What is Process Improvement?

The field of business process management (BPM) is broad and has been approached in a number of ways:

Business process improvement focuses on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of individual processes for results that benefit the customer and the organization from a business perspective.

Process automation is an IT-centric approach that seeks to improve internal efficiency, control, and business agility by applying technology to speed the workflow, integrate heterogeneous systems and databases, and enforce business rules.

BPM as a management discipline seeks to manage and measure enterprise business performance from an “end-to-end” (customer-facing) process perspective and create a process culture for the organization as a whole.


The terminology used in process improvement – BPM, BPI, Lean, Six Sigma, Reengineering, and BPMS – is a frequent source of confusion as well.

BPM stands for Business Process Management. It is the predominant term used today for the overall category. As a business management discipline for the enterprise, BPM encompasses all three bullets above. When the organization is doing BPM, it is building an organizational process culture, with governance, consistent tools and techniques such as process modeling, metrics, analysis, and standardized applications tools; and it is using these to improve processes to increase operational performance and agility. But if the company is just starting its BPM journey, it may not yet have all these elements in place. *

BPI is Business Process Improvement. It is a general term and can be used in narrow and wider arenas. BPI may or may not involve technology; it may not be enterprise wide; but it does imply a process methodology. My new book coming in mid Feb. 2014, The BPI Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Make Your Business Process Improvement Projects Simple, Structured and Successful is about BPI Projects and the methods for improving, redesigning, and transforming processes in your organization.

Lean, Six Sigma, and Reengineering are three different process improvement methodologies. All have overriding principles and use different techniques for modeling, analysis, and design. There is overlap between the three methodologies, and they all are relevant to process improvement.

BPMS stands for BPM Suite, a set of integrated software that enables organizations to automate the workflow, integrate business systems, apply business rules, and make process performance visible to the business in real time. A company does not have to use a BPMS to implement process improvement. In fact, it’s not the best first step on the process improvement journey, and many process improvement efforts require no process automation at all. But BPM Suites can provide significant benefits both to improving individual processes and building a more mature process culture at the enterprise level.

Business Process Improvement Methodology

But, in order to have a simple, structured and successful BPI Project, it is critical to have a standardized methodology. The graphic below shows the four stages of a BPM Process Methodology with the BPI Project at stage two.

BPM Process Methodology

bpiblueprintThe BPI Blueprint provides a detailed plan of action to create results the first time, inspire leaders of business processes, and build invigorated skilled teams. It’s a simple, no nonsense, guide to help you develop and manage effective Business Process Improvement projects, regardless of your experience-level.

Future blogs in this series will cover the top tips from different chapters in the book, such as:

  • Getting Executives Involved In BPI Early
  • Swimlane Mapping for Non Swimmers
  • How Your Job Can Contribute to BPM

Email shelleysweet@i4process with your name, email and “Notify me of publication of The BPI Blueprint” in the subject and I will let you know when it is launched.

*Keith Swenson, VP, R& D, Fujitsu America and others have been building a common definition for BPM that is:

Business process management is the discipline to model, automate, execute, control, measure and optimize the flows of business activities that span the enterprise’s systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.

Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.