How to Design a Process
By Mike Raia Posted June 19, 2019
Today, we'll dive into the foundations of designing a process from the ground up. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned professional, this article will help you understand the basics of the business design process and provide some of the crucial steps in creating an effective process. Note: for an even more thorough discussion of process planning and design, check out our free BPM Guide.
Process Design Benefits
Having properly-designed business processes in place is key to efficiency, scalability, and competitiveness. While working on either designing a process from the ground up or re-engineering an existing process, consider the following:
- By simply analyzing your processes (whether or not you intend to automate them) you begin to recognize redundancies, inefficiencies, areas of risk, lack of succession planning, and more.
- Standardization helps in achieving consistency by benchmarking best practices across the organization.
- Implementing meaningful KPIs identifies areas of improvement including bottlenecks, errors, and slow cycle times.
- Automating repetitive tasks to allow your employees to contribute in more meaningful, value-added ways that improve loyalty, engagement, and job satisfaction.
The Pizza Shop Analogy
Consider a pizza shop. It's made up of a group of functions represented in a hierarchal map, from the top down. This map will consist of all the functions needed to run this fast-food chain, such as production, hiring, marketing, supply chain, etc. Each function is decomposed into the high-level processes that make up that function, then each of these high-level processes can be decomposed into more granular ones.
The production process could be divided into simpler sub-processes such as preparing the dough, the sauce, cutting and placing the toppings, and finally baking the pizza and packing it. Even preparing the dough could be divided into even more granular steps, that includes all the ingredients needed, ideal storage conditions, etc. This exercise is repeated until reaching the lowest level of processes, or activities, to get a finalized and detailed process map of all the company’s processes.
Process Analysis: Laying the Foundation
A strong foundation is the key to your hard work not crumbling down once you’re almost at the finish line. Here are some cornerstones for your analysis:
- Establish and document the process hierarchy by walking through the system from the top down, as mentioned in the pizza chain example above.
- Break down the organization’s functions and activities into more and more granular processes, until the most basic steps along the chain are reached. This will help in identifying opportunities for improvement, isolating the root causes.
- Start the analysis one granular process at a time to achieve a high level of effectiveness and efficiency. Identify areas to optimize and potential issues in the process including redundancies, risky hand-offs, tribal knowledge,
- Develop a RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted, Informed) chart for each process task. Basically, who is performing the task, who is approving the task was done correctly, who else has some involvement with the task, and who needs to know when the task is complete.
Keep in mind that no changes should be implemented until you've worked your way back up to the highest level of processes as changes to one granular process may impact others.
It might seem exorbitant to do each of the steps for a single process as opposed to the organizational approach, but employing this procedure even in single processes, and especially so for beginners or small businesses, is important. It will propel you from a narrow approach to a comprehensive approach, addressing the process as an important link in a chain, rather than a series of empty ultra-divided parts. When working on one process, it’s easy to focus on just that one and disregard others, but not recognizing the connection between the parts could cause the process to fall short of effectiveness, efficiency or both.
Problem Statement & Voice of the Customer
There isn't a better industry than manufacturing at defining, refining and executing their processes. An important tool methodology used in manufacturing is Six Sigma, one of the most effective process improvement methodologies, with the clear goal of reducing variation in a process. A cornerstone technique of the Six Sigma methodology is DMAIC – an acronym for define, measure, analyze, improve, control. In Six Sigma, defining is the most critical step, the first step, and usually the most time-consuming one. A project’s success hinges on defining the problem correctly, which includes identifying why we are establishing the process. Does it add value, or could we do without it; who will the customers be for this process, both internal and external? Defining the problem makes or breaks the process.
- Begin by considering the output of the process, and what it needs to be.
- Define and document the requirements that must be delivered.
- Identify and document your stakeholders - regulators, other functions in your organization (Human resources, IT, operations, sales, purchasing, etc.), actual end customers.
- Work through each of the previously defined requirements, focusing on the minute details of the form it should be delivered in, and how to deliver on those requirements from there on together with your customers.
It is perfectly reasonable (and perhaps beneficial) to challenge some of the requirements. Make it a habit to ask the question "Does this step add value?" to avoid unnecessary costs, processes and downright resource waste. For instance, in our previous pizzeria example, a survey of our fictional customers showed that they’d prefer an efficient pizza delivery process that maintains the quality of the product, and within 30 minutes of ordering. By analyzing this data, in addition to the number of potential customers in the area, along with other factors, it would help us in identifying how many delivery vehicles would be needed, location of the store, delivery policy, and routes, etc.
Careful consideration of the customer’s needs is a big part of defining the problem, as it informs the crucial requirements to be addressed, and thus requires a closer look. There are several ways to collect quality responses from the various stakeholders, such as focus groups, requirements workshops, and brainstorming sessions. Outline the must-have requirements based on your customer’s needs and define what needs to be done (the process) in order to achieve those deliverables.
- Brainstorm with the different teams and involved personnel on the best way to achieve each step with the highest quality and the least amount of effort and resources used.
- Consider roles that are involved in executing the process, the data needed, where it is sourced from, and the effort needed to collect, report, and analyze it.
- Check if the process will be executed in different locations, along with different teams in various time zones, and account for any such factors that might hinder the performance.
Design the process
Now that all the ingredients to create and design an effective and efficient process are there, you can begin with the actual design by mapping out the process. Mapping could be kick-started with a simple brainstorming exercise using a pen, post-it notes, and a whiteboard.
- Write down the inputs, outputs, and steps needed to achieve the business goal, each one on a separate note.
- Create the process on the whiteboard (virtual or real) with post-its, each note containing the finest, most granular steps you can get down to.
- Draw the links between the different steps and how the process flows from one to the next.
- Once the initial process mapping, carry out several workshops to identify any gaps in the design.
It will be beneficial to conduct some studies on the time it takes to move from one step to the next in the current process, as well as how long each step takes, and then come up with cycle and lead times. Your goal is to minimize the movement between steps, wait times, and overall waste in the process. An enormous benefit of using post-it notes in an initial map is that you can move them around and recalculate how time-consuming the process would be, as well as how much waste it would eliminate.
Once the whiteboard version is at an acceptable point, move into documentation, which is important for many reasons, such as training, future improvement initiatives and regulatory and governmental requirements. A construction company wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, and that’s exactly what the documentation should be—a guide for employees and stakeholders alike, so don't forget to document the inputs, steps, stakeholders, and required outputs as you go along.
Use the tools you feel comfortable with to lay out the finished process design. Visio is an industry standard but there are a variety of tools you can use, free and paid. We recommend several in this post. Give yourself plenty of room to work by placing steps/tasks far apart. You will undoubtedly end up moving things around and will need to have space to drop steps in between.
Rolling out the New Process
So you've designed a new process and you think you're ready to unleash it on the organization. A successful new process rollout is doomed to fail if you don't think about the impact it will have on the end users. Before you implement:
- Run workshops with a sample of friendly, but honest users and customers of the process.
- Create different scenarios, assign the roles, and run through several iterations of the process as it was mapped initially.
- Collect feedback from both the customers and people executing the process, and note down what you may observe as inefficiencies, or worse, mistakes.
These activities will help you identify any missing pieces of the puzzle and refine the process design before initiating a full-fledged implementation. Side note: It is also in the workshops where it becomes evident which tasks and steps are ripe for automation solutions. Tasks that are repetitive follow a defined logic and account for a large chunk of the effort and time in most business processes can be automated using the various available automation solutions.
We covered a lot here but if you want more, check out our free BPM Guide which goes into detail about many of the activities we described. If you're interested in an expert-led workshop for your company or departmental processes Integrify offers a few different options.