About business processes I. - What are business processes?

About business processes I. - What are business processes?


Today's post is the first part of a seven part series, dedicated to provide insight into the realm of business processes from the fundamentals to the most sophisticated solution which might require serious IT background.


What is a business process?

Business processes, BPM, BPR and the related jargon usually refer to some really incomprehensible, theoretic concepts which are far from the operational practise of SMEs not to mention the lack of their real life usefulness for such companies. However behind these abstract concepts, there is a goldmine of practises ,methods and routines which can make any business more efficient, effective and thus profitable while decreasing operative workload too. The aim of this post is to provide a view into the world of business processes. Processes - in our case, business processes - mean the "chain" of tasks or a sequence of activities required to attain a certain goal. In other words, shall we aim for - basically anything - in business, our way to achieve it will consist of a number of different steps. These steps altogether mean the business process, in which some steps can be done freely while some others are depending on antecedent steps and therefore must be performed in a certain order. The latter is called "dependency".



Practical example

Let's see a simple practical example, where tasks are dependent and therefore can only be performed in a certain order! Take stationery purchasing as an example, since this task occur at every business.



  1. As a first step, we must identify what stationery we need to purchase. In many cases it is OK if we just sit down and write a list about what needs to be purchased. In other cases we shall ask our colleagues to write or tell us what they need.
  2. In the second step, we examine if our budget would cover all needs or not. In case it does, we shall proceed with buying, if not, we have to omit some items from our list.
  3. In the third step we check for the cheapest source where we can purchase all the items we need. When we have a "winner" supplier, we proceed to the next step:
  4. Purchasing the chosen items. In this step we have options (more about process level options and decisions later) about the purchase
    1. We can buy the items in the store
    2. We can ask a colleague to go to the shop and buy them
    3. Or we can order the items with shipping. (For the example, let's stick to the ordering method, as it is the most widespread nowadays.)
  5. Therefore in the fifth step the ordered items are shipped to our office. Our tasks in this step are:
    1. Checking the items for any injuries of deficiencies
    2. Taking over the items
    3. Paying for the items (in case we chose to pay by cash at delivery)
  6. In the sixth step we inform other colleagues who ordered items and hand out the items ordered by them.

As it can be seen in the above example, there are many activities we don't even consider business processes - but they are! Therefore it is safe to say that we do most everything in business based on processes. Also another conclusion is that even the simplest tasks can be defined by certain steps which are not interchangeable. Hence it is important to complete such tasks in their respective order and within the right time frame.


In the next part...

In our next post we will introduce some business processes which are most likely to occur at every small and medium business as some processes cannot be skipped in order to keep the business in operation. Decisions and options (just as in the above example) will be further explained through a number of process examples and thus we will also see the ways decisions change the results of processes.