Often, we hear, “We want to make the process better, we just don’t know how.” The secret to business process improvement isn’t (just) inviting in an expert who will magically change things. The secret is to know what your process are now so that you can change them.
Said another way, if you don’t know what your actual process is, then you won’t know if the changes you make to the process will be successful.
Often, we also hear, “We know what our process is, and we want to change it.” When we hear this, we ask for a diagram or explanation of the process and it’s rarely forthcoming. When we dig just a little bit deeper, it becomes apparent that there is disagreement on what the process is.
What is the goal of business process modeling?
With business process modeling, we uncover what the current tasks in the process are, who is doing the tasks, when the handoffs occur, and what the result is. Collaborating on this is a great way to get input from everyone and highlight inconsistencies.
Who do we talk to regarding the business process?
We find the right stakeholders and ask them what they do until we’ve exhausted the process. Stakeholder engagement during the business process modeling phase most likely engages different stakeholders than when we are trying to uncover business goals and risks. Stakeholders who know the business process are those doing the process: they aren’t necessarily managers or executives.
These stakeholders could be in these following areas:
- Content Management
- Programmers and Database Administrators
- User Experience
- BI and Analytics
- Support and Helpdesk
- Frontline Workers
- And anyone else who is involved in the process
How do we go through the modeling process?
Naturally, there’s a process for the process!
We start with a kickoff meeting for all of those involved to explain the process and timeline. On our projects, one of the most asked questions is “How does the process work?” Typically, people haven’t gone through a similar process or don’t know the jargon. This kickoff is a way to level-set for all people involved so they know what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and what their involvement will be.
After the kickoff, we do one-on-one interviews to ask people how they are involved in the process. These interviews are also a way to build rapport. In these interviews we might ask:
- What is your role in the company?
- How are you involved in the process?
- What are the steps you go through?
- Who do you hand off a task to?
- Can you show me how you use <software name> to do the task?
And we can get into much more detail either in this interview or subsequent interviews.
One-on-one interviews are crucial for discovering the detail. Some people may not feel comfortable speaking up in a group to provide contradictory commentary. Plus, getting nitty gritty detail on process is very hard in a group setting where multiple people are talking at once!
After the interviews, we move the collaboration phase. We collate our findings and move them to an online whiteboard so we can collaborate on the process diagram. This process diagram isn’t a huge, complicated swim lane diagram that shows all the exceptions. The diagram represents a happy path and also captures where stakeholders disagree on the process.
We bring stakeholders together to review the diagram and collaboration naturally happens. We find it much easier for people to critique and review an existing diagram than to brainstorm from scratch. Depending on how complicated the process is, we might need one or many workshops. We typically don’t have stakeholders do asynchronous work because they typically don’t have time and they work better in a group setting with coaching.
How do we find things that need to change?
Once we’ve exhausted the happy path process, we will most likely have found areas that need to be clarified or need to be changed.
Often, when someone sees the actual process, they see low hanging fruit that can be changed. Other changes are more extensive and require organizational change. Changes typically include:
- Decisions that the involved stakeholders can make and easily implement
- Decisions that need to be made by managers and executives but are relatively easily implemented
- Impacts to the larger organization that require a discreet project, budget, or effort to implement
- Impacts outside the organization (such as to laws) that aren’t easily changed
Who recommends changes to the business process?
In this modeling process, you will figure out what is not working for you. You can identify what you’re able to change and what you need more help with.
What’s the outcome?
With our work, we create a business process diagram that shows the tasks, who is doing the tasks, where the hand-off happens, what the constraints or difficulties are, and opportunities for improvement. These opportunities can be placed on a roadmap or strategic plan for the organization to address.
Knowing your current process and its problems allows you to make targeted and effective changes.