Opening the Box: The Importance of a Process Hierarchy

Business Process Analysis May 19, 2023

Process modeling notations provide us with the ability to describe and model processes in granular and finite detail. Yet for us to truly manage our processes there is significant value in ensuring that our processes are linked to a clear and ordered hierarchy. Whilst the granular detail is crucial to those who undertake the work of the process, other (higher level) views help ensure internal consistency and coherence. This, in turn, should be consistent with the organisation's motivation/strategy.

By creating models, we are able to assess potential areas of improvement and create a shared understanding of how work should be undertaken and how teams should collaborate.

Having an up-to-date view enables the processes to be managed and means that we can more easily assess the impact of potential changes - enabling us to optimize performance and also respond to environmental changes more quickly.

In order to be most valuable, process models need to be meaningful and useful to a whole range of stakeholders - from end-users and operators through to senior managers and executives. Each of these stakeholders will have different needs, and will be referring to the process models for different purposes. A senior executive may seek to understand the breadth of processes, with a view to understanding endto-end performance. A training manager may be looking to standardize the training of detailed procedures. End-users and operators may need a detailed - but user friendly - reference guide with granular and finite detail about each step provided.

Fulfilling these different - but complementary - perspectives can be challenging. One approach is to utilize a modeling notation (such as BPMN) that allows us to create multiple ‘views’ of a process. Indeed, there is a wide range of different tools out there, some that allow us to create a single model with multiple views, ensuring that we have a single ‘source of the truth’. This is hugely beneficial when compared with maintaining multiple disparate and separate process artifacts - but it raises a related question. How much detail is too much detail? Or, put differently, at what levels of abstraction should we stop and start modeling?

In this article, Adrian Reed discusses the importance of a hierarchy for communicating and managing processes—and discusses the importance of deciding and agreeing the levels of hierarchy early, to avoid a mismatch of stakeholder expectations.

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