Before business process management gained traction, most companies didn’t particularly find it useful to get new processes right. Workflows were launched when needed, and their drawbacks, if any, were figured out along the line. Needless to say, such implicit operations tended to become rigid, inconsistent and riddled with bottlenecks with time.
But today, companies are growing mindful of how their workflows are established and how it impacts their bottom line. They abandon spontaneous workflow setup in favor of business process design—a deliberate procedure to define, model, and implement a new workflow or revamp the existing one. According to The State of Business Process Management 2020 by Signavio, 40% of the respondents have a process design initiative underway, pursuing various business improvements.
Let’s talk about the distinctive features of a structured workflow and look at the steps of an effective business process design strategy
Why do businesses need to design processes?
A simple answer to this question is efficiency. When a company creates a process for the right reason and maps out every aspect of it, they leave no room for redundancies, bottlenecks, poor practices, and risk. This way, the process is certain to operate as intended and deliver consistent results.
But in addition to this spotlight-stealing advantage, well-designed processes have other inherent qualities that can prove of value in the short and long term.
Designing a process from the ground up, your company can formulate appropriate metrics for evaluating its performance, as well as how and at what point to track it to gain accurate and actionable results. When implemented, the process remains transparent, with good or poor performance easily quantifiable.
Another advantage of business process design is the ability to align workflows with internal best practices and instructions and make them clear and consistent by default. With guesswork and confusion eliminated, your company can have tasks performed faster and with predictable results.
When planning out business processes, your company can factor in growth and expansion objectives and make the workflows capable of handling a greater workload without significant compromises in performance or output.
- Easy to automate
The owners of well-structured and mapped out workflows are more likely to tap into business process automation benefits. Such companies can apply a suitable automation tool to repetitive and time-consuming tasks faster thanks to transparent process manageability.
Business process design in 4 steps
While design strategies are formulated in line with each company’s needs and specifics, the process mostly has the following common pattern:
Business process design in 4 steps
|1. Analysis||2. Process outline||3. Process modeling||4. Preparation for roll-out|
|Outcome||A refined business process concept||Process summary and requirements||A visualized business process||Infrastructure ready for process implementation|
Stage 1. Analyze existing operations
In many cases, companies come to process designing with a clear view of the future workflow, emerged from them entering a new market, starting new operations, or other need, and are tempted to proceed to planning it out right away. Nonetheless, even seemingly solid ideas need a reality check.
The breakdown of the current state, performance and effectiveness of business operations, especially those directly related to your future process, will allow you to validate your initial motivations for business process design. What is more, the bottlenecks and poor practices you uncover will help you identify improvement opportunities you may have missed.
Also, make sure to conduct interviews with managers and their subordinates involved or, when relevant, with your customers. Their feedback can shed light on the issues and shortcomings they face and help you elaborate your project idea further.
An IT consulting expert, Itransition is often tasked with business operation analysis as a standalone service or as the first phase of a development project. Helping a UK software development provider with Atlassian consulting, we interviewed employees across operational areas and found out how some processes were overcomplicated or set up poorly. Relying on this findings, we drew a new roadmap for process redesign and optimization and enhanced the Atlassian products performance as a result.
Alongside, begin considering your software options for the new process, since the future process design will depend on the capabilities and limitations of the solutions you decide to power it with. And if the choice between numerous platform-based tools, automation, and custom software turns out hard, you can always turn to BPM consulting.
Next-level analysis: process mining
Gaining a full picture of your business operations and their problem areas can be a taxing task to perform manually. Process mining, a technique for analyzing and discovering processes using your company’s event logs, can significantly facilitate this task. Based on the actual data, not a subjective review, process mining delivers fact-based insights into where the process is lacking or goes wrong.
UiPath, the provider of a leading RPA platform that Itransition partners with, offers a robust process mining suite for automated business process discovery. Apart from giving users full visibility into their complex business processes, UiPath also allows them to address the discovered bottlenecks with robotic process automation solutions.
Stage 2. Outline the process
Once you reinforce the vision of your future business process, you can proceed with formulating its major components. This intermediate step will help you summarize the process and requirements to follow when you begin mapping it out step by step.
While there is no single list of business process features, the following five components are the most basic yet essential ones in every new workflow.
Input is a thing or event that initiates your business process. Let’s take the procurement process as an example. The purchasing cycle is triggered by the need for some products, so a procurement request submission can be marked as input. Depending on how you do things in your company, the process can have several inputs.
Accordingly, output is the result of the process. In many cases, the output of one process is the input for the next. The delivery of ordered products is the output of the procurement workflow and simultaneously triggers the inventory management process.
Resources are everything involved in the process to deliver the set outputs. This notion encompasses not only raw materials and equipment, but also people, technology, and budget involved in the process. For example, to carry out procurement, a company would need purchasing managers, software and hardware, and sufficient funds at least.
