Process Modelling And Improvement


Processes enable organizations to deliver value, either internally or to their customers. In some companies, these processes can span multiple individuals, departments and external organizations, making them extremely complex and prone to inefficiencies. Those inefficiencies can drive cost to the business, customer dissatisfaction and general inefficiencies.

So, let’s start looking at how we can analyse a process, understand its weaknesses and implement changes to rectify the issues we’ve identified.

Before we get into the detail of each process, we need to understand it at a much higher level. We need to understand where the process fits in the organization; in which departments it operates & whether there are any external touch points or actors. We call this process of defining the functional areas that operate as part of the process the ‘process organizational context’.

Now that we’ve understood where it operates we can start to map out the process. Now, it should be noted that a process map is still not a detailed analysis. All we do here is show the inputs, processes and outputs at a very simplistic level & show how a set of related processes interact with one another. An example process map is shown below.

A process map is useful as we don’t know the detail of each process yet. But we know the input and the desired output & events that trigger each process (e.g. new order). When we start to model the process in detail, the process map helps us define the process boundaries (where one ends and another starts), which as we will discuss later, is a potential area of process improvement.

The next step on our process improvement journey is to look at Porter’s value chain and work backwards. What do I mean by that? Well, we can look at the product / service and determine what processes are required to deliver them. We may well have a process that we think works well at the moment but Porter’s model can help us to identify any omissions.

So, for a t-shirt printing company, let’s put Porter’s model into action. You can see how the value chain flows and from here we can determine the processes required to support each step of the value chain.

Now we can start to move onto process modelling, which is a more detailed view of each of the processes on the process map. The below, is an overly simplified version of the ‘process payment’ element of the process map above.

It’s important to note that processes are triggered by events. These can be internal events (e.g. you reduce prices on your products), external events (a customer places an order) or a time based / scheduled event (production of a weekly report).

So, in the above, the external event of a customer placing an order on our website triggers the payment process to run. These external events provide inputs to the process.

Next, we have the tasks. That is anything in the above diagram that’s in a box. It’s the activity that must happen to deliver the process value. It’s important to note, that the tasks are still high level. Under our tasks, we have steps. So, several steps may need to be completed for the ‘validate payment card’ task.

Next, we have flows which are depicted by the arrows in the above diagram. The customer data flows into the system. The card details are extracted & validated by a member of staff. The confirmation of that validation flows through to the next step whereby the order system submits the validated card details to the billing system. The billing system then replies to the order system with an auth code, which must be stored. The payment confirmation then flows through to the next step (arrange delivery).

Processes can become more complex. Just like the below.

In the above, you can see the addition of swim lanes, so that we can see the actors involved with each task & decision point, which adds logic to the process. Something interesting about swim lanes is that tasks can sit on the boundary. For example, if the customer calls your member of staff & places the order over the phone, the ordering task should sit on the boundary between staff & customer.

When we come to improving a process, it’s important to understand the value proposition. That is what an organization believes it needs to deliver to its customers to keep them happy. It’s what differentiates a company from its competitors. We must ensure that the whole company, including all its processes align to these customer needs & understanding the value proposition will help the BA to understand what needs the process needs to support.

A company can differentiate products based on functionality, price, quality, choice (whether it can be tailored) and availability and can differentiate their company based on customer care and innovation.

So now that we know the value proposition, let’s start improving our processes. To do that, we take the as-is process model and start to identify problems. You should be looking for:

  • Analyse hand-offs between actors in as-is model. Delays, communication errors, bottlenecks occur during hand-off. Some research shows that 70% of elapsed time is spent waiting for the next actor to process the hand-off.
  • Duplication of work is surprisingly common
  • That is, work or data that used to be necessary but is no longer required by the business
  • Lack of standardization across branches / offices / stores leads to a lot of re-work and inefficient processes
  • Incompleteness – new requirements since the original process design which have not been incorporated may have led to inefficient workarounds.
  • Look to combine tasks to be handled by a single actor where it makes sense to do so. This can reduce hand-off delays and can lead to a reduction in errors / duplication
  • Bottlenecks occur when the capacity for task A is higher than task B, resulting in a queue for task B
  • Tasks that can be completed in parallel (traditionally may have been done in a linear fashion but may not have dependencies).
  • Can we redefine the process boundary? Can we input into next process earlier / later to achieve better efficiencies
  • Can we automate the process in any way?

We can also check:

  • Whether our staff have the right training and skills
  • That we have enough resources to run the process (people / equipment)
  • That we have adequate process management, especially when it crosses organizational / departmental boundaries
  • Finally, we can assess whether business rules and things that are ‘accepted to be true’ are appropriate / still valid (they may have been when process was designed).

By adopting some of the tips and tricks above, I hope you can start analyzing & improving processes in your own organization.

Content based on study of the BCS Business Analysis course – Business Analysis 3rd Edition (Debra Paul, James Cadle and Donald Yeates).