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Business Process Analysis Templates in Action: the Elephant in the Room

By Cathy Dew on April 13, 2017

Business Process Analysis is a critical methodology for understanding processes, improving processes, automating, changing, refining, expanding and in some cases eliminating business processes. Whether the process is related to change management, structural transition or implementing software, you must understand the target of your project.

Business process analysis templates allow you to produce artifacts that document not only the nuts and bolts of a process but also the less obvious details of a flow which is often where the real nuggets lie. The opportunities for change that can have a positive impact often reside in the details that can be learned by effectively interacting with the people closest to the work.

In this business process analysis templates blog series, we promised to we make this work real. Real projects. Real stories. Real Results. In the first blog, we focused on helping BAs (Business Analysts) successfully maneuver any Business Process Analysis project with some insight and guidance on how to work with different personalities.

The Story Goes

This week, we’ll look at the Process Flows in action, starting with a fable… The Blind Men and the Elephant has many variations, but basically it is the story of six blind men (sometimes they are sighted, but in the dark) that come across different parts of an elephant in their life journeys. Each blind man creates his own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective. Here is John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) version of Blind Men and the Elephant.

The point being, while one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. Broadly, the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. Read more on Wikipedia.

Time and again, project after project, we have seen this same phenomenon with one of our favorite Business Process Templates, the Process Flow Diagram.

Process Flow Diagrams aka the Elephant

With larger processes, you often end up traversing several Departments to capture the entire process. As the analyst, you create the flow by putting the pieces together. Too often in these large processes that span multiple departments, everybody works mostly siloed and they just know what they do. Some of the magic happens when you coalesce these different perspectives, when you put it together and review with the group.

When you are ready to review with the group, one of the keys is to have a large print out that you either can put on a wall or roll out on a conference table where everybody can review and follow the process. It is important for the group at large to understand who the people are and each of the processes. While you want everyone to participate, you also need to retain some control and walk through what you believe the process is.

Remember in the business process flow each person or department has a lane, which helps them see how they fit into the process. When you walk sequentially through the process flow – from A to Z – you end up crossing between departments (within the process flow), which helps all participants see the bigger picture and how they fit into it. Remember that this is often the first time everyone is seeing the elephant.

Best Practice Notes

  1. Document one process at a time.
  2. If there is a sub-process buried in there, indicate that in a single box and document the sub-process separately.
  3. If there are parts or phases to the phases within the process, you can separate these on your process flow with vertical lines.
  4. The point is to stay focused on the process.
  5. Identifying distinct processes is a balancing act – you want to be broad enough and detailed enough, but not too much.

Seeing the Elephant

The full view of the entire process flow, across the spectrum of involved parties can be a unifying experience. Even for Managers, who obviously understand the overall process, it's often the first time that they have seen it documented with sufficient detail to understand discreet steps, system and manual, and how data moves across departments.

You tend to get a lot of “aha” moments like “oh, you do that?” You also hear “well I do that too.” You start seeing some of the duplication of effort that happens along the way. Some of this is because often people don’t know what other people are – before them and after them. They end up repeating some of the same steps and processes. (Sidebar: sometimes this is a trust issue so they must do their own validation.) But you start seeing some of the duplicate efforts. Sometimes there's a reason for people to do things multiple times but other times it's because they don't know somebody else is doing it.

Don’t’ Forget: Everybody thinks their part is super important and whatever else happens is not as important. Breaking down the walls between silos is required when you are replacing, automating or simply improving a process.

One of our lead Business Analysts shares these insights

The BA should lead the overall walk though of the process. Partly because reiterating what you think you understand ensures that you do in fact have it correct. The other part is there's often terminology that's different from person to person and you now understand the terminology for each area so you're doing translation at the same time.

As the flow moves through each swim lane (department or area), this is an opportunity for an open discussion – people want to understand not just what is being done but why. This is when you want to let the owner of that piece of the process step in.

The BA’s role is about guiding the walk-through, but still making room for organic communication. It's a free-form discussion and you want to let that flow. Sometimes you learn new facts that come out because they are the experts in the process.

These sessions are expensive (in that you have a lot of people in the room), but they are also highly effective.  After this session, usually it's just one additional round of revisions to finalize the flow.

Documentation Tips

If you don't understand where something goes or what the actual process is that you’re documenting, you can still add a box and then put a questions mark in it.  Now you have a question right there on the map in front of the group. I’m sure it will get answered in the review session.

Nobody knows what happens when you get the group together, but in our experience, it’s almost always positive.

  • Capture manual versus automated steps visually, e.g., style of the process box
  • Clearly identify artifacts that show up consistently throughout the process, e.g., a report that is critical to everyone

Review Session Tips

  • This is an in-person meeting
  • Schedule at least two hours, you don't want anyone to feel shorted when you didn't have enough time to get to their area
  • Provide snacks
  • Meet in a space where you can display a large document (3’ x 6’) either on the table or on the wall.
  • Level set with the managers in advance – you need them to understand that this is while they're important they need to let the hands-on process participants take the lead

Setting the Team up for Success

The fact is that almost always, everyone comes away with a better understanding of the elephant. This is a positive experience to bring everybody together. Knowing the business process flow and documenting it in a way that inspires a shared common understanding sets the team up for any number of positive next steps.

  1. Improve the process – eliminate duplicate efforts, simply complex steps, automate pieces, add (or remove) someone in a communication thread
  2. Combine physical areas or departments – knowing how these areas do or don’t interact, overlap or complete can lead to a “smart” merge
  3. Identify requirements for a new software application – you have the details, now you can start identifying how software can support the process

The power of the business process flow is the enlightenment that happens as you create this powerful artifact. Good luck with your elephants. If you are interested in workflows, the experts at 2 Plus 2 can help.

Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.