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Analyzing Your Business Process, Part 1

Less Work, More Flow: Tips to Analyze & Optimize Existing Business Processes (Pt 1)

March 07, 2017
Analyzing Your Business Process, Part 1 - Artsyl

When it comes to finding and implementing better, smarter ways to execute common business processes, the first obstacle many organizations face is how to create a framework to understand their processes as it exists and identify opportunities to streamline and improve the process.

In this two-part blog we’ll look at 1) frameworks to define processes as they exist and 2) ways to explore better ways to design processes from first principles.

Confidence is key to Business Process Management Success

While there are well-established statistics across industries that demonstrate how many process automation initiatives fail, a recent survey of 600 U.S. business and IT executives and practitioners conducted by Geneca suggested one major reason why projects were doomed to fail before they even got off the ground: a lack of confidence in the success of the project from day one.

A majority (75%) of Geneca’s survey respondents admitted that their projects were either always or usually “doomed right from the start.” Talk about a damning statistic!

Building and sustaining confidence in any project designed to change and improve a business process clearly depends on beginning with a solid foundation—ensuring that all stakeholders understand 1) what the objective is, 2) what the current process looks like and 3) opportunities for improvement.

The Building Blocks of Process Analysis and Design

With that in mind, here are some of the key elements to mapping a business process in a way that can allow teams to work together with confidence to achieve their goals.

Statement of Scope – While it may seem like the simplest step in defining a business process, defining the project scope can be one of the most challenging steps. When project scopes are not clearly defined, one process can turn into several, leading to scope creep—which leads to missed deadlines, cost overruns and disappointing results. Often, defining the scope of one business process management initiative can lead to the definition of multiple projects that can be prioritized for subsequent development.

Giving your a clear name in the [Verb] [Noun] syntax and writing a “starts with” / “ends when” statement will help you clearly identify the scope of the process.

Desired Outcome – While it’s important to map out and define processes as they exist, it is critical to have the ability to define desired outcomes in a way that is separate and distinct from the definition of an existing process. Desired outcomes should be defined independent of the existing process flow and should be concrete enough to be measured before, during and after.

Process Flow or Activity Descriptions – This is the meat of any process model. It’s essentially a list of the steps completed by people in certain roles. The biggest risk when defining process flows is the exclusion of secondary or tertiary stakeholders. Remember to think beyond those who own a process, to those who are impacted by it downstream, and to include those stakeholders in the process.

Exceptions – Business process can often be defined more by their exceptions than by the rules of what ‘usually’ happens. The main edict here is “question everything.” Failing to identify exception up-front can lead to rework that can cost many multiples of the originally projected project cost. Think about as many scenarios that violate the common rule, and make sure to include every stakeholder. Think about what happens if information on a form is illegible, a required piece of information is not provided, or a special condition is met. Then dig two layers deeper to look for more exceptions.

Business Rules – Your process flow will presume a certain set of rules are followed or enforce those rules. As processes get more complex, it often makes sense to break the business rules out separately so they can be more easily managed as they change.

Entry Criteria and Inputs – Entry Criteria identify what needs to be true in order for a process to begin. Inputs identify any tangible work items someone executing the business process needs to have present-at-hand.

Exit Criteria and Outputs – Exit Criteria identify what needs to be true when the process ends. Outputs identify tangible work items generated through the course of the business process.

Workflow Diagram – While not required, often it makes sense to include a visual model showing the primary activity steps and exceptions. This does NOT require sophisticated tools or software. White boards and Post It notes often can do the trick.

Now for the good news…

The reality for any organization exploring better ways to handle routine processes is that there are well-established best practices and software tools and techniques to support process automation that are more cost effective, more flexible and more user-friendly than ever before.

Companies like Artsyl Technologies have developed smart process platforms designed to adapt to ever-evolving business processes and to take a “codeless” approach that relies less on engineering and more on configurability to address a broader range of exceptions to a given process.

Artsyl’s docAlpha Smart Process Platform is designed to automate some of the most common, manual and error-prone steps in a wide range of business processes, including dynamic document sorting, data entry, routing and approval steps.

In Part Two of this Blog, we’ll look at techniques for going from defining existing business processes to radically re-defining those processes from first principles to achieve better results.