As I indicated in my inaugural Doculabs blog post, I’ve had significant experience in documenting, analyzing, and reimagining business processes for various organizations, as well as in selecting the technology tools to support those processes. Here, I want to share a few tips and tools on how to effectively manage and execute a solid business process documentation, as well as to get some thoughts and suggestions out there for what’s worked for other business process professionals.
The following is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list, but rather some tools and frameworks I’ve found to be helpful when interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) or process owners for the purposes of documenting a business process.
- Before you start, know where you’re headed.
It’s critical to understand the outcome or goal of the process you are mapping from the get go. This provides context for each step in the process and helps to keep you and the SME focused on identifying the critical steps or activities involved. At a macro level an organization should consistently align their activities and projects to the organizational strategy; at a micro level you should be focused on what the activities are that align to and achieve a process outcome.
- The beginning isn’t always a very good place to start.
Despite what Julie Andrews would have you believe (and yes, that’s a Sound of Music reference, for those of you keeping track at home), sometimes it’s better to start from the end of a process and work your way backwards. Just as some individuals respond better to product or idea generation when given constraints, I’ve found it effective to start at the end with the final output and work back toward the middle. This approach can provide an alternative lens for SMEs, process owners, or knowledge workers with which to view the various process components. And if you get stuck in the middle, you can always start back at the beginning.
- Know why.
A business process professional whom I respect once told me that you should ask “why” as many as six times when trying to understand a step or activity in a business process. (Six times!) While that may be seem excessive in some instances, the sentiment behind it is not. Understanding the business need and rationale for why something occurs in the completion of a business process is vital information to have – especially when you’re considering making changes to the process. If you’re modifying or re-engineering a process, be sure to understand the “why” behind the changes you recommend. Whether it’s cost savings, time savings, or efficiency gains, be sure to get current state metrics as a baseline to compare to the projected future state. And if you ever hear the phrase “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you more than likely have an opportunity for optimization on your hands.
- Stay the course.
Try not to get bogged down in all the alternate scenarios or possibilities. The most important thing to focus on during a first pass is the “Happy Path” or “Path of Least Resistance.” Make sure you understand what the process is supposed to look like before getting into the exceptions. This can be a challenge for SMEs or process owners who want to give you the whole story all at once. One way I’ve found to effectively manage diversions during interviews is to use reminders, such as a designated color of sticky note on a whiteboard, to acknowledge the need to revisit the step or activity. This serves as both a reminder to you and an acknowledgement to the interviewee that the item will be addressed.
Okay, that's Tips Numbers 1 through 4. Stay tuned; I’ll be serving up the rest of my tips and suggestions in Part 2 of this post. But in the meantime, are there additional tips or frameworks that have helped you develop a successful business process documentation or analysis? I encourage you to share the wealth!