Definition

business process

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Enterprise architect's guide to optimal BPM workflow

A business process is an activity or set of activities that will accomplish a specific organizational goal. Business process management (BPM) is a systematic approach to improving those processes. If an organization is unable to perform certain business processes internally due to cost or resources, the company might utilize business process outsourcing (BPO). Many organizations contract specific business tasks, such as payroll, human resources (HR) or accounting, to a third-party service provider.

To measure success of a business process, organizations track successful completion of different steps within the process, i.e., benchmarks, or reaching the end point of the process. When a business process is not helping an organization reach a goal within timeline or with the resources at hand, there are a number of strategies to execute for improvements. Business process mapping is often undertaken as an exercise during business process re-engineering and process transformation to improve a maybe unsuccessful business process. Organizations might also focus on business process visibility to identify issues in process performance or execution.

Business processes categories

Depending on the organization, industry and nature of work, business processes are often broken up into different categories. Categories include:

  • Operational processes (or primary processes): Operational or primary processes deal with the core business and value chain. These processes deliver value to the customer by helping to produce a product or service. Operational processes represent essential business activities that accomplish business objectives, e.g., generating revenue. Some examples of this include taking customer orders and managing bank accounts.
  • Supporting processes (or secondary processes): Supporting processes back core processes and functions within an organization. Examples of supporting or management processes include accounting, HR management and workplace safety. One key differentiator between operational and support processes is that support processes do not provide value to customers directly.
  • Management processes: Management processes measure, monitor and control activities related to business procedures and systems. Examples of management processes include internal communications, governance, strategic planning, budgeting, and infrastructure or capacity management. Like supporting processes, management processes do not provide value directly to the customers.

Business process mapping or modeling

Business processes are often depicted visually with a flowchart showing a sequence of tasks with certain benchmarks or decision points. Business process mapping or modeling illustrates pictorially, through graphs and charts, how certain processes flow into others.

There a few different ways to think about business process mapping and workflow:

  • Sequential business process: Sequential business processes are outlined on a document with clear start and end points. When following this process map, an organization performs the series of actions in order to complete the task within the constraints of a predetermined timeline.
  • Status-driven business process: A status-driven business process doesn't have strict start and end points. These processes can finish at any stage depending on workflow changes, nature or production or the office culture. Also, it is typical for status-driven processes to recur or cycle on the same step in the process.
  • Parallel business process: When activities in a business process are executed in parallel, they are carried out simultaneously. In this type of business process execution, the activities on all branches must be completed before the next step in the business process can commence.
This was last updated in June 2016

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