Like writers complain of “writers block,” modelers often find themselves in “analysis paralysis.” When modeling a business process, analysis paralysis occurs when we get stuck on a model and are not able to finish it, or when we are not able to help facilitate a decision about how to implement or improve a business process. To say I’ve never been stuck would be blatantly insincere, but I’ve gotten myself and my stakeholders unstuck plenty of times. What follows are 5 practices help me break the paralysis and move the model forward.
(Before I forget, be sure to download our free business process template, which incorporates a host of best practices when it comes to process modeling.)
1 – Identify Your Start Point and End Point
In all likelihood, you’ve got a name for your process. Perhaps it’s “Process Monthly Reports” or “Release New Software Changes.” Names begin to narrow our focus, but they tend to be ambiguous. You get stuck because you don’t really know what’s included and what’s not.
In addition to a process name, identify the discrete starting point and ending point of your process. Now every activity that comes to mind will clearly fit in scope of the process you are capturing or fall outside that start/end point boundary and can be safely captured for another process to be documented on another day.
2 – Work on Paper First
Yes, we live in a digital age and yes it’s very likely that your process will eventually need to make it into electronic form. But that doesn’t mean it needs to start in electronic form. While it can feel like an extra step to draw things out on paper and then to capture it electronically, this practice can save you time. The simplicity of pen and paper as a tool allows you to focus all of your mental energies on what matters – capturing the key elements of the process and how they relate to one another.
3 – Know Your Audience
Not all process documentation is created for the same reason. You might need approval from an executive team, input from those who will use the process, or validation from those who will support it. If you are stuck, it might be because you don’t know who your audience is or because you are trying to use one document to meet the needs of several stakeholders.
Clarify your audience and their expectations and often the most appropriate level of abstraction will become self-apparent. Which leads us to the next practice.
4 – Keep It High-Level
In our Business Process Analysis course, the biggest mistake I see people make is to dig into the details too quickly. Once you are in the details of the process, more often including the step-by-step procedural tasks, it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture.
Instead, start high-level. Confine yourself to one page or 5-7 workflow boxes. When your thinking exceeds these artificial constraints, look for ways to abstract the information you are putting into your model by combining boxes or streamlining parts of the flow. Identify workflow elements that can be further defined by their own sub-processes.
Keeping it simple takes disciplined thinking and it doesn’t mean you’ll never get to the detailed analysis. It means you’ll be sure to understand the big picture process first before digging into the details, and be less likely to get stuck when you do elaborate on those details.
5 – Let Go of Perfect Expectations and Expect to Iterate
Another reason we get stuck is because we don’t just want to document a business process, we want to document a process perfectly. If you are using a new technique or learning a new domain, that’s an unrealistic expectation. Instead, expect to iterate and improve your documentation with feedback from your stakeholders.
This does require that you develop a healthy sense of separation from yourself and your work. Consider Adriana Beal’s advice left in recent post comment:
I recommend using strategic wording to prevent criticism from getting to you:
“Hi, everyone! I realize it’s too soon for us to be able to capture with any level of precision what sort of business process we need, but just to jump start the conversation, please find attached a very early draft of a process flow. Any feedback is very welcome, you can either send it by email before our next meeting, or provide your recommendations during our next requirements session. Thanks!”
Alternatively, seeking out a trusted mentor or a particularly kind stakeholder to provide a first pass review can help you iterate privately before you share your work publicly.
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- Help business users from multiple departments clarify their actual step-by-step workflow;
- Avoid wasting money on software solutions that don’t solve the right business problems;
- And even helping new business analysts figure out what questions to ask when starting on a new project or domain.
Business process analysis is often the very first technique used by business analysts when we start learning a new domain or analyze the scope of a project.