How to Document Your Business Processes

There are many reasons why you should have well documented business processes. Especially in the knowledge based work we do in today’s world, loss of key team members can be detrimental to the smooth running of an organization. Therefore defining business processes makes a lot of sense. If you understand the importance of documenting, the next step is to actually start doing so. But where do you begin to gather the information and an appropriate level of detail to document your business processes?

While the design of business processes will vary, there are some essential components that should be included in your planning and documentation of your processes.

10 Components That Every Documented Business Process Should Include:

1. Process Overview

Prepare a high level summary or overview of what you need to accomplish. What is the goal, what are the success factors, the value to the organization, and the purpose of the process that you are using? This overview will also serve as an introduction to the following nine (9) other components that you’ll need to include in your documented process.

2. Process Description and Steps

These are the methodical and logical baseline steps which are followed within the specific business process. To the average reader, this ordered list of methodical steps may seem obvious and not worth documenting. “Just do it” may be a natural response to listing the specific steps within a business process. However, for any steps that need to be later automated, using workflow processes and trigger mechanisms, identifying each of these individual steps is critical to ensure success.

3. Process Inputs

These inputs are the sources of information on which the business process relies. Where is your information coming from? Is it being manually written down, handed to you on a form, or keyed into a system? What is the source of those keyed entries? What other sources of information do your processes rely upon? Are they paper-based, verbal instructions or perhaps imported from some other system?

4. Process Outputs

This is what’s generated as the result of the business process and those inputs which have been introduced to support it. It may be a payment, a workflow notification, a sales transaction, or a management report for example. The quality of the output is entirely dependent on the quality and integrity of the inputs and the structured process that is fed by those inputs.

5. Policies and Procedures

These are the rules in place which communicate and govern the objectives of the process, as well as the expectations of those who are involved within the process itself. Business rules and calculations which need to be configured within business systems are often driven by underlying policies and procedures. Employees’ benefit eligibility, paid vacation, sales commission and travel expense reimbursement, for example, are all types of policies that may underpin a business process. In support of the business process, your policies and procedures may already be documented and can simply be attached or linked to your process documentation.

Documenting template...

Using a Business Process Document template that has defined sections for different components helps in referencing and updating in future

6. Current Systems in Use

Knowing which systems are specifically involved in the inputs, processing and outputs is vital to understanding the automation or technology which may be in place, or planned to be implemented. Often there are many more systems, databases, silos of information and stand-alone software packages in use among your stakeholders than may be initially realised. A detailed review of your individual processes will uncover the full list of your internal and external systems inventory.

7. Roles and Responsibilities

What is the process role of all those involved with managing, controlling, executing and participating in the process? Depending on the process and its complexity, or simplicity, these process roles may be an entire department, a position of responsibility or an individual employee, for example. Externally, a role within a process may include a supplier or the end customer for example.

8. Process Diagrams

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Diagrams which illustrate the business process add immense value to understanding what needs to be accomplished, by whom, using which systems, and through which connection points among your systems and your internal resources. Visio ‘swim lane’ diagrams, or those created within Excel or Power Point, to identify systems and illustrate the flow of information will go a long way to bring your process to life.

9. Challenges and Exceptions

Most business processes will encounter some type of challenges and exceptions to their business rules and baseline processes. Informed decisions and provisions to address these types of issues can be more-easily made by documenting alternative plan “B” measures to allow you to efficiently and proactively react to the anomalies and exceptions accordingly.

10. Future Anticipated Requirements

Your future-state business processes and systems are a continuous work in progress as your business environment evolves. Having identified each of the components above, you are well positioned to also identify future improvements which may be leveraged through the use of more efficient systems, the extended use of automation, realignment of roles and resources, or updating policies and procedures to meet your evolving process-related and business solution requirements.

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