An introduction to agile business process management

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Over the course of several years, project teams in almost every industry have increasingly been combining Business Process Management (BPM) with Agile Development methodologies, forming a hybrid model which delivers the benefits of both technique – Agile BPM. Why is Agile BPM fast becoming more typical than exceptional in businesses worldwide? Follow on for more information on agile process management, its benefits, and what its adoption could mean for your organisation.

What is Agile BPM?

Business process management’ describes a way of managing and automating a business’s structured and repeatable processes – activities, inputs or outputs relating to a business objective.

‘Agile Development’ is a management methodology which largely earned its fame in the IT sector. It is opposed in some ways to traditional development life cycles which emphasise project completion in long phases, from planning through to delivery. In contrast, Agile methods demand multiple iterations in small phases, more user involvement, frequent testing and a greater focus on tight communication. It additionally promotes bringing disparate teams together to allow for a more flexible planning and creation process.

The combination of BPM and Agile, therefore, provides automated and managed structures for repeatable business processes, while simultaneously offering the capability to alter processes in real time when responding to unforeseen circumstances.

In essence, it takes processes out of their predictable and tightly-defined box so that difficult cases can be handled appropriately, outside of the remit of traditional management techniques. If BPM can be used to regulate the compliance and consistency of a financial transaction, for example, then APM allows companies to respond in multiple different ways to one type of demand (like multiple patients with the same illness may require different variations of treatment.)

How does Agile Business Process Management work?

In order to be defined as ‘agile business process management’, the methodology or framework implemented must demonstrate these characteristics:

  1. Users should be able to alter processes in an ad hoc manner, responding to current conditions without changing the base model
  2. The capability to deal with unstructured work
  3. Knowledge of the conditions affecting processes, usually via use of predictive analytics

As a framework, it contains several aspects distinguishing it from other management methodologies. These include ‘discovery workshops’, iterative development (or ‘playbacks’), and the management culture needed to implement it effectively.

Discovery workshops are events, usually one to two days long, which bring together the business and technology elements of an organisation in order to identify common problems and solutions related to shared objectives. They are intended to deliver critical project elements like roadmaps, business cases, KPIs, timelines as well as documented next steps and benefits.

Agile BPM places a heavy emphasis on iteration, ensuring projects are thoroughly and repeatedly tested – creating multiple versions in the process – before being released publically. Theoretically, this continual delivery of early iterations exposes flaws early on in the procedure, before they are ingrained in the product or project. This iterative process sometimes takes the form of a ‘playback’ – an interactive session dedicated to real-time development and review of solutions with the active participation input of all key stakeholders.

Agile business process management also requires a unique culture which merges the (usually contrasting) business and IT functions of the organisation. By using a collaborative process for discovery and design, these different factions can view projects through each other’s perspective. The ultimate aim is to secure the maximum benefit for the business through creation of an optimal environment which doesn’t alienate anybody involved in key processes.

Where is Agile BPM best applied?

Traditional “waterfall” management methodologies which emphasis simple, sequential development can cause headaches when deadlines are missed and the resulting solutions are below par. These frustrations alone are often enough to drive an organisation to Agile practices. Generally, though, the choice to “go agile” is often driven by an organisational need to respond to unpredictable circumstances.

It is best applied to companies where:

  • Unpredictability is common, whether in processes, solutions or markets
  • Business processes cannot currently be altered quickly enough to keep up with business practices
  • Workers need to focus on knowledge acquisition and goal achievement, rather than repetitive tasks

Any organisation which depends on effective, efficient processes which are adaptable could benefit from integrating Agile BPM methodologies into their management style.

Benefits of Agile Business Process Management

As more organisations adapt to Agile BPM, the business landscape has changed significantly, partly due to benefits offered by the methodology.

Collaboration

Agile BPM requires clear and seamless communication between all business departments. Once open communication is established, departments work together on all kinds of projects. Bringing teams together helps to foster understanding of the business’s vision, and create a shared commitment to the solution.

One of the foremost benefits referred to by those who have successfully implemented Agile BPM is the bringing together of business and IT functions to create common investment in the management and processes of the company. Taking teams out of their “silos” in this way to promote collaboration which has been shown to increase efficiency.

Speaking of which…

Rapid development

Companies who have integrated Agile BPM successfully are able to respond quickly to changes in circumstances. Because of the emphasis on iterative and collaborative work, teams can share knowledge with each other to reach faster and deeper understanding of problems as they surface, as well as the requirements of any proposed solution.

As a result, more improvements to products and processes can be made, and changes can be prototyped and implemented faster, reducing the need for traditionally long development cycles.

Competitive advantage

The ability to solve problems creatively and adapt to new markets and circumstances provides organisations which use Agile BPM with an advantage over inflexible competitors.

By involving stakeholders throughout the company to create shared ownership and commitment, the challenge of poor requirement definition is significantly mitigated so that the solutions delivered can be optimal, but also radical – without radically shifting business priorities.

Considerations

At this point you may think that an agile approach is the ideal to strive for. However, it’s worth considering some factors before signing up to a whole new management method.

Agile BPM is gradual – it usually takes an adjustment period as the “what is needed” of the business department has to merge with the “what is possible” of the IT team. Old, ingrained (and sometimes imperfect) behaviours need to be modified, people need to adapt to new processes, and this can take a fair amount of time to accomplish.

Consider whether your organisation is ready for the change of moving from a ‘waterfall’ management approach to one founded on quick iteration. Some within your company may feel as though the new method runs counter to their understanding of their business or IT roles. It is essential to have a shared understanding of the goals of any Agile BPM initiative, and it is important to secure an executive mandate for the initiative where possible!

Summing Up

Let’s conclude with what we know about an Agile approach to Business Process Management.

  • It emphasises ‘discovery’ to allow stakeholders to define functionality and priorities, as well as to learn more and share knowledge
  • It is founded on iteration and ‘playbacks’ to allow for quick identification and solving of problems that surface
  • It involves a change in organisational culture which, though usually beneficial, may require some adaptation and tailoring of solutions to solve

If you still wonder why you should care about Agile BPM, the answer is simple: it’s about time, cost and service. At FLOvate we have successfully helped various organisations to change the way they do business in order to delivery greater efficiencies, revenues and services.

See what FLOvate can offer in terms of business process management.

Or, see how our low code LEAP platform can help you to automate your business processes.