These are all the steps and activities the process consists of. Some processes prove rather straightforward, while others more complex and elaborate, but it is important to register all possible actions. It’s better to brainstorm this with the teams and employees involved, as they have more hands-on knowledge of how the process in question should run.
- Responsible parties
Finally, you need to appoint the process owner, the one who would be accountable for the process and have the authority to manage, maintain, and modify it when necessary. It is a common practice to choose the process owner from the management team with wide knowledge in the field.
Stage 3. Model the business process
Now you can finally get down to business process modeling, or creating a graphical representation of your future workflow. At this stage, you transform the process summary and major aspects into a chart, demonstrating how it is going to work in practice, complete with all the stages and participants. This is also where you put your expectations and speculations about the workflow’s performance and efficiency to the first serious test.
To model a process, you can always use the old good pen and paper. But dedicated process modeling software offers many advantages which make the investment into them worthwhile. Visual tools make modeling intuitive, uncluttered, and easy to collaborate on within digital workplaces.
At present, there are so many business process modeling techniques that it seems confusing. Below, we describe the most tried-and-true ones that we rely on in our work.
Flowcharts are perhaps the most popular technique for visualizing algorithms of any kind, including business processes. This method helps you to illustrate steps in sequential order with such common symbols as rectangles, diamonds, arrows, etc., and does not support the breakdown or grouping of actions.
Despite its simplicity, the flowchart technique is powerful enough to represent a moderately complex business process. Other than that, it is often used by business analysts to present the process design to non-tech users or clients in a more intuitive way.
For example, when we were tasked with building a custom Odoo-based BPM solution for a car service center, we had to launch new automated processes. Our technical specialists designed workflows in detail and presented their results to the client as a flowchart for easier understanding.
Business process modeling notation (BPMN)
This flow chart method was invented in 2005 and with time became a standard business process modeling practice. BPMN offers a limited and standardized set of graphical elements to serve as building blocks for a process model. Due to this, BPMN is easy to use for business users but can also represent complex process semantics needed by technical specialists who implement the process.
There are four types of BPMN elements:
- Flow objects denoting events or activities
- Connecting objects that serve as connectors between events
- Swimlanes that represent business process participants
- Artifacts representing objects outside the process, such as data
Leveraging the elements, companies can build process diagrams that look like this:
Simple and intuitive, the BPMN technique is universal and can be used to model existing and future processes of any complexity and configuration. What is more, today there is an ample range of BPMN tools, free and paid, to choose from.
Unified modeling language (UML) diagrams
UML is a modeling language that originated from the software engineering field but is now widely used in business process management. It provides a wide range of elements and diagram types to enable visualization of almost any business process in detail.
UML stands out with its flexibility but is not as user-friendly as BPMN and therefore mostly utilized by technical specialists. Therefore, when you opt for this technique for business process modeling, look for a tool with a robust UML shape library available—with it, you can learn the ropes of UML diagramming much faster.
Itransition can help automate your business processes
We can apply industry-leading platforms like Pega, Acumatica, Odoo, and Appian, or rely on custom development to deliver the BPM solution that meets your requirements.
Stage 4. Prepare the process for implementation
After the process is modeled, don’t rush to roll it out even if time presses. Seemingly thought-out and well-structured workflow models can have obscure faults that may turn out disruptive in practice, and neither your employees nor your customers may be ready to do things differently from then on. This is why careful multi-faceted preparation is the final step of effective business process design.
First of all, you need to verify that the business process functions as intended at every step and correctly interacts with associated workflows. Bear in mind that testing requires a software infrastructure, so make sure to set it up beforehand.
You can perform business process validation manually, tasking your IT team or outsourced QA specialists with executing various steps of the workflow using representative data. But if the process is complex and multi-layered, tracking the results of every transaction can be a hard task. In this case, test automation is the answer, as automated scripts not only run the validation faster but also accurately capture the results for further assessment by your specialists.
Observe and note down any faults and, after you have made adjustments, test the process again until you find its flow and outcome satisfactory.
Another pillar of your new process is the employees who will execute it. Thus, your company needs to make sure their staff has the necessary knowledge and skills to do the work correctly. If the team is lacking expertise, you can run a training program that effectively addresses their skill gaps.
In addition to this, when the new process is customer-oriented, you also need to provide for customers’ onboarding to help them get properly acquainted with the new ways of interacting with your brand.
Once the process is implemented, the story doesn’t end here. Your business will need to keep a close watch on the workflows, new and legacy alike, reviewing and analyzing their performance regularly to spot problems proactively.
This is when you need to recall the KPIs you formulated for your new business process and consider the tools or activities that can help you measure them. Make sure to set up a process monitoring workflow before you launch the process to receive insights from day one.
Get your business processes right
Today, no one is questioning the important role of business processes in a company's success—or failure. To adequately support your operations for years to come, a new process needs to be carefully planned, mapped out, and put into practice. Guided by this proven business process design strategy, you will be able to implement a relevant and effective workflow.