Your business needs process documentation
Do your employees frequently seek answers on how to do their jobs?
Does your business face difficulty on-boarding new staff?
Have you noticed variance in output quality or time it takes to perform regular tasks?
If you've answered yes to any of these questions, this may suggest that a lack of accurate business process documentation is causing operations performance issues.
While a business process is a set of activities and tasks that, once completed, will accomplish an organizational goal; business process documentation is the act of recording these tasks in a way that allows reader to reproduce the recorded activity. With rapid pace of technology adoption by many enterprise businesses and SMBs, processes have become more elaborate than ever.
“If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing”
W. Edwards Deming
Why have business process documentation?
The basic reason is that process documentation is the first step on the way to process excellency. Trying to improve a process that hasn't been documented is in many ways similar to building a LEGO set without instructions, or traveling to an unfamiliar location with no map. Process documentation describes step-by-step how the process should be performed, when, why and who is involved. Comprehensive process documentation delivers various benefits such as easier training & on-boarding, deeper understanding on the operations level, improved quality and productivity. Finally, having documentation enables the business to further manage, measure and optimize
their processes. Aside from operational benefits, if you ever want to sell your business, a well defined operations blueprint is always more attractive than a "black box" business where a would-be purchaser needs to figure out how everything works.
How to document processes
There are three activities to document an as-is business process. First activity involves interviewing users who are responsible for or involved in performance of the process you're documenting. Be aware that processes captured through interviewing may contain biases and perspective limitations. Next activity is to observe the process being performed by its participants. Similar to interviewing, this method has it's cons and this time it is observer's perception limitation and bias. Any variance between steps outlined during the interview and steps observed during process performance are understood to be process gaps. The activity associated with identifying and resolving those gaps is called gap analysis.
Note that when observing a process, it's a good idea to observe it several times to capture any variance in inputs, outputs or performance and identify gaps that are causing this variance. Once all three of these activities have been performed, resulting output should be detailed enough to become a process document.
Processes should all be documented in a same, standard way which may be achieved by defining a process document template or a format.
Document format should include the following:
- Process name
- Process version and date
- Change log
- Process brief describing why the process is performed
- Assumptions and Constraints if applicable
- Process Inputs
- Process Outputs or expected results
- Participants (including systems, clients, external vendors and basically anyone or anything involved)
- Detailed description of each process step
- Process diagram
- Glossary of terms if applicable
- KPIs, metrics, thresholds or any other important measures
Visualizing processes using diagrams
A picture says a thousand words, and in case of process diagram, it can communicate the entire process without the need to read step-by-step details. Diagrams are a great way to communicate the process to management or anyone else who is interested in high-level information rather than detail. Before beginning creating diagrams for your processes, it's a good idea to establish a notation that will be used across all process diagram. Failing to have a standard notation for process diagram will result in processes being represented and therefore understood differently. Note that a good process diagram should have a beginning, an end, capture all individual steps and clearly illustrate any conditional logic (if-then). If your business is not required to comply with a particular process notation standard, use flow charts or a basic set of BPMN symbols, both inside a swim lane.
Once everything has been documented, the final step is to validate the process document by having process participants review and confirm the accuracy of all information presented. This is a critical step which concludes the process documentation effort and confirms that following the steps described in the document will result in specified output each time the process is performed. Remember to validate your process documents after each update to ensure all changes have been accounted for.
QDC is a Toronto-based consultancy focusing on helping businesses achieve process excellence. Check out this case study to find out how our Business Process Management certified consultants helped a European drug safety company document their processes and achieve compliance with regulatory requirements.