When building a system from the ground up, documenting your new business process is the key to success. A good business process helps streamline common activities and achieve consistent results. A standard flowchart might be an appropriate way to capture small and simple processes, but what about large, complex ones? Often, these processes include many working parts and span multiple departments. Using a standard flowchart would result in a large, confusing, and cumbersome graphic—not an effective way to relay transformative ideas.
If you want your business process to be embraced by employees and teams, it has to be easy to understand and easy to follow.
Beyond the flowchart
To effectively communicate such a complex story, you’ll need to go beyond the flowchart and take a more thoughtful approach. Here at ThoughtForm, we often create visual models to help our clients tell complex stories. They serve as easy-to-follow guidelines for employees and teams and help to improve agility and efficiency.
Depending on your business, distilling a complex system of processes into a visual model can be a difficult task. Here are steps that will help you get started. Thinking through these steps is essential for your success (and your sanity).
6 steps to build a system from the ground up
1. Getting prepared
First, identify the processes you need to document and prioritize them accordingly. Then plan your team. Think about who the stakeholders are, who belongs on the core team, and what subject matter experts you should include. When you corral the right folks within your organization, you also capture helpful perspectives and answers to the questions that will arise.
Next, gather any existing documents or other source that you’ll need to reference. Once this initial groundwork is complete, create a realistic work plan and timeline. Include key milestones and touch points with the team. Before your first meeting, formulate a list of initial questions. There are bound to be unknowns or gaps in the source materials. Write them all down. When you’ve done that, it’s time to facilitate a kickoff meeting with your team. We’ve written a few posts about meeting facilitation.
2. Considering the end game
Consider who will use the final piece and for what purpose. Will this be an internal or external piece, or both? Then decide if it should be high level or detailed. Is it a simple process that can be captured in a flow chart, or do you need a visual model to explain a more complex system? Having your end game in sight is important so you can format your process correctly.
3. Capturing the business process
You’ve collected source information for the business process consulted with the experts, and considered those who will be affected. It’s now time to begin documenting what you’ve learned. Start by sketching what you know on a white board using simple shapes to visualize the process.
We refer to this kind of rapid prototyping as a napkin sketch. A napkin sketch helps you quickly capture ideas in a visual way. This will be the first pass at your visual model. Bring your napkin sketch to your team of stakeholders and subject matter experts. They will help by poking holes in the process and filling in any gaps.
Then refine your model into a version that implements all of the feedback you’ve received. Repeat this task as many times as it takes to create a clear visual that effectively communicates your process.
4. Minding the gaps
Complete a trial run, or pilot with a select group who will be using the processes before you launch it within your organization. Monitor how things are running and assess the effectiveness of the process. Don’t forget to record any issues or gaps along the way.
Once you have gathered all assessments and feedback from your pilot, you’ll likely find ways to refine the process even further. In fact, you may need to do a few iterations with your team before it’s ready to launch to the entire organization.
5. Launching the business process
When you feel confident your new initiative is polished, it’s time to release it to the world. Develop a launch plan that details how and when you’ll communicate with those affected by the new process. Depending on the degree of change, this might require an approach that involves a high level of change management.
6. Refining along the way
As your organization grows and changes, so will your processes. What works well now might become cumbersome or obsolete later. Define and communicate how often you will reassess the process, and, when you do reassess it, make the necessary adjustments to keep it relevant.