A brief, tactical guide to agile business process management

Sometimes, you have to make unplanned business decisions on the fly. No matter how well-thought-out your business processes are, you’ll always need to leave a little wiggle room for the unexpected.

In those cases, traditional business process management (BPM) doesn’t cut it. In this article, we’ll walk you through agile business process management and why it makes sense to use it when you’re expecting the unexpected.

What is agile business process management (BPM)?

Agile BPM is a business process methodology that lets your business automate parts of its day-to-day operations while leaving room to tackle tasks or factors that you didn’t plan for. 

Project managers analyze BPM in terms of inputs, processes, and outputs. The inputs are variable ⁠— they could include requests you don’t anticipate, tools that break, and late payments. Agile BPM allows for new inputs that you don’t expect to happen and provides a framework to process them.

BPM vs agile BPM

Traditional BPM is a way to document automated and repeatable processes. For example, every time a member of your marketing team needs to create a purchase order for some new client swag, they follow the same repeatable process to do that.

But these processes can be less than flexible, and it can be difficult to react to major changes in real time. For example, let’s say one of your major conferences was canceled this year and your marketing team wants to use the conference budget to buy some digital advertising instead to try to make up for lost revenue. 

This is where agile BPM comes in handy. Agile BPM would allow the marketing team to pivot their spending by having operational directions in place to get that request processed and approved quickly.

“The concept of agility is about dealing with all the stuff you weren’t anticipating, quickly,” says Dustin Clinard, vice president of strategic partnerships at Betterworks. “If you can account for things without having to stop an entire process, like a pivot in marketing spend, then you don’t interrupt your business operations because of an internal glitch.”

What is the benefit of agile BPM?

The benefit of agile BPM is the ability to pivot without stopping business operations. This is most valuable for departments that deal with the unexpected a lot — like marketing, sales, and engineering. In contrast, departments like operations, finance, and human resources may actually find not having more rigid processes frustrating.

“Let’s take operations versus sales, for example,” says Clinard. “Operations is generally a place where you want consistency. You want to know exactly how many hats you can manufacture and get to the shelves in your boutique in a given month. Traditional BPM works really well in this context.

“On the flip side, while we want sales to be predictable, they’re often not. Sales processes often deal with a certain type of person making a certain type of decision to have an impact. 

“Do you give a customer a discount to make a sale? Was there a returned and damaged item to consider? Sales teams need to be able to think on their feet to meet their quotas.”

While you can automate sales reporting, you can’t automate all the different variables it takes to actually close a sale. That’s when agile BPM can help you stick to the core of the process while managing the variables. 

How does agile BPM work?

Agile BPM works as a foundation for your processes. It provides concrete methods companies can adopt to manage their business processes. A method is something like a kanban board or table that you might use to carry out the principles of agile BPM. 

For agile BPM to work, team members have to be able to deal with unstructured or ad hoc work requests without abandoning the work process altogether or changing it on the fly.

Two cause-and-effect models are the root of why agile BPM is necessary and explain how agile BPM works:

Cause-and-effect model no. 1

  • Cause: Routine work, like processing a purchase order, is not actually routine because it frequently requires more knowledge to complete the process than what’s in the documentation.
  • Effect: Agile BPM will allow the process to adapt so that you can incorporate the additional knowledge required to complete the task into the process.

Cause-and-effect model no. 2

  • Cause: Routine work requires much more collaboration than is stated in the process documentation. You might need to split up one task into several steps so that more people can provide input to move a project along. 
  • Effect: Agile BPM will allow multiple people to collaborate simultaneously on a project by allowing the team to break down a single task into smaller parts so they can complete it more quickly than anticipated.

At this point, you might be thinking: Wouldn’t it just be easier to sit down and work hard to build a list of possible outcomes so my traditional process doesn’t break? You can do that, but it’s much harder in practice than it is in theory. You’ll end up spending a lot of time and effort planning for all the contingencies you’ve thought about, only to end up missing something anyway.

“If you imagine this on a larger scale, it’s a bit easier to wrap your head around,” says Clinard. “Imagine our hat manufacturer has just been operating in the United States up until now, but they want to expand to Canada. The likelihood of coming across something you didn’t anticipate in a new market is much higher than when you’re operating a process that’s been running smoothly for a while. Growth is often a catalyst for adopting agile BPM.”

How can an organization apply agile BPM?

If you’re looking to adopt agile BPM within your organization, you’ll need the following:

  • The ability for team members to change things on the fly. You need to be able to change small parts of the process, like assigning a new team member or breaking down tasks into smaller parts.
  • A mindset of agility. Your team needs to be on board with the fact that processes might change — and that they have the power to change them.
  • A strong measurement process. If your processes are changing, you should be able to measure whether or not that change made a positive impact.

How can Jotform help with agile BPM?

Jotform is the ideal solution for creating processes that follow the agile BPM methodology. Jotform Forms, Approvals, and Tables provide businesses with a way to automate repeatable tasks while also offering the flexibility to change those processes as projects progress.

Start by documenting your business processes using approval process templates, like this design approval process template that a marketing team might use to approve designs for different marketing assets, such as ads or brochures.

When it comes to executing those processes day to day, start by using Jotform’s form templates to collect input of all kinds. Following our design approval process example, a design team could use this graphic design request form template to collect requests from marketing stakeholders.

Once they collect the information from that form, the design team could use Jotform table templates, such as this design request list template, to manage those requests. Tables allow teams to assign owners, move deadlines, divide up large tasks into smaller tasks, and much more, which is right in line with the principles of agile BPM.

Plus, Jotform’s Report Builder can send automated reports to help teams keep track of it all. This example report is based on our example design request list. It quickly displays how many request types exist for each category.

When might agile BPM be for you? 

Agile BPM isn’t necessarily better than traditional BPM, but it is critical for times when you’re not able to accurately predict how a project will progress. Your organization can use Jotform tools to implement and document both traditional and agile business process management practices quickly and efficiently for teams of all sizes. Get started today.

AUTHOR
Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of Jotform. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from Jotform users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@Jotform.com

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