Define and Outline Your Business Process Workflow

If you are thinking about implementing business process automation software to help you better manage your business processes, you will need to provide a complete outline of the processes to your software provider. Defining and documenting processes can be challenging, and it will take some time. Here are a few simple, yet critical steps to help you get started

1. Gather all of the participants of the business process to discuss the process.

  • This will help you get a big-picture understanding of the way information is routed currently and why.
  • Consider bringing in a moderator that knows nothing about the process. It encourages team members to explain things in more detail. If you are using a document and business process automation vendor, more than likely they have business process management expertise and can assist, teach you how to conduct the process definition sessions or provide this service for you.
  • Don’t count solely on management’s perspective; they don’t always know what is really happening in the trenches related to work processes.
  • Don’t count on just the staff’s perspective; they don’t always know why a task is executed or why a piece of information is gathered, they are typically a piece to the puzzle. You may have to travel up the ladder to find out why a certain step is taken.
  • Make sure that the discussion is held in a safe place where individuals can express the truth. Sometimes you will have to follow up with them after the group meeting to get the real story on why things are done the way they are done. Could it be that someone refuses to change their ways and the same document goes to the same person 10 times for no reason at all?
2. Document the process with pictures and words.Seeing a large drawing of your workflow can help you pinpoint places for improvement more easily; use craft paper if possible and encourage the participants to insert key information.

3. Look for ways to improve.

  • Thoroughly understand why things are done the way they are today.
  • Keep asking who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Start with the straight forward path first, then come back and look at the exceptions to the rules.
  • Look for ways to eliminate, shorten or automate a process.
  • Remember, you can’t always automate; sometimes you just need to document the process and procedures and then enforce the process.

4. Develop an outline of how information will be stored and accessed.

  • Determine what information and documents are needed to complete the steps within the process.
  • Categorize documents into repositories that are simple to understand, easy-to-find and allow quick access i.e. Accounts Payable/Invoices or Corporate Documents/Board Minutes.
  • Determine who needs access to what information so you may set restrictions on viewing rights.

5. Consult your legal department.

  • There may be laws regarding the way information is stored, routed and accessed. Be sure you have reviewed these policies and have covered your bases in your workflow outline.
  • Have you met all the requirements for compliance? Your legal department will offer assistance to make sure you are retaining information correctly for their required period – this too can be automated in some systems.

6. Highlight the areas that may be automated.

  • Now that you have your workflow outlined, look for the areas that you believe should be automated and contact your document and business process management software provider to get started on implementation.

7. Practice before launching.

  • Do not take your workflow process live until you have tested it successfully and see that all steps are working properly. It may take several trials with tweaks, but it will save time and prevent errors in the end.

Other considerations to keep in mind:

  • How many workflows can be automated?
  • How often do workflows change? If change is frequent, it’s important to have flexibility and tool in the software so that you can easily make the changes without the vendor’s assistance.
  • How large is the team? The more people, the more important it is to enforce the workflow process and reporting.
  • How computer-literate is the team?
  • How sensitive is the workflow to error? It’s important to understand what types of errors are likely and which are most acceptable. Some errors have a significant impact on a business’s functionality or even revenue, while others are easily fixed.