Patricia Udokang, Senior Business Architect
October 9, 2018
What does it take to create the perfect business process? Realistically, it’s not easy to create perfection, but one can strive for excellence, so let’s talk about creating an excellent business process. A business process is a sequence of activities resulting in an output. Therefore, first and foremost, before we model a process, we need to gain an understanding of what activities the business does and why. So it’s important to spend the time learning what standards and business rules drive processes. While we’re at it, we should be asking the following questions: Are there gaps in the standards? What are the gaps between what the business says they do today, what they actually do, and what they should be doing as per industry leading practices? What is their vision for the future (short and long term)? We need to discover their pain points, explore their challenges, and examine the benefits of re-engineering their business processes to address the pain points and gaps. Above all, we must demonstrate to the business that we understand what they do today and where they would like to be in the future. Then we can begin modelling their current and future processes.
Characteristics of an Excellent Business Process
So, what are the characteristics of an excellent business process? An excellent process must have the following:
- Reason for existence. A process has a triggering event that initiates a series of other events that result in a desired output. An event is passive and identifies either a relevant trigger for a process step (initiating event) or the resulting business state from the completion of a process step (resulting event). An information object and a past-tense verb that describes a change in status identifies the event (e.g., Timesheet Received, Invoice Created, Product Received).
- Starting and ending events. Between the initiating event and the last resulting event are a series of other events that create a chain of events—known as an Event Process Chain (EPC) that represents the chronological and logical flow of activities in a process.
- Orchestrated functional execution. Events trigger functions, which are the active elements in a process—that is, a function identifies what needs to be done to fulfill the event or outcome. In other words, a function processes and transforms data from an initial state to a resulting state. A function is identified with a present-tense verb followed by an information object (e.g., Approve Invoice). Therefore, initiating events trigger functions and functions result in subsequent resulting events.
- Functional Roles. Roles perform functions. A role has to be assigned to complete a function.
- Data inputs/outputs. Functions consume data inputs and produce data outputs.
- Data attributes. Data attributes provide detailed information to maintain processes.
- Supporting systems. Systems automate and support the functions.
- Defined logic. Logical connectors (AND, OR and an exclusive OR (XOR)) define the logical relationships between events and functions and provide the ability to model parallel processing or offer different processing paths depending on differing scenarios.
Other Process Development Considerations
Therefore, a process is comprised of a series of events and functions performed by roles within organizations, consuming inputs, producing outputs, using logical operators to control the flow of activities and is supported by systems. In summary, it’s all connected – processes, functions, events, roles, organization units, data, and logical execution. This connectivity is critical to achieving excellent processes. Creating a perfect, or excellent, business process doesn’t end there. These are only the technical characteristics of an excellent process. Experience dictates that the creation of an excellent process has many more facets to it, especially those related to presentation. So, what else is important in creating an excellent process?
- Clarity & Readability. The actual modelling of the process is critical to its clarity and readability. Content is important, of course, but if the process is not well laid out, it can be difficult to interpret the content. Presentation really is everything.
- Space Separation. Effective use of white space can enhance the readability of a model, especially when we are free from any physical constraint regarding size.
- Whether we lay out a process horizontally, vertically or in a swim lane, we should pay attention to the logical sequence of events and how the eye follows the process flow.
- Flow (Left to Right). Finally, unless we are incorporating a loop in a process, we should avoid having the process flow move backward, but always keep the flow moving forward. Again, readability and clarity are paramount when modelling a business process.
- Flow (Top to Bottom). The flow should move from top to bottom and left to right.
- If possible, lines that join the events and functions should not cross-over other lines because it can hinder readability.
- We should try not to be constrained by the physical size of printed copies (plotters can be our friends). Sometimes, it’s best to compartmentalize a process on separate models, especially if drilling down to sub-processes pertaining to a specific process.
In conclusion, an EPC approach to building an excellent business process focuses on what the process does from the initial triggering event to the concluding or resulting event. And don’t forget, there are a bunch of intermediate events in between that have to be right in order to get to the final resulting event. Some other things to consider are the following:
- It is not necessary to include decision diamonds, which have only “Yes” and “No” options, because decision diamonds constrain the possibilities for differing process paths and parallel processing. Hence, the reason we use events.
- EPC process models are simple, clear and easy to read and understand. By the way, if you have a robust and detailed EPC at a transactional level, you can pretty well give it to a programmer to develop a workflow or process scenario within a software package.
- Inputs, outputs, roles and systems can all be defined in associated diagrams, such as Functional Allocation Diagrams (FADs), to which there are links from the related functions so that this information does not confuse the visual representation of the process, and yet is quickly accessible when needed. FADS are very powerful for relating business rules, data inputs/outputs, procedures, documents, etc. to the business process.
Designing a business process is akin to telling a story. There is a beginning and an end with an exciting plot in-between that engages various characters, settings and conditions along the way to help define an eventual outcome. Although we may not expect all stories to be rendered in an excellent manner, in the arena of process modelling, we do expect to render a business process with all the necessary components to ensure that it is easy to read and can be clearly understood to create an excellent process.
Ms. Patricia Udokang is a Senior Business Architect with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta, and has worked in various industries, including oil and gas, telecommunications, retail, software, insurance, academic and military. IT Architects (www.itarchitects.ca) is an information consulting firm specializing in business process optimization, system evolution planning, and the deployment of leading-edge technologies, including Artificial Intelligence. If you require further information, Patricia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-837-9644.