Process Documentation — A must for Continuous Improvement

One of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of your business is to create documented standards for how each and every process is performed throughout the company. Essentially at a very basic level these documents describe in a high level of detail the exact steps for a particular task, it should be both simple yet detailed enough that anyone should be able to review the procedure and do that task.

If you are considering or have done this already, I hope it didn’t look like the image here. It’s time to throw the sticky notes and whiteboard methods away! My hope is that the manual approach can be packed away with the old comic books, and stuffed in the attic to collect dust.

The technology is available today to make this happen and to do so quite easily, with minimal effort. I think it is going to become as common as Microsoft word and excel in the enterprise- everyone should know how their business operates. Organizations across sectors and industries invested big in IT the past 25 years to collect literally ‘warehouses’ and ‘marts’ of data. Now there is the opportunity to maximize the investment and get more out of the data! Yeah, I know you probably think you already are because of those amazing dashboards we can create now in Tableau. It’s not that these are bad, but like I have said previously in BI Doesn’t Have All the Answers: “the hidden flaw in BI is the assumption that business processes are always known and are happening as prescribed”. The simple truth is, old methods just don’t cut it anymore! There’s easier and cheaper ways to understand the way businesses’ processes are working, and its based on the data, not biased by perspective or lack of accurate knowledge.

Surprisingly many businesses fail to realize their looking at their processes through the proper lens. Many are failing to create these process standards. The sad reality is that these types of businesses and entrepreneurs who don’t create a documented system usually spend lots of time training and supervising employees and often see that tasks are completed repeatedly, sometimes out of order, or behind schedule. Often they forget that the reason an employee or other person was brought into the business was to help it grow. Spending time on re-training or needing to quality check work constantly is not growing the business and it is a huge waste of time.

The standardized procedures do not need to be extravagant but rather understandable to the reader. An old way to record the standardized procedures was to get a piece of paper or type up each step involved in performing a specific task or process, this normally came from the brainstorming session with the sticky notes and whiteboards. Perhaps even involved weeks or even months of employee interviews and studies. However, there are now tools that allow the company to upload data from the multitude of sources that businesses now operate and record data on. Process mining for example can extract from this data. Using “the breadcrumbs that processes leave behind” in the form of event logs, or records of all actions that are taken by individuals within any business process, including actions performed by IT systems. These logs are then used to discover the process and create an interactive process map. Process intelligence can accurately visualize all the variants of the process and lets you filter and drill down into the granular details. This allows for real time visibility of business processes as they’re executed.

The benefit to having a program record standardized procedures as opposed to manually recording the process is that the actual, real life, “as-is” processes will be captured rather than the processes the employee or manager thinks happens. Everyone pictures the process in their own perspective. Removing the bias allows for an understanding of process execution, and performance based on actual data.

Once the business has been thoroughly documented and the work standards created monitoring capabilities can make sure that they are regularly followed, no exceptions. When the processes are standardized with process intelligence, alerting of problems becomes extremely simple. A modern process intelligence platform is able to alert management in real time when steps are skipped or done out of order in order to prevent costly mistakes. This makes it is easy to answer the question about who or what happened and identify remediation abilities when a mistake occurs. Some even use advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict and forecast problems or deviations before they occur and then interfere beforehand to ensure positive outcomes. Now that’s true digital transformation! It’s an excellent example of the process intelligence role in intelligent automation.

In my last article I talked about the need to re-engineer processes rather than simply improve on existing areas. The capability to identify any and all protocol violations can also signal a call for change. If the same protocol is being violated over and over it is worth asking the employee why the error is happening. It is possible that certain situations call for a violation of the protocol in place. Because process rules were put in place that perhaps do not reflect the current situation, there is communication that is necessary between the employees and management when these violations occur frequently. After these exceptions are discovered, the standardized procedure can be modified to include these exceptions. This constant review allows for continuous improvement within the company which allows for the company to not only survive but thrive.

Once an area or process has been formally documented proceed with continuous improvement efforts, go out and look for simple commonsense ways to improve each and every process to become more efficient. Greater visibility of processes leads to greater efficiency that ultimately leads to the business becoming more profitable. Get a handle on your processes today!

Oh and P.S. if you’re still using the sticky notes and whiteboards to map your process, or your consultant you brought in is suggesting (like I use to) … send me a private message … we need to chat. At the very least I can show you a better way – Free of charge of course!!!

September 27, 2018