Business process management is key to a culture of continuous improvement and process excellence, but just having documented business processes isn’t enough. All the technology, teams, and technical knowledge in the world won’t help an organization if those processes can’t be understood if you are not creating processes that work.
That’s not to say that committed teams and engaged leadership aren’t helpful – it’s just that the information contained in your business processes is a key knowledge asset, and that content needs to be available. If staff can’t easily find and utilize your business processes for collaboration and improvement, any anticipated ROI will be impacted.
At the heart of great business process management is great processes. Anyone can create a business process, but not everyone can do it well, and that difference could be the key to unlocking your organization’s potential.
Well-captured and presented processes engage business teams. They make it easy to find important process information, to understand its relevance—and most importantly—to identify and suggest possible improvements.
In part one of this blogging series, I share two of the six tried and tested techniques that can help create process documentation that really works. Read part two here!
Tip # 1: Focus on what happens 80% of the time
The traditional process map is a tangle of spaghetti-like lines and shapes, crammed full of information about every aspect of the procedure. They’ll often cover an entire end-to-end process, with anything up to a dozen decision points on the page.
Process maps can be a veritable dumping-ground of information, cluttered with decision diamonds and connectors that are simply too complex to digest in a glance, if at all. Such crowded and complicated diagrams quickly get relegated to a procedure manual, never to see the light of day again.
Management teams are frequently at a loss to understand why people would ignore the carefully – and expensively! – created processes that contain every minute detail a user might possibly need.
The problem is information overload. The process maps are indecipherable. End users will be overwhelmed by the amount of content and the complicated presentation of it all. They’ll fall back on old habits like asking colleagues for advice, or simply inventing their own workarounds.
The solution is to simplify what users encounter when they first look at a process. That begins by understanding that not every possible outcome of the process needs to be represented. Start with the ‘happy flow’ – what happens most of the time. This represents the tasks and activities that will occur in about 80% of the process’s executions. By limiting the primary map to that content, the process is immediately simplified, making it clearer and easier to follow.
That doesn’t mean ignoring the exceptions and alternatives. They still need to be captured and documented, but they aren’t critical to the everyday use of the process and won’t apply to most users.
For instance, if you wrote a process for making a hot drink, you could include decision points for whether there were enough cups available, whether the milk was expired, or if you needed to use artificial sweetener.
Those are fringe cases though – not likely to be everyday occurrences – and when they’re eliminated, the process map becomes instantly clearer:
Tip # 2: Use 10 or less high-level activities in a process
It’s important to grasp the difference between an activity and a task in your process:
- Activities are the key steps in the process
- Tasks are the actions taken to perform them.
This distinction will help make sure that you don’t clutter the process map with details that obscure the important steps.
Try to capture the ‘what’ of the process, writing down those high-level activities that make up the key steps. Then simplify the process further by grouping any of those activities that could be summarized under a higher-level category. The tasks involved will clump together under the higher categories, making for a simpler end product.
For instance, here is our 7-step hot drink process:
This process can actually be reduced to three steps like this:
That process map is much easier to grasp at a glance and ensures users will understand the core of the process without having to decode the map first.
Try to limit any process to 10 high-level activities at most. Any more than this will clutter the map and reduce its effectiveness. It’s also probably a sign that what you’re capturing is in fact several related processes that need to be broken up.
With those core ‘what’ activities established, the next step is to capture the detail of ‘how’ each is accomplished. That means adding the details of the tasks involved.
Here’s how we’ve broken down the ‘Make hot drinks’ activity into five tasks:
Your organization can improve the way it works by prioritizing business processes – how they are captured, where they are stored, how readily teams can provide feedback, and how easily they can be updated.
Read part two in this series to get the four remaining ways your organization can create business processes that really work.