There is no doubt that process analysis is valuable. By drawing and modeling the ‘as is’ process we are able to create a useful artefact that aids communication and also creates useful conversations about how the process might be improved. Yet when we begin our analysis of a process we might find that there is a proverbial ‘elephant in the room’. We might find that the process has never been consciously designed and there are significant inconsistencies into how the work is carried out. Perhaps rather than being deliberately designed, an accepted practice has ‘emerged’; yet since it has never been documented or reviewed, different people may have drastically different approaches. Put simply – sometimes the “as is” is very ad-hoc!
This creates a challenge for process analysis and modeling. How can we begin to draw a process model if there is no consensus over how the work is conducted? How can we drive agreement if there are dozens of subtle (and undocumented) process variations?
Tips for analyzing the ‘ad-hoc’
When the current situation is ad-hoc, the following tips can help:
1. Understand the stakeholder landscape
Firstly, it is useful to carry out a thorough review of the stakeholder landscape. Understanding the variety and type of stakeholders will help us to thoroughly understand the relevant aspects and issues relating to the process. We might ask questions like:
Who takes part in the process?
Who is the process ‘owner’?
Who are the beneficiaries or customers of the process and who receives or consumes the output?
What outcomes are those beneficiaries aiming to achieve (and does the process currently provide this)?
Who supplies inputs to the process?
Understanding and speaking to those who have a stake in the process will help us to understand the different (and often competing) viewpoints. Once we have identified these stakeholders, it is useful to start meeting with them to gain insight. It is likely we will start to elicit information about current problems and suggested solutions at this point too.
2. Observe, Observe, Observe!
Whilst interviews, workshops and other elicitation techniques are extremely useful when analyzing processes, it is still extremely important to observe. When we are faced with a process that has emerged and is inconsistent, observation helps us to see and understand any variations between process operators and users. If there are variations or differences, we can work to understand why. Which of the variants is best? Is the variation necessary? Observation will also help us see and understand problems, bottlenecks and other issues.
3. Understand constraints and rules
One significant challenge with “ad hoc” and undocumented processes is that there may be significantly different interpretations of any underlying constraints or business rules. Different people may be enforcing rules differently.
It is extremely important that we work with the stakeholders to understand:
- Whether the rules and constraints are necessary (as they may actually be outdated and no longer relevant)
- The company policy, decision or legislation they relate to
- The specific details of the rule that should be incorporated within the process and underlying procedures
4. Find a process owner
Creating a unified and agreed process will be significantly easier if we can identify the owner of that process. The owner should be in a position where they can make significant decisions about the process, and they should have a ‘stake’ in its successful operation.
The owner can help us understand the context and the need for the process, and will be invaluable in helping to communicate and embed any process improvements or changes that are made. If we can’t find someone who feels that they have a sufficient stake to ‘own’ the process, then we may have to ask the difficult and provocative question “Is this process really necessary at all?”
5. Define, Review, Consult, Improve.
Finally, once we have worked with the stakeholders to understand how and when the activities are carried out, we can define and draw a process model. It is extremely useful to think about notation at this point – utilising a standard and consistent notation that all stakeholders can understand is important.
Once the process is defined ‘on paper’, we can work with our stakeholders to review it, to seek improvements, and look to implement the process. The real test is in the implementation, and thought should be put into communication and getting buy in to the new process – the process owner can help here.
In conclusion: When a process has not been consciously designed, we may face challenges in analysis. Understanding stakeholders viewpoints, and any underlying constraints are key to driving consensus.