We’ve all been there. Maybe around the time a New Year looms, or maybe when an important event in our lives is approaching and we desperately want to be at our very best before the big day is upon us.

Whatever the impetus, it comes down to this: we need to take a hard look at the stuff we’re doing now that isn’t working the way we would like it to. Then we need to identify the changes we could make to turn back toward the target, and make those wished-for changes more than just pipe dreams. It could be as basic as getting back to the gym and dropping a few pounds or as life-shaping as tackling the big issues that get in the way of giving ourselves over more fully to our personal relationships or our careers.

What could be simpler than changing ourselves for the better? If only it actually worked, that is. Too often, we’re like Mark Twain trying to give up his cigars. It was easy, he said. He knew that was true because he’d done it hundreds of times.

The good news is self-evaluation for change actually can work, and often does – just not if we look at it as the miraculous product of a one-shot solution. In real life, change rests on taking a careful inventory of the habits, attitudes, and distractions that keep us traveling in the wrong direction no matter how many times we try to correct the course. Or how often we give up cigars. It comes from recognizing and acting upon the reality that change is an ongoing process of moving toward improvements.

Managing business processes is a process in itself

Not surprisingly, Business Process Management (BPM) isn’t all that different conceptually than getting our own lives on track. There are just a lot more variables to contend with, and typically a lot more people to coordinate and collaborate with. And, as in personal life, it can result in dramatic improvements, as APQC spells out in its Seven Tenets of Process Management. When the tenets are put to work effectively, they can alleviate common problems such as bottlenecks and redundancy in essential business processes, and the inability of management to view and track processes through each of their component steps.

Specific business processes, of course, can vary widely depending upon the nature and objectives of any given business, but the goals of BPM can be applied to streamline, optimize, and improve everything from manufacturing processes to back office functions, and any other multi-step process that contributes to efficiency and value.

Take it one step at a time

  1. Much like that plan to get back to regular workouts at the gym, BPM begins with clearly defining goals and focusing on the steps required to address them for the long-run. In BPM, that translates to the Strategic Alignment of processes with key business objectives, making sure that the flow of work is moving efficiently toward the ultimate organizational goal.
  2. Alignment is a starting point, but keeping things together calls for both top-down management and a company-wide understanding that BPM is a core value and a shared responsibility, not just one more passing trend. That requires assigning ownership of each step in a process to appropriate personnel. The “owners” are typically drawn from management or executive ranks, with both the leadership qualities and the authority to keep the focus where it needs to be.
  3. Identifying the owner of a process or step provides for ongoing focus and vigilance on the ground, but successful BPM organizations also recognize that best practices call for broader involvement and a central “brain” to hold it all together and keep everyone rowing in the same direction. To do that, businesses form a central group to look after the big picture. These groups, often comprised of process owners from the various departments and senior staff, meet regularly and serve as a focal point for identifying duplication and inefficiencies, sharing solutions, and monitoring process improvements.
  1. Embrace technical solutions to keep an eye on the prize – improved efficiency and profitability. Solutions such as management dashboards and tools for collaboration allow for unprecedented 360-degree views of how all of the processes in an organization integrate, and where the glitches are. They also mean that all of the stakeholders get a complete view of the proverbial elephant, rather than having their entire view of operations confined to merely a tusk or a tail.

Smoke and mirrors

Obviously, Mark Twain was being ironic when he joked about breaking his bad habit. As was so often the case with his wry observations about human nature, he was holding his cigar habit (and his own character flaw) up to a mirror and reflecting on a deeper truth. Real change and improvement doesn’t happen all at once. It has to be purposeful, strategic, and sustained, whether for personal growth or improving business processes. That’s why BPM succeeds when it is integral to the culture and the daily thought-processes of a company.