The basics of Business Process Management for Masters students

Reflections on a 3-week intensive BPM Consulting boot camp

Imagine yourself hiring a fresh-out-of-school, Masters in Management graduate as a process analyst, hoping that soon he will start improving your business processes. What do you expect him to already know about business process management (BPM)? Now, turn that question around; what should we, as academics in the BPM field, teach to our students in business schools on BPM? This was the main question I had in mind while designing a three-week intensive course on BPM for our Masters in General Management students, titled “BPM Consulting boot camp”.


When it comes to advertising this topic to students, of which they had no clue about, I used Edward Deming’s quote; “If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.” But my main ‘selling proposition’ for the course was the fact that it does not originate from an academic discipline, but has completely sprouted from business practice. This was quite interesting for management students who are usually hungry for relevance. The fact that BPM is industry and business-model independent was also an attractive point for them.

As this year was our first trial with the electives, I was happy to see that 12 students opted for BPM,  even though none of them had any relevant work experience and none of them had a course about or including BPM before. They were quite like a white canvas waiting to be filled.

Even though this was a small group, the diversity of their backgrounds was not to be underestimated; ranging from architects to computer scientists to biologists. I wondered, what is the impact of their background education on learning the process related concepts and techniques? I also wondered, should they learn to work with BPMN? Should they be aware of the BPMS industry and players within? Would practical experience with a BPM system be an added value for their future careers, or would it only limit their perspective on the role of IT in BPM? These were only some of the questions I had in mind while designing the course content. But one thing I was sure about was the importance of hands-on experience and real-life challenges, which proved to be right at the end. 

The objectives of the course were pretty straightforward;

  • Introduce students to BPM as a holistic management approach which optimises a company’s performance.
  • Teach them how to discover, analyse, model, improve and implement processes via the BPM cycle.
  • Show them the strategic positioning for BPM, and how it can serve much more than operational excellence.
  • Teach the importance of picking the right KPIs for processes and tying them back to the strategic goals of the company.
  • Convince them that BPM is much more than a collection of methods and techniques; but is a mind-set, where culture, communication and resistance to change play a big role.

As they ran through concepts guided by a variety of teaching methods, such as games, simulations, and case studies, they also practiced what they learned on imaginary or real-life cases. But the jewel of the crown was the third week of the boot camp; where the students put their brand new consultancy hats on, and rounded up their sleeves to improve a current (and rather problematic) process of a real company (a.k.a. the Deep Dive Challenge)! The end result? They clearly saw how practical and operational BPM can be, as well as BPM projects’ strategic impact on the rest of the company.

It was very interesting to see the transformation of the students in this extensive learning journey. But  they were not the only one learning - I also had very interesting observations worth sharing;

  • As the notorious generation Y who cannot do without their gadgets and laptops, I expected them to find the brown paper process mapping sessions tedious. But they did not! Even when given the option, they preferred to map their process using post-it’s on a brown paper first, and then copied that on to their favourite free process modelling software.
  • During process mapping, their main challenge was the level of detail to map; they tended to try and put everything on a single process map, with all the exceptions and potential ‘what if’ scenarios. The advice on only mapping the ‘happy flow’ was helpful, but still did not resolve all issues.
  • They can never have enough feedback! It was through the detailed, group-specific feedback sessions, rather than the course itself, they learned the most.
  • Students had trouble accepting the fact that BPM often suggests more than one right solution, and none of them are ever perfect! The fact that most process evaluation and modelling depends on the needs of the business was not a comforting revelation for them.
  • During the final course wrap-up, I asked them to list their most important learning points. After listing 22 opinions on the blackboard, I asked them to think again and prioritize. The end result was surprising - what ‘stuck’ was the following:
  1. The role of BPM for customer centricity
  2. The importance of thinking in terms of end-to-end processes
  3. The role of the human aspect of BPM (more than the tools and the techniques)
  4. How to sell BPM and show the ‘why’ of the BPM to the top management team

As professionals in the field, do you think these learning points hit the target? What else should we pay attention to? Are there certain skills that you wish your process managers learned in school? Please let me know! Or maybe you have an idea for the next edition of Deep Dive Challenge? Just drop me a line!

Boot Camps: tailor your Masters with our specialised courses

Masters programme at Vlerick Business School is all about action-based learning. And even more so as from this academic year onwards. Masters students can tailor their programme to their specific interest via a 3-week specialised boot camp on a topic of their choice. Far from passive lectures, these boot camps are designed to immerse our students in the specifics of a well-defined concept domain. For three weeks, they will attend advanced classes, take part in in-depth exercises and apply your knowledge to real-life challenges.

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Sara Teuwen

Sara Teuwen

Business Developer GPtW®