Whether you realize it or not, your organization already has some form of a process in place for moving work around your office. It may not be well-documented or standardized, but it exists. However, there’s a significant difference between a workflow documented ad hoc and one deliberately documented to capture the end-to-end process.
Generally, workflows are developed by accident or by necessity. When a new task is performed, employees attempt to determine how to use available resources to accomplish the goal. These by-necessity decisions are seldom the most efficient use of resources, which is one of the reasons it is important to document your workflow. When processes are documented through a formal workflow, organizations can:
- Improve processes by identifying potential bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
- Standardize the result by ensuring that everyone is working from the same set of processes.
- Train new and existing employees to meet the same standards every time. Documented processes and procedures help new employees understand their job duties and makes the training process more efficient. Experienced employees can refer back to the documentation as needed.
- Remove knowledge silos so that if a key employee leaves the organization, the company can maintain operations and train new personnel.
- Prepare for workflow automation and migration to the cloud. One of the first questions a workflow solution partner will ask about is how current processes work and current pain points.
How to Document Processes
Now that we’ve covered why it’s important to document processes let’s discuss how to document them. This six-step process won’t digitize your workflow or improve your workflow. Those are subjects for another day. Today we’re covering the basics of documenting a process for the first time, so grab a stack of sticky notes, and let’s get started.
- Choose the process. Don’t try to document everything all at once. Pick a single process – such as one that regularly experiences bottlenecks or failures – and focus on that. Briefly describe the process and its purpose. Make sure to be clear on how the process benefits the organization.
- NOTE: If several processes immediately come to mind, focus on the most urgent one. Write the others processes on sticky notes and set them aside to come back to later.
- Define the process scope and boundaries. Be clear on what is and is not included in the process, where the process begins and ends, how and why it starts, and how and why it ends.
- Identify process inputs and outputs. Break down the resources necessary to carry out each of the process steps and what the process result / product is. Each resource, as well as the process result, should be a single sticky note.
- Brainstorm the process steps. Ideally, this brainstorming occurs with other parties who are impacted by the task. These “other parties” may be responsible for process tasks or referencing the document.
- As a group, gather end-to-end information on process steps. Write each of these steps down on a single sticky note. One note = one process step.
- Don’t forget about exceptions to the normal process flow – document what steps should be taken to address these exceptions.
- Don’t forget to define the roles of anyone involved in the process and use job titles rather than names.
- Organize process steps. Take the list of steps and arrange them sequentially. Take a hard look at your sticky notes from earlier, listing out all of the steps. As you organize the steps, break complicated steps into sub-tasks as needed.
- Create the process visual. While your group undoubtedly appreciates the sticky note visual, to increase readability, create a process flowchart to show the steps described above.
At this stage, your focus should be on fully documenting all of the steps in a process. It may be messy, and you will no doubt immediately spot areas for improvement, but the goal of this exercise isn’t to create a perfectly optimized process yet – it’s to document the current process. Hopefully, as you look at the documented workflow, you feel a sense of accomplishment and want to do it again. Remember those sticky notes you set aside in step one? It’s time to go back to the beginning and start again with one of them.
Keep your eye out for the next post in our Workflow 101 series: Improving Your Workflow, where I’ll discuss how to take all of your newly documented processes and use BPI (Business Process Improvement) techniques to improve them.