I have worked in the BPM (Business Process Management) area for a number of years now, and I have heard a lot of definitions of BPM, and I’ve also defined it myself several times mostly as a way to explain it to others who aren’t familiar with the term.
The simplest and most holistic definition I have come up with takes a three step approach to defining BPM.
First, you have to start by defining a workflow.
Workflow: A workflow entails moving a piece of work or information from a person to person, person to machine, machine to person, or machine to machine. For many years, I didn’t think of moving anything other than work, but then I worked with a lot of Settlement systems and saw workflows which were focused purely on moving money.
Upon some reflection, I felt what you are truly moving when you move money is information about ownership of that money, and I think work and information are nice umbrella terms that convey our meaning very clearly.
Now that you have defined a workflow, you can move on to define a business process.
Business Process: A business process is when one or more workflows come together to achieve a goal.
You can argue that all workflows are business processes, but I would counter that some manual and system tasks like collecting mail from the mail room, or taking data from one set of tables and posting them to another while necessary to perform are not really business processes in themselves.
Finally, you are ready to define BPM.
BPM (Business Process Management): BPM is the way to make a business process more efficient or adaptable.
I used to think that automation is very important but over the years I have realized that automation is a means to the end, and the end is efficiency. If a company could make their process more efficient without IT, heaven knows no one would spend a dime on software.
Adaptability is a recent addition to my definition because I have encountered a few refactoring projects lately whose sole purpose is to move code to a newer version with eyes on improvement in the future.
I feel that this definition is simple enough that everyone understands it, and at the same time it captures the essence of BPM correctly and wholly.
If you have any questions or clarifications to add, go ahead and leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to respond to it.