A new day, a new process modelling project. The project plan has been signed off, reference documentation was gathered, all stakeholders have been identified and now…now what? While process models increase in popularity and most businesses seem to agree that process models are indeed a good way of representing how an organisation creates and delivers value, there is little to no guidance on what a good process model is, how to create one and how to successfully go about executing a process modelling project. While this guide does not claim to be a silver bullet for all your process modelling problems (look at our Modelling Excellence framework for that!), it aims to be a guide for Project Managers and BPM Professionals in every stage of the modelling journey, regardless of whether you’re just kicking off a new modelling project, are in the middle of a major project, or are just looking for a refresh. Please note that this guide does not address steps to set up or configure a process modelling tool. It is focused on the activity of process modelling. Let’s get started! This section includes topics that should be covered prior to kicking off any process modelling project. If a project is already underway, but struggling, we recommend revisiting this section to ensure the basics have been covered. If your project is already underway and going well, you may opt to skip ahead to the “Business Process Modelling” section. It’s all about the purpose… Firstly, ensure the purpose for modelling has been identified and agreed upon by all stakeholders. Whether it is communication, training, process measurement, improvement or configuration of a workflow tool, any modelling effort must serve a purpose. Major decisions such as “What modelling tool is the right one?” as well as minor decisions such as “Should I include this detail in my model?” can easily, logically and consistently be answered once the purpose has been identified. Consequently, if a clear purpose for modelling cannot be identified, no time and money should be spent on modelling as the models would end up being waste. The start of a process modelling project is also a good time to identify additional use cases for process models and pitch those to the stakeholders. The more use cases there are, the more robust the business case for process modelling becomes. Models that are re-used often are valuable to the organisation, rather than just useful for a one-off project. This does not mean that creating models for one-off use is waste. Although we generally recommend maintaining and re-using process models as much as possible, there are many valid use cases for and circumstances under which organisations choose to create process models that will be deleted once the project is completed. We do however emphasise that this purpose needs to be clearly identified and agreed upon, so nobody comes looking for the model two years later and needs to then kick off another modelling project since the former models are either out-of-date or nowhere to be found. Understanding the purpose of modelling will also help Modellers in the information elicitation and model validation stages of the project. They must always be prepared to explain what they are doing, why they are doing it and how it benefits the organisation. A strong pitch for modelling, tied back to the purpose, will help to keep stakeholders focused during workshops.
Continuous process improvement is a common organizational aspiration, and it is one of the most difficult things an organization can attempt. The continuous aspect is quite a challenge, as is realizing business performance improvements—especially once the easy and obvious changes have been made. Organizations need an ‘internal improvement engine’ that replaces insistence with evidence.
In my working life I spend a lot of time working with client organizations to discover and capture useful models of their process architecture. In every country, industry sector, organization type and size, there is a common problem that bedevils every project. We all, and I include myself here, can too easily slip into the habit of the last 100 years (or you might argue 1,000 years) of visualizing the organization as its organization chart. Comments such as “What about the work they do in department X?” might just be a useful test for a developing process architecture, or they might indicate a lack of understanding of what the architecture represents.
There is often a tension between process improvement and innovation. Improvement is seen to be just fiddling around at the edges, rather than making the massive gains offered by radical transformation. Continuous process improvement is important, and we also need discontinuous innovation. However, process improvement needs a performance boost; as well as counteracting weaknesses and threats, it needs to focus on opportunities and strengths. We need to work beyond the tangible current state to discover and improve non-existent processes.
Without conscious attention to cross-functional processes, nobody is deliberately responsible for the creation, accumulation, and delivery of value to customers and other stakeholders. The organization chart says nothing about this topic. All organizations seek to deliver value but, without a relentless, mindful focus on business processes, there is a critical gap between aspiration and reality. Too often, process improvement initiatives are ‘random acts of management’ without a systemic foundation. Organizations focused on continually improving and innovating the creation, accumulation, and delivery of customer value have process thinking embedded in culture and practice.