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Business process management (BPM) and workflows are two different methodologies used to simplify and automate work using workflow management software, especially in project management.

I will provide context as to what BPM and workflows are, as well as explore five key differences and similarities in detail.

What Is Business Process Management (BPM)?

BPM is a holistic and comprehensive approach to encapsulating an organization’s processes. BPM tools enable team members to map processes in order to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, control costs, support operational efficiency, drive innovation, and enhance productivity. 

It is a continuous improvement practice used to elevate project outcomes, services, or processes. BPM is part of the digital transformation initiatives that many organizations invest in.

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What Is A Workflow?

A workflow is the collection of tasks that make up the sequential flow of activities in business operations. Workflow tools are task-oriented and prioritize automating specific tasks within a process. 

Workflows live in operational systems where project managers can track task status including progress, comments, approvals, or other information. Task monitoring and bilateral communications in workflow tools are a great help in situations like onboarding.

BPM vs Workflow: Differences & Similarities

While business process management and workflows support one another in a system, it is important to understand their distinct roles and functionalities. This knowledge can significantly enhance project performance and improve efficiency and business performance.

Here is a summary of how BPM and workflow are different and similar in a few core areas:

DifferencesSimilarities
BPMWorkflow
PurposeEnhances overall business performanceAutomates specific tasksBoth aim to improve efficiency
ScopeOrganization-wideProcess-specificBoth involve sequences of tasks
Who’s ResponsibleBusiness leadersProcess owners and managersBoth involve visual task flow monitoring
ToolsAppian, Confluence, Jira, Pipefy Asana, Trello, Monday, SmartSheetModeling, automation, monitoring, customization, dashboards, analytics reporting
KPIsProcess: efficiency, cost, cycle time, and client satisfactionTask: completion rate and time, task count over time, efficiency, error countMeasure efficiency, time, cost, errors, performance tracking

Differences

  1. Scope: BPM is a holistic approach that encompasses the entire organization’s processes. On the other hand, workflows are confined to specific processes within the organization.
  2. Purpose: BPM aims to enhance overall business performance and efficiency, while a workflow aims to automate specific tasks.
  3. Responsibility: Typically, the responsibility of implementing and managing BPM lies with the senior management of an organization. In contrast, workflows are managed by the process owners or managers.
  4. Tools: BPM utilizes software tools that provide a bird's eye view of the organization's processes. Workflows, however, use automation tools that help streamline specific tasks.
  5. KPIs: BPM KPIs are usually broad and include metrics like ROI and customer satisfaction. On the other hand, workflow KPIs are specific to the task at hand, such as task completion time.

Similarities

  1. Improve efficiency: Both BPM platforms and workflow tools aim to improve efficiency within an organization. They achieve this by streamlining processes and tasks, respectively.
  2. Task sequencing: Both BPM and workflows involve sequences of tasks. However, while BPM looks at the sequence of all organizational tasks, workflows focus on the functions within a specific process.
  3. Human oversight: Despite the use of workflow automation, both BPM and workflows require human oversight. This personal touch ensures that the processes and tasks run smoothly and that any issues that arise can be handled as soon as possible.
  4. Integrate to support centralization: BPM software and workflow software can integrate (to varying degrees) with your existing systems and tools to support the centralization of processes and tasks.
  5. Measurable: Both BPM and workflows are measurable using unique metrics. Using business processes and supporting workflows, organizations can track their performance and make process improvements where necessary. 

When To Use BPM vs When To Use Workflows

BPM systems help organizations improve their overall performance and efficiency. It's also helpful when handling complex processes that involve multiple departments.

Conversely, workflows are for automating specific, repetitive tasks within a process. They're instrumental when simple tasks don't involve multiple departments.

BPM Use Cases:

  • Streamlining complex inter-departmental processes
  • Enhancing the customer journey to improve satisfaction
  • Project management portfolios and resource management
  • Supply chain optimization

Workflow use cases:

  • Streamline employee onboarding processes
  • Customer support ticketing
  • Content collaboration and approvals
  • Streamlined project management tasks

In conclusion, while BPM and workflows serve different purposes, they are not mutually exclusive. They often work best when used together, with a workflow being the supporting player in a larger BPM strategy. 

By understanding the differences and similarities between BPM and workflows, organizations can better decide when to use each one and leverage their unique traits to optimize operational and project performance. 

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Stephanie Best
By Stephanie Best

Stephanie is a project manager and value delivery expert. She has 15 years of experience in project management and business strategy. She has led cross-functional, multi-local project teams to successfully launch complex SaaS and IT infrastructure projects, focusing on building high-performing teams and optimizing project value delivery. Stephanie is the principal consultant at Greannmhar Consulting. She is passionate about building strong connections, project management, and unlocking growth opportunities through value delivery optimization.