Thursday, 17 November 2011

Naming and Framing Processes

Every organization generates its revenue and spends its money through processes.  That’s how they conduct their business.  Therefore it makes sense that if you want to increase your revenue or decrease your costs, the first things you should examine are your processes.  Try to improve them.  Try to make them more efficient.  The best companies out there are continuously looking for ways to do their jobs better.

Most processes are undocumented.  In order to examine and improve your processes you need to understand them.  Only when you understand them can you measure and analyze them and improve them.

The first questions you should answer about each of your processes are “What starts it?” and “When does it end?”.  By definition a Process is a “series of related actions, triggered by an event, creating a deliverable for a customer”.  Let’s examine all four of these ideas before proceeding.

“A series of related actions” – Processes involve activities and decisions done in a certain order.  You need to understand the detailed work involved to accomplish the goal.

“Triggered by an event” – Something starts every process.  They don’t just randomly start.  You need to know why a process begins. 

There are 3 basic types of events that can occur in business where the response is a process.  The first is the “decision”.  Someone decides to do something and the result is a process.  For example a Customer may decide to buy a product.  A Manager may decide to hire an employee.  An Employee may decide to quit, etc.

The second type of event is the “situation”.  This means that something happens and the result is a process.  For example, inventory drops below a threshold level, product arrives on your loading dock, you receive an email, etc.

The third type of event is the “temporal”.  This means that at a certain time, or date, or based on the passage of time, some work is performed.  It might be paying employees on payday, paying approved vendor invoices, getting the mail, counting inventory, etc.

“Creating a deliverable” – A process creates something!  It provides value.  You need to know what is created for every process you or your company execute.  If it doesn’t create anything of value, get rid of it.

“For a customer” – This doesn’t mean your end customer who buys your products.  It means that a process creates something that is used by someone or by another process.  If the output of your process is not used, why create it?

Before you get into the details of each of your processes you need to:

Name it!
Determine what starts it!
Determine what it creates!
Determine when it ends!

and not necessarily in that order.

An event is a state or condition that exists that you are going to respond with via a process.  It does not involve the passage of time.  Therefore all events should start with a NOUN!  A process does involve the passage of time and involves actions, therefore a process name should begin with a VERB.  Ideally it should be a Verb Noun pair.  A simple rule, but it makes the life of a Business Analyst so much easier.

Name your process! 
The verb should describe the work being done.  Someone should be able to read the name of the process and understand what it does.  The noun should be what the process creates or changes.  Examples are “Generate Payroll”, “Sell Product”, “Buy Product”, Hire Employee”, “Pay approved vendor invoices”, etc. 

Determine what starts it! 
Identify all the triggering events that can start your process.  There can be more than one!  Document the triggering events with the process.

Determine what it creates! 
When you determine what the process creates you essentially have determined its completion.  When that deliverable is created, the process ends.  This should be the noun in your process name.

Some Business Analysts make the mistake of thinking of the work in an organization as one process.  I’ve seen process models with hundreds of tasks and decisions, that take up entire walls and take months to complete.  They are so complicated they are completely useless, and besides, they’re wrong.  Follow the guidelines stated here and you will see how the work of an organization consists of many processes, each simple on its own.

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