subject consisting of various classes of techniques such as Discovery, Conformance Analysis and Extension, and makes for a separate blog topic.
Tools in Optimise / Re-engineer Phase:
The focus of Optimise phase is to improve or, where required, re-engineer deployed processes and make sure that the business goals are achieved, and customer needs are met.
As the saying goes “the only thing that is constant in this world is change”; processes are no exception. They should keep evolving to meet the growing demands of the business and / or customers. As processes can be proactively improved on an ongoing basis, it is evident that this phase will have a large number of tools to support its objectives.
For process improvements and reengineering: Lean and Six Sigma methodologies provide a wide range of tools to identify problems in the process, and to develop the highest quality solution possible.
Tools such as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) and Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) are key data-driven improvement cycles use for improving and stabilizing process designs. PDCA is a core tool in Lean, while DMAIC is used to drive Six Sigma projects. Neither is exclusive to the methodologies, and can be used as frameworks in various fields.
Within each stage of PDCA and DMAIC life-cycle, there are more tools that can help achieve the objectives of that stage. The table below summarizes the available tools aligned to the methodologies:
|Methodology||Stages||Frequently used tools||What the tool does|
|PDCA||Plan||Problem Drill-down||Helps break complex problems into manageable smaller parts|
|Cause and Effect Diagrams||Helps consider all possible causes of the problem, rather than just the obvious ones|
|5 Whys||Helps get to the root of the problem quickly|
|Flowcharting||Helps visual representation of the activities, decisions and roles involved in a process, and in a easily understandable format|
|Do||Brainstorming||Generating radical, creating ideas collectively as a group. There are variations of brainstorming techniques to achieve specific results.|
|Change Impact Analysis||Helps think through the full impacts of a proposed change by brainstorming. It also provides the ability to spot problems before they arise, so that contingency plans can be developed to handle issues.|
|Pareto Analysis||Choosing the most important changes to make or problems to address|
|What-if Analysis||Helps brainstorm risks and explore scenarios to identify solutions|
|Delphi Technique||Helps to reach a properly thought-through consensus among experts|
(supported by software such as JMP, Minitab, Qi Macros, etc.)
|Entails use of statistical tools to understanding the nature of variation in the process output in terms of what worked, what did not work, and the lessons learned from the experience.|
|Act||Adopt – Adapt – Abandon||Adopt – if the change met the objectives
Adapt – revise the action plan and retest
Abandon – Give up on the change, and return to Plan stage
|DMAIC||Define||Project Charter||Helps collate the scope, objectives, and participants in a project into a single document, for agreement and sign off|
|SIPOC||Summarizes the inputs and outputs of one or more processes in table form.|
|Stakeholder Analysis||Helps identify the individuals or groups that are likely to affect or be affected by the proposed change, and sorting them according to their impact on the change and the impact the change will have on them|
|CTQ||Helps align improvement or design efforts with customer requirements|
|VOC||Helps capture a customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions for a product or service|
|Measure||Data Collection Plan||Helps improve the likelihood that the data and measurements can be used to support the ensuing analysis.|
|Measurement System Analysis||A specially designed experiment that helps identify the components of variation in the measurement|
|Analyze||Histogram||Graphically summarizes and displays the distribution of a process data set|
|Pareto Chart||Graphically summarizes and displays the relative importance of the differences between groups of data|
|Scatter Plot||Shows how much one variable in a process is affected by another (The relationship between two variables is called their correlation).|
|Regression Analysis||Helps estimate the relationships among variables. It includes techniques for modeling and analysing several variables, when the focus is on the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables.|
|Hypothesis Testing||Helps choose between competing hypotheses about a probability distribution, based on observed data from the distribution.|
|Improve||Mistake Proofing (Poka Yoke)||Helps eliminate product or process defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur.|
|Design of Experiments||Helps determine the relationship between factors affecting a process and the output of that process.|
|Pugh Matrix||Helps rank the multi-dimensional options of an option set. It is frequently used in engineering for making design decisions but can also be used to rank investment options, vendor options, product options or any other set of multidimensional entities.|
|Quality Function Deployment||Helps define customer needs or requirements and translating them into specific plans to produce products to meet those needs|
|Control||Control Charts||Helps to study how a process changes over time. Data are plotted in time order. A control chart always has a central line for the average, an upper line for the upper control limit and a lower line for the lower control limit. These lines are determined from historical data.|
|Control Plan||Describes what is needed to keep an improved process at its current level. This includes human resources and training requirements, actions that should be taken if measures are outside the specified range, and reactions needed to ensure process owners sustain the gains of process improvements.|
Depending on the scope and complexity of the processes to be managed in BPM, there are a number of tools that can be established at enterprise level, at department level or at a small group /process level. Such tools can help discover vital information about processes, analyze available data, automate or execute processes.
As can be seen from the tool descriptions, some tools are used in more than one phase of the BPM life-cycle or there are different tools which serve nearly the same purpose. Those which support all the phases of BPM tend to become very sophisticated and intuitive, and obviously highly priced.
Also, as the organization moves towards continuous improvement or re-engineering of processes to enable further automation, the tools required for such initiatives tend to become more sophisticated.