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6 Questions to Ask to Discover the Essential Elements of a Business Process

Whenever I teach people how to prepare a business process map or model, I first emphasise the importance of understanding and capturing the essential elements of a business process. By asking the right questions, these elements can easily discovered.

Who is the customer of the process?

The primary purpose of a business process is to deliver value to a customer. The products and services of an enterprise are the means by which value is delivered to customers – business processes produce these products and services. Process customers may be external to the enterprise or they could be internal customers. In the early stages of building a process model, you just have to discover and identify the processes customers - a more in-depth understanding of customers’ needs is done when the process is analysed and redesigned.  

Where does the process start?

All business processes have a start and an endpoint. The identification of the start and end is done when the business process is first identified and the scope of the process is defined. This scope may change as you start to build the model, but it is important that you have a clear understanding of the process scope before starting the process model.

The first thing to do is to define the process starting point, called the start event. This is the trigger point of the process and it is usually the arrival of a person, document or a physical object that is going to be transformed in some way in the process. These are the inputs to the process and their flow through the process is discovered during the building of the process model. Processes can sometimes be started by other types of events such as a time of day or time of the week, month or year.

Where does the process end?

The endpoint of the process is called the end event. The end event is the result of the process. The results of the process are the outputs which impact on the customers of the process – these impacts are called the process outcomes. Process output should add value to the process customer but negative outcomes also need to be identified.

What work is done in the process?

The main purpose of business process models is to make the work of an enterprise visible. The work carried out in the process is defines as the process activities. Process activities can be defined at a high level but the most useful definition of work done in a process is at detailed level, called task level. A task-level activity is called a task and is defines a single piece of work performed by a single person or machine in a single timeframe. Process activities are the building blocks of organisational work – which, when put together in the right way, produce the products and service of the enterprise in the best possible way.

Who does the work?

Work in an enterprise is done by people or machines. These are referred to as the process performers. In a process model the process performers can be represented at a high level, for example as department, divisions or teams. I find it is best to define the process performers at the detailed level. At the task level the process performer is defined as the role name of the resource doing the work. This might be a human job role or the name of a machine or computer application when a machine does the work.

How does the work flow through the process?

You can only find this out by walking through the process. I like to walk through the process physically but, if this is not possible walk through the process mentally with the guidance of the people who know the process well. The discovery of the process workflow is best done by talking to as many people as possible about the process and getting them to describe how work is done in the process in whatever way suits them. Usually people only know about the piece of the process they are working in. You then need to put all the pieces together to trace the flow from the start to the end.

When you discover how work flows through the process you need to pay particular attention to where the process flow takes different directions. The branching of the flow can be due to decision being made or different business rules being applied. What is important is to discover and all the flows – a detailed analysis of the decisions and rules can be done later.

Once you have asked the process experts these questions and have carefully noted their replies, you will be ready to start the process model. Further detail can be added as you go along but by now you should have discovered the essential elements of the process.

Learn more about business mapping and modelling by attending our Business Process Mapping and Modelling Course.

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The Secret Behind Process Maps and Process Models

When you need to document a business process, a good starting point is to map the process. This allows everyone to share the same understanding of what work gets done. Even though this is widely regarded as very important, not many people know the difference between a process map and what a process model is, how useful process models can be or even how to convert a process map to a process model.

What is a process map?

A process map is an initial description of a business process in graphic form. Just like a road map, it shows you how to get from point A to point B. Process maps are frequently used to capture the sequence of activities that represent a single everyday scenario. They are often drawn using non-standard shapes, showing limited information from one narrow viewpoint or another.

Then what is a process model?

On the other hand, process models are an accurate representation of how your business works, containing essential information that can't be understood from a simple process map. A process model includes additional elements, such as data related to relationships, events and activities in a process. To capture this detail, the analyst should use standardised shapes and set notation rules, for example by using Business Process Model and Notation 2.0 (BPMN) which is easy-to-learn and a global standard.

So why do we need process models?

While process maps are useful for quick visual analysis of a process, without a narrative alongside them, a process map makes it difficult to interpret or understand the process scenario correctly. Basic maps can't be used to test the logic of a process. This means that using static process maps to for process documentation causes your pursuit of business maturity to falter once you want to move beyond the basic description of business processes and into the phases of measuring, improving and managing them.

A real benefit of accurately defining processes using well-developed process models is to use a dynamic model to simulate the behaviour of real-world processes. When simulating processes, you can compare measured results against simulated cycle time, cost and resource utilisation. "What-If?" analysis can then be performed to determine the optimum future state.

Being able to build business process models, rather than process maps, is a fundamental of process analysis. Learn more about the secrets of business process mapping and modelling by attending our Business Process Mapping and Modelling Course.

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Set Your Business Analysis Career Goals: Aim for International Certification

More and more organisations need Business Analysts with a recognised certification. Attending Business Analysis courses and continuously upskilling yourself in Business Analysis methods and techniques is very important, but you should aim at obtaining certification by a recognised business analysis professional body to get to the top of your profession.

The International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), the leading global certification body, has recently launched a new multi-level, competency-based certification programme enabling business analysts to obtain professional recognition at different stages of their career. This programme is a significant change because you can now set your career goals to suit your level of experience.

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Essential Skills a Business Analyst Needs to Develop

Business analysts enable change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value.

To achieve this broad goal, an effective analyst should have both left brain and right brain skills as well as a good knowledge of the business and its environment.

A left-brain skill a business analyst must have is to take a large business problem, break down that problem into its component parts, analyse the various aspects of the problem and then assemble and design an innovative solution to solve the problem. A thorough knowledge of business analysis techniques complements this skill.

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Understanding Customer Needs and Innovation Using Business Process Techniques

Harvard Business School professor and leading management thinker, Clayton Christensen has popularised and applied the concept of “jobs-to-be-done” to discover customer needs and opportunities for innovation. He has applied this idea to fields as diverse as education, healthcare and self-help. The concept is that people “hire” products and services to get a job done. Office workers hire word-processing software to create documents and digital recorders to capture meeting notes. Surgeons hire scalpels to dissect soft tissue and electrocautery devices to control patient bleeding. Farmers hire herbicides to prevent weeds from impacting crop yields.

This might sound obvious, but there is seldom a systematic approach to finding out exactly how customers get a job done so that innovation, even disruptive innovation, can be used to help people and companies get the job done in the quickest, most efficient way possible.

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How to Classify Your Processes to Structure Your Business Process Architecture

A useful way of classifying business processes is to identify and define core, support and management processes. Business process classification is important to be able to develop an effective business process architecture.

Core processes are end-to-end, cross-functional processes that directly deliver value to external clients or intermediaries. Core processes are often referred to as "primary" processes as they represent the essential activities an organisation performs to achieve its goals and objectives, fulfil its mission and attain its vision.

These processes make up what is called the value chain, which is the set of high level, interconnected core processes each of which adds value to the product or service. The value chain creates and delivers the product or service, which ultimately delivers value to customers.

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Our Business Process Management (BPM) Approach

In order to improve and optimise business processes and provide maximum value for process customers, we have developed an approach to BPM called the Viewpoint® Business Process Management (BPM) Methodology. This methodology is applied at two levels, the enterprise level and the process level.

At the enterprise level we conduct six activities, these are:

Communicate Business Process Management principles, concepts and benefits to senior management. This involves the full briefing of senior management to adopt the process view and support BPM initiatives. It also involves regular communication with senior management regarding the necessity for BPM and benefits achievable from BPM projects.

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