Every successful business is built on thousands or even millions of processes. As companies look to build a competitive advantage and increase efficiency in a complex world, the art and science of process analysis has taken an important role in business process management.
This guide goes through the theory and key definitions of process analysis, including examples and best practices. There is something for everyone, whether you're a seasoned process excellence executive or just getting into the practice.
About the authors: this process analysis strategy guide is written by process enthusiasts at Workfellow with over 20 years experience in process analysis consulting and software development.
What is process analysis?
Process analysis is the exercise of analyzing business processes to improve the way work is done. Business process analysis uncovers problems, bottlenecks, and improvement opportunities.
Simply put, business process analysis is a way of gaining insight and visibility into the steps employees and organizations perform work to achieve their goals. By taking a deep dive into your current processes, you'll see what works well, what needs to be improved, and how to achieve better business results.
What does process analysis include?
Process analysis is a core activity in business operations management. You can imagine it as an umbrella term including:
- The activity itself of analyzing business processes, implementing process improvements and communicating changes within an organization.
- The qualitative research and advisory undertaken to analyze and understand the as-is state of processes through process discovery.
- The data analytics methods and software used to analyze enterprise data related to processes, for example, through process mining or task mining.
- The outcome of any process analysis exercise, in the form of a document, report or key findings.
Benefits of business process analysis
Methodological process analysis brings a number of benefits to business operations and is a key enabler for process optimization. The six key benefits of business process analysis include:
- Uncover the true state of work. Process analysis helps you visualize the true state of work across processes, tasks and systems, including shadow processes.
- Transparent performance measurement. Process analysis helps you measure how much of your work follows the happy path of agreed process models.
- Identify and remove bottlenecks. Process analysis helps you uncover and remove the root cause of obstacles, such as bottlenecks or swivel chair processes.
- Find process improvement opportunities. Process analysis uncovers processes and tasks that can be automated, for example, through robotic process automation.
- Accelerate intelligent automation. Process analysis acts as an enabler to intelligent automation and digitalization.
Process analysis in 6 steps
There are many ways to conduct a business process analysis from consulting projects to dedicated process intelligence software. Some methods follow the popular Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma methodologies, while others may take a less rigidly defined approach for the needs of the analyzed organization.
The six common stages in the process analysis lifecycle can include:
- Identify your goals. Start by identifying why, when, and what in your business case for process intelligence.
- Discover as-is state. Assess the current state of your processes through process discovery.
- Map processes. Visualize how your processes are planned and designed to be through business process mapping.
- Redesign processes. Evaluate of how processes can be incrementally adjusted through process re-engineering.
- Implement changes. Align your processes with the "should-be" model and plans through process implementation.
- Monitor and adjust. Ensure that teams comply and conform with agreed processes through process monitoring.
Once you've repeated this cycle you can re-visit the goals and state of your processes to restart the process once again.
Process and goal identification
Most strategic initiatives start with careful planning and preparation. Before you embark on any process analysis you need to start with the key elements of process and goal identification through a 4-W framework:
- Why - is there an organizational need or business goal identified related to improving processes?
- What - do you have clarity on what business units, teams or organizations will be covered in the scope of analysis?
- When - do you have a clear timeline of when the analysis has to take place and if you're using data, how much time do you need for analysis?
- Who - do you have the team in place to conduct the analysis, evaluate results and have the capability and motivation to implement changes?
With these key questions answered you are ready to proceed to the process discovery.
Process discovery is a series of techniques and tools used to define, outline, and analyze existing business processes. The goal of discovery is developing a deep understanding of how people carry out daily operations processes.
Discovering processes is one of the most critical steps in understanding how the organization works and, frankly speaking, is a prerequisite for any successful automation project.
Example process discovery questions
One of the most common forms of process discovery is through interviews or discovery workshops. The goal of conducting interviews is to get subject matter expert views on the real state of processes.
- Can you describe in detail the steps you take to perform this task and/or process?
- Why do we need this process?
- What is the desired outcome of this process?
- Are there steps or tasks in this process that can be cut out?
- What are the common challenges to completing this process in your day-to-day work?
The challenge of discovery interviews
The key challenge in interview based process discovery is subjectivity. Analysts need to conduct multiple workshops and interviews with different teams to map out current business processes and manually find any inconsistencies or bottlenecks. It takes a considerable amount of time and resources, yet most decisions would still be based on assumptions and intuition. In this way, the subjectivity of both the interviewee and the analyst can influence the end result.
Companies needed a better way to visualize the processes within different systems and applications to understand which activities need to be automated and which ones need to be prioritized. Compared to other more traditional mapping methods, process discovery has clear advantages on several fronts.
How does process discovery software work?
Process discovery software observes all of the actions performed by humans in their daily work within different systems. It records everything users do and then analyzes it to find suitable processes for either automation, process improvement, or even process replacement.
Unlike other process mapping techniques, process discovery covers a whole spectrum of information systems that it can work with - from CRM/ERP tools to productivity apps such as Calendar and Slack. Collecting the data from users' digital traces, process discovery analyses, and structures it using advanced computer vision and machine learning algorithms. These analyses help find process variations or patterns that could be a basis for finding automation potential.
