Business Process…this must be THE most boring term ever! And in practice it often is indeed that boring I’m afraid…but it does not necessarily have to be. In fact, understanding and managing your processes effectively is one of the key drivers for a business that strives for Operational Excellence.

A (business) process can be defined as a collection of related activities that produce a specific service or product for a particular customer.

The benefits of mapping out your processes are (amongst others):

  • Increased awareness of your organisation’s landscape for all involved
  • Understanding how value is created for your customer
  • Ensure 1 way of working (and through that decrease mistakes and time spent one performing a process or process step)
  • Processes form the basis for continuous improvement

The Process Levels

Processes are like ogres; they have layers (or levels). The bigger the organisation, the more layers there are but let’s keep it simple and keep it at 3:

High level processHigh – ‘Country level’
No details, just the general lay-out of the business. In this layer you have 1 overview of all the processes. This is not a level you will work with on a daily basis but it is great to figure out and to have for general awareness. This level tells you how your products and your customers flow through your company and will give a birds-eye perspective on how things operate. In this level we use for example ‘Sales’ or ‘Marketing’ as processes.

Medium Level ProcessMedium – ‘City’
In this layer you single out one process, for example Inbound Sales. This process is laid out in an x number of steps but does not give you all the nitty gritty details. For ease of representation I usually use 4 to 6 process steps. If you want to be really explicit or when the process or organisation requires it you can of course use more steps. It’s up to you!

Low Level ProcessLow – ‘Area/streets’
Often this level is described in work instructions or procedures. This tells you exactly how to walk and work. An example would be the procedure to deal with a customer complaint coming in by e-mail. The work instruction would then read exactly those steps and words to take and use. The goal is, in Operational Excellence or Lean, that it is as standardised as possible. In other words, someone new should be able to do the exact same things as someone who has been there for 10 years.

What does that look like in practice?

The High Level Process Map

Based on the eTom telecommodel and refined at Atos Consulting I distinguish 3 areas. The first contains those processes required to get a product or service to the market. The second is filled with processes that make sure that the customer gets her product as promised. Both areas have close interaction with the end customer.

The third area is for all processes that support the business and has no or very little end customer interaction.

High level process map

These examples are not necessarily correct or complete for your situation but they are the most common ones.

Medium Level Processes

This is where we take it 1 step further: we take for example the High Level Process ‘Sales’ and split it into ‘Inbound Sales’ and ‘Outbound Sales’. Or we take ‘HR’ and split it into ‘Hiring’, ‘Firing’, ‘People Performance Management’, ‘Rewarding’ and ‘Training’ (there are more to HR though!). The names are not set in stone and are whatever you make of them but your list of medium level processes should encompass everything that goes on in your business though!

We plot these processes in a process flow: a diagram that shows you in an easy and visual way how your process is pieced together.

Process flows form the basis for every type of process improvement as they are a great way of visualising what really goes on instead of just assuming you know.

An example of my own Inbound Sales process:

Medium level process flow

There is a whole science to plotting processes the right way and there are many tools that allow you to draw them. MS Visio is used the most but does not work on Macs unfortunately. As a big fan of all things ‘cloud’ I like to use Lucidchart to do my extensive process drawings (but also organisational charts, mindmaps or other types of diagrams). Of course you could keep it simple and just draw them in powerpoint.

There is also a huge debate about how and where to save these process charts once you have them. Tools like ARIS are often used in larger companies to ensure all processes are drawn and always available but there a some major drawbacks to this. I’ll probably go into that in another blog as this is closely linked to Knowledge Management. I would recommend to keep it simple!

Low Level Procedures or Work Instructions

Where all the detail happens! In Lean you want to make the work as standardised as possible and one of the ways to do this is by using work instructions or Standard Operating Procedures. These are usually documents or webpages in for example a Wiki that describe EVERYTHING that needs to be done to perform a certain process. Usually there are a few work instructions to every medium level process but this depends on the size of your business and the priorities you give to those processes.

As a general rule of thumb you want your biggest and most repetitive processes written down in work instructions. Also, when you’re dealing with a high turnover of people you’ll want to have everything these employees deal with written down to make sure the work is easily transferred and as few mistakes as possible are made in the process

The following partial example was refined by colleagues at Essent Netherlands in 2012 and though I usually try to use something in the cloud it sums up everything that should be in there:

Work instruction

 Now what?

Processes are the roads that run through your business; they need to be smooth, well-connected and without bottlenecks to make sure your service of product gets to your customer in time and right the first time. Understanding your processes is therefore only step one in making sure you improve your business on a continuous basis.

I’d love to hear from you

Are you in the field of Process Management? What are your experiences with this? Really boring of extremely useful? Any handy tips? Let me know in the comments below.