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What is business process design?

PostsStrategy & planning
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

February 05, 2021

Think of a river. It starts as nothing — a tiny drop. Then, as it heads toward the ocean, more and more rivers feed into it. By the time it gets there, it’s not really one river, but the result of hundreds of streams and little rivers all flowing into it.

Similarly, a business is the sum of lots and lots of processes all happening at once: Every action, every task, feeds into the organization’s output. But unlike a big, unruly river, these processes can be carefully managed so that the end result is exactly what it should be.

What is a business process?

A business process is a series of repeatable steps that lead toward achieving a goal. For example, say you ran a sandwich shop. One business process might be to make sandwiches. And there would be a series of steps to go through to achieve that outcome.

Often, businesses do this implicitly — meaning they automatically run through various processes without formally mapping them out. Other times, there’s a mapped, structured, and carefully thought-out process design set out and optimized so it’s as efficient as it can be.

What is business process design?

Business process design is the process of creating a workflow diagram that maps out a process. The ultimate goal? Improvement.

Implicit processes vs. structured processes

Most people’s hearts sink when they think of paperwork, which is part of the reason many businesses take the implicit route. After all, if everyone can get on with things as they are, why complicate it with a diagram? And why set aside valuable time to create a diagram in the first place? While there is logic to this, it’s not necessarily the best approach to take.

What are the benefits of a business process diagram?

Business processes diagrams usually happen for three reasons:

  1. When you’re starting up and need to map out how things will be done
  2. When you’re introducing a new process
  3. Or, when you want to improve an existing process

BPMs aren’t just busywork for people who love to be organized — they come with plenty of benefits. Here are some of the top reasons for mapping out your processes:

  • Structure: When people follow an informal process, the chances of them occasionally deviating are high. This makes it tricky to plan. And if something does go wrong — for example, a deadline is missed — it’s trickier to work out what went wrong and why.
  • Consistency: Let’s go back to that sandwich shop. Imagine you have several workers all making sandwiches. If there’s no official process in place, they might all do things slightly differently, which means their work and the results will vary.
  • Efficiency: Structuring your processes will help you make sure they’re as efficient as possible. Each stage is mapped out step-by-step so you can spot time-wasting tasks. A more streamlined process means things get done faster.
  • Professionalism: When clients ask you about the project and what they can expect at major milestones, having a structured process will make you look more professional. You can even share it with them.

How to do business process design

You have three options to choose from. The first being a hand-drawn diagram — usually a flowchart. This is fine, but it works better as part of the planning stage: One bit of paper can get lost, look messy, and can’t update it without starting from scratch.

The second option is to use MS Word or Google Docs. With these, you can edit the diagram without too much hassle, then just reshare it with everyone once it’s done. The downside is that you’ll need to let everyone know there’s a new version — and hope they look at it. You’ll also need to grapple with formatting and use shapes and arrows to create the diagram yourself, which can be time-consuming.

The third option? Use cloud-based diagramming software. Simply create the business process design using a premade template, edit it, then… that’s it. Everyone will receive an automatic notification (if your software does that), and they’ll be able to see the new diagram immediately. With some tools, like Cacoo, you can add steps, assign responsibilities, and add comments to the diagram for others to read. It makes the whole process that little bit more streamlined and collaborative — which is what business process design is all about.

What do you do with your business process design?

If efficiency is the name of the game, then you’ll want to revisit your process design from time to time to make sure it still does what it’s supposed to do. After all, teams, tools, and responsibilities change — and keeping up with these changes is important if you’re to stay on your A-game.

Business Process Improvement (BPI) and Business Process Management (BPM) are two ways to do this.

As the name implies, BPI is all about improving an existing process. It involves examining the current flow and seeing if there’s any room for improvement. For example, you might be able to automate some tasks thanks to new software. Or perhaps you can eliminate a step that’s not needed.

BPM is about continually looking out for ways to improve the process. So, while BRI is more of a periodical spring-clean, BPM is about keeping an eye on the process and even if everything is running as well as it could be. It’s part of the continuous improvement way of working.

Business process design: 6 rules to follow

Business process design is all about delivering value to the client and ensuring profit (or reach) for the organization. Here are some basic principles to follow when creating your diagram.

1. Add value for the customer

One way to work out whether a process should go or stay is to ask yourself the question — would the customer pay for this? Everything should lead into that moment where the client feels like their needs have been met. Any activities that don’t feed into this should get the chop.

2. Reduce handoff delays

Handoffs happen when responsibilities are transferred from one party to another. Failures and delays happen when this process doesn’t run smoothly. For example, not enough information is shared, or the other team isn’t ready to start work. Making sure your business processes are fine-tuned can help mitigate handoff risks.

3. Don’t rely on automation

Automation can be great, but if it’s used without discretion, issues arise. There’s no substitute for quality, and if a human can produce a better result, they should always be chosen over machines.

4. Use business process standardization

Most businesses have a multitude of processes all going on at once — some of which can be duplicated or consolidated. Taking a top-down view of every process within an organization can help you see a unified way to solve a problem, then implement a cohesive solution across the whole lot.

5. Incorporate compliance rules

Many processes have stages that need to be included for compliance reasons. Business process design should incorporate rules and regulations in all the regions in which your business operates.

6. Keep it simple

It might take a few goes before your design is as distilled as it can be, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Poorly thought out processes will result in mistakes, a slower workflow, and delays — the exact opposite of what business process design seeks to achieve… so give this stage the time and care it requires.

Take advantage of diagramming tools with team sharing capabilities to make the process as collaborative as possible. Sharing the diagram in a public place means it’s always in view, so if processes change or someone on the team spots a shortcut, they can share the information quickly and easily making the process even more streamlined and efficient.



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