Which processes qualify as automatable based on discovery? The processes need to be: repetitive or cyclical, highly manual, rule-based with little to no exceptions, and preferably have structured data.
Process discovery doesn't need any prior development before it can start working. It only requires an installation of software plug-ins that run on people's computers in the background without interrupting them or affecting their work in any way.
Process mapping is a technique used to visually display how work is done in workflow steps from start to finish. A process map can also be called by different names, such as:
A functional process chart
A workflow diagram.
Process mapping helps organizations understand and improve their work processes by displaying a visual representation of their workflow. By mapping out processes, teams easily communicate priorities issues and identify where time and resources are wasted.
With a detailed process map, teams must identify and understand individual steps, devise precise timelines and identify task owners. Process mapping brings lots of helpful insights but is just one step in the overall goal of a business process analysis.
Process mapping steps
1. Process identification. During the process identification phase, organizations define their business process. It's about identifying company objectives, players, and work areas.
2. Information gathering. As the name suggests, information gathering is about gaining relevant process information from the people who do the work. It's about answering the how, what, and why to develop an accurate and informed process map.
3. Process mapping. After getting the correct information from the right people, it's time to start process mapping. Process mapping can be done simply on paper, as part of a presentation, or with dedicated process mapping software.
4. Analysis. The analysis phase is about working through the map to identify opportunities for improvement. Good questions to ask in analysis: can steps be eliminated? Can tasks be completed more efficiently? Are there potential bottlenecks slowing down the throughput time?
5. Develop new methods of work. Once you have worked out the areas for improvement in work processes, it's time to eliminate unnecessary actions, rearrange or automate process steps, and develop more effective workflows.
6. Process management. This final phase is about maintaining effective processes with regular reviews and progress monitoring. The most effective process map is one that is kept fresh and used actively.
The biggest benefits of process mapping
- Share visual information, data, and ideas.
- Provides digestible information for effective problem-solving.
- Breaks complex processes down into universally understood symbols.
- Provides a visual representation of the process from start to finish.
- Builds alignment and prioritization between various individuals and teams.
6 typical process map types
- Flowcharts. Flowcharts are easy-to-follow visual maps that almost everyone can understand. Flowcharts provide basic process details such as inputs and outputs.
- Deployment maps. Deployment maps (or cross-functional flowcharts) are ideal for finding those pesky bottlenecks. Deployment maps display relationships between different teams and use swimlane diagrams to illustrate how a process flows through your organization.
- Detailed process maps. As the name suggests, detailed process maps show a deeper version of a process and contain information about sub-processes.
- High-level process maps. High-level process maps are all about seeing the bigger picture. Otherwise known as value-chain or top-down maps, high-level process maps include the key process elements such as a supplier, process, output, input, or customer.
- Rendered process maps. Rendered process maps show current and/ or future state processes. This information highlights areas for improvement.
- A value stream map. The final step is documenting the steps needed to develop products and services for an end user.
Process redesign (sometimes called process re-engineering) is a strategy to redesign core business processes. Process redesign can optimize end-to-end business processes, identify ineffective tasks and help teams reach specific business goals.
Process redesign can make radical improvements in aspects like quality, cost, or speed compared to incremental business process improvement (BPI). However, process redesign can also disrupt workflows and can fundamentally change business operations. So before you redesign your business processes, make sure everyone understands the status quo they are changing and their key goals.
Benefits of business process redesign
- Clarity of purpose. Most organizations don’t document their processes end-to-end and likely can’t describe them, either. So before doing anything else, ensure you understand every aspect of your business inside and out, from your mission statement to your customer base.
- Streamlined operations. Process redesign can cut unnecessary processes and offer streamline business operations flows and a clear sense of execution. The path between the start and end of a project becomes much shorter. Simple and effective work methods increase employee productivity and satisfaction.
- Increased efficiency. Increased efficiency speeds up daily activities and removes red tape to make work more meaningful. Improved processes give employees more time to improve products and services. Simply put, BPR brings out the best in everyone.
- Bigger profits. Implementing efficient working styles and smoother workflows means more informed employees focusing on maximizing profits and increasing productivity.
Process redesign steps to success
Educate employees about long-term changes BPR is not a one-time exercise that magically cuts costs and makes everything more efficient. In fact, cost reduction is a byproduct of efficient processes that need to be continuously analyzed, communicated, and understood. Employees need to be trained in new working methods for a business to thrive.
Leave no department behind
Organizations might evaluate the processes of one department while leaving others to carry on as normal. This is a bad idea. Every department is connected, so every process must be evaluated.
Build a BPR team
A BPR team is a group of decision-makers capable of recommending changes and communicating BPR benefits. A typical BPR team involves top management, tech groups, finance experts, and process user groups. Make sure you keep the size of your BPR team small enough to manage. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Business process implementation is the time to put your improved or reengineered process into practice. Implementation is an ongoing task that requires careful planning and enough time to ensure process actors are well trained, informed, and happy with the proposed changes.
