How to Diagram your Business Processes

Tony Sager - Thursday, May 28, 2015

A business process is a collection of linked tasks or activities that accomplish a specific organisational goal.  If your business can whiteboard a process from start to finish, they can build – and automate – these processes to make them more cost-efficient, streamlined, error-proof and accessible. 

In order to automate your business processes, you will first need to diagram them to ensure that they are as logical and efficient as possible. 

Why should I diagram my processes?

A workflow diagram is a visual way for your business to analyse how work is accomplished. Using a workflow diagram, you can see how workers accomplish tasks and interact with each other, as well as how information flows from one business area to another.

Understanding how your process works from end to end is crucial to ensuring that you automate the most logical and efficient process possible. Without diagramming your processes, you could automate a bad or inefficient process. This means you could run into the same problems and inefficiencies as before – just a lot faster.

How do I diagram a workflow?

So how do you prepare a workflow diagram? It is often a good idea to start with either pen and paper or a whiteboard for initial drafts so you don’t slow your thinking and distract from capturing the required information. The following X steps are the essential building blocks of creating a workflow diagram:

 Identify the process. This is a set of tasks or steps that happen repeatedly in your organisation.  Keep in mind that it is very different to a Project.

 Name your process. Be clear and specific when naming your process. Broad names may capture related activities that aren’t actually part of the process and can lead to problems. E.g. “Collect Overdue Payments” is much better than “Overdue Payment Process”.

 Identify clear start and end points for the process. This step is very important because it forms the backbone of your workflow. Ask yourself and the people involved: what is the first activity that kicks off the entire process? What is the last activity that signals that the process is complete?

 Ask "What happens next?" or "And then what happens?" questions until you understand the process from end to end. Use these questions to document the flow of tasks or activities.  Start with the common path (the flow that happens most frequently) first. Most processes have ‘exception’ or ‘alternate’ paths that depend on specific factors. Since these may not happen all the time, stay focused on the common path and try not to get bogged down. You can revisit these exception paths later.

 Determine the decision points and figure the information needed to make a decision.  During step 4 listen for operative words such as authorise, validate or approve; these are decision points. From these points there will be two paths: one for the approval and one for denial. Once again, start with the common path first then visit the exception paths. For each task inquire about the data used or created and the people involved. This will lead you to the requirements.

 Rethink the process. Once you have the workflow diagrammed, it will be much easier to streamline your process. This is the perfect time to ask yourself and the people involved: Are there any steps that seem redundant or that are duplicated? Are there parts of the process that could be more efficient? Are there bottlenecks and how can they be improved? Adjust your diagram in response to the feedback received.

Now that you fully comprehend the tasks involved and have a detailed diagram of your business process, you can look to automation.  Business process automation is just one feature of a document management system like M-Files that can help your business operation properly and efficiently. Take a look at the videos to see M-Files in action, or contact us for a free consultation.

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