Businesses implement new or improved processes for a number of reasons such as streamlining workflows, promoting efficiency, reducing mistakes or simply to enable business growth. You can also consider process implementation as a key step on the road to process reengineering.
New Process Implementation Best Practices
Process analysis and re-design is all well and good - often the hard work comes during implementation.
Here are a few best practices for implementing new processes in your organization.
1. Follow a happy and unhappy path
- Happy paths help process owners and teams to see if the new processes are running smoothly.
- Following a happy path is demonstrating the actions thought up in the reengineering phase, such as easily adopting new technology, buying into the new process, etc.
- Spotting an undesired unhappy path helps process owners prepare for the inevitable glitches and deviations they’ll encounter along the way, such as:
- Employees did not receive adequate training on the new system.
- Someone with experience in a particular technology with a specific set of skills must be recruited, and recruitment is time-consuming.
- Employees feel the new process has negatively affected the company culture and team dynamics.
2. Ensure alignment with clear communication and feedback
- At the start of the implementation process, top management must agree upon and be aligned with the new vision.
- management must offer a clear explanation why changes are being made to align staff
- When implementing a new process, it’s best to communicate with regular catch-ups
- Employees must be able to ask questions, express concerns and share ideas.
3. Brace yourself for bumps in the road
- A small amount of organizational resistance is normal
- This is the time to address any concerns and make any necessary changes to the original plan.
4. Provide adequate training
- A payroll manager, for example, should be an ideal person to efficiently manage a new payroll system from day one of implementation.
- That payroll manager must be allocated enough time and resources to get them onboarded and pay other employees their salaries.
- The payroll manager should not have a new working method thrown at them during the implementation stage. Any changes should be agreed upon during the BPR stage.
5. Use effective intelligence software
- Effective software helps lessen disruption
- Teams find implementation easier with software that reports progress in real-time.
- Employee's whose work is affected by a changing process still need to deliver the same results for their customers.
- People are busy during the change process and sometimes anxious trying to gain an objective understanding of what works and what doesn't
Business process monitoring is the proactive review and analysis of the performance of processes to identify potential bottlenecks, check conformance and find improvement opportunities. Diligent monitoring helps you see if everything is going according to plan, identify errors, and make necessary changes along the way.
The benefits of business process monitoring
- Identify and avoid potential bottlenecks
- Measure and ensure process conformance
- Save time and money with streamlined tasks
- Improve alignment between functions
Tips for successful business process monitoring
Set a clear end goal
Before you monitor your processes, make sure you're clear on what you want to achieve. Perhaps you run an online store and want to avoid running out of a certain product during a busy season.
A vague goal, such as supporting distribution teams during busy periods, is not clear enough. Setting precise goals such as automating the order process of the iPhone 13 during the Christmas shopping period keeps the process running smoothly.
Compare processes with KPIs
Setting KPIs (key performance indicators) helps you understand what goals are being reached and spot any problems in your process.
KPIs set in place during the implementation phase can be used by employees to devise personal objectives. Setting both long and short-term KPIs helps employees track progress, gain insights and make improvements. Remember, It's important to use quantitative and qualitative KPIs to gain balanced insights.
Get the best from your monitoring tools
A good business process monitoring tool will help you uncover hidden opportunities and prevent bottlenecks by analyzing your processes. All business process monitoring tools are effective because they notice things humans generally don't think about. However, Workfellow is the only software that sees the manual work involved in providing a service.
Picture a typical airport during an unpredictable event like a labor shortage. Due to the lack of staff, the lines at the airport become longer, many people miss their flights, and take-off time is delayed. All these bottlenecks add up to bad customer relations or even a full-blown PR crisis.
But, by understanding the manual work required to deal with new tickets during peak and unpredicted events, the airport can put a system in place. Process monitoring shows the accumulation of additional work during these events, so you'll be on top of the situation and can react immediately and according to plan.
Process analysis tools and software
Today there are over 35 software solutions available for process analysis for the needs of different types of organizations from small businesses to large enterprise.
The four main categories for software are:
- process modeling software
- process mining software
- task mining software
- process intelligence software
Process modeling software
Process modeling software creates models of business processes to help identify analyse strategies to improve performance. Process modeling tools typically include process maping features and align with process modeling standards, such as the BPMN. The core benefit of proces modeling tools is that they align well with business process management methods and can provide an agile way to implement changes across organizations.
Process mining software
Process mining software utilize data mining techniques to collect, standardize and analyse process data from event logs found in enterprise resource systems, such as ERPs or CRMs. Process mining algorithms are used to visualize complex or large sets of data. Process mining can give a very accurate end-to-end view to processes that happen within the core enteprise systems.
Task mining software
Task mining software utilizes task capture technology to capture task data from the user interface of employees to analyze how tasks and workflows are completed in the digital environment. While task mining looks at the details of work, they also contribute to the analysis of processes as they provide the insight into core performance and automation opportunities for routine, manual tasks.
Process intelligence software
The latest process analysis tool is hybrid process intelligence software. While many process analysis tools can combine task or process mining features, hybrid process intelligence embeds the best aspects from each tool through a new method called Work API.