Tips for Documenting your Business Process Workflow

by | May 23, 2012 | BPM, ECM Industry | 0 comments

When implementing a bpm automation solution, it is important to first understand what the customer’s current workflow really looks like. With all of the talk about business process optimization, a common problem is that companies and organizations often do not go into the process with a clear understanding of the original workflow before attempting to automate it.  This can lead to several issues while attempting to automate the the business process workflow.

In the timeless words of Larry Bernstein,

“Don’t automate an undisciplined workflow. The computer won’t solve what a customer’s management can’t.”

Although defining and documenting business process workflows can be challenging and extremely time-consuming, without a clear understanding of the existing business process workflow, the chances of a successful business process optimization project are slim to none. Here are a few critical tips to help you get started.

1. Discuss Components of Business Process


  • Hold working sessions with those who are directly involved in the current process.
  • This will help you get a big picture look at the way the information is currently routed and why that is.
  • Consider bringing in a moderator or other neutral party that knows nothing about the process. This will encourage team members to explain steps more in detail the result being pieces of the puzzle which may not otherwise be shares being uncovered.
  • **Hint: Don’t count on one perspective for any piece of the process – often times, management can be unclear as to how things are actually operating in “the trenches” while simultaneously, staff members may be unaware of the “big picture ideas” that would account for why a piece of information is gathered in a certain way.

2. Document the Process Workflow

  • Use pictures and words to better illustrate the current workflow of a specific business process. See image below for typical symbols that represent different aspects of the business process.


  • The process that is to be defined should be a single, repeatable process. Do not try to outline and map different processes together.
  • Break the process down into as many discrete and documentable steps as possible. The more detailed your workflow is documented, the better the end results will be.
  • Use large sheets of craft paper to draw out the business process workflow in a flow chart– this can help point out key areas which are weak and require more focus

A very basic example of a workflow would appear like this:

Workflow Example

  • Document where bottlenecks, delays, complexity, internal blame games and other complications are occurring.

3. Look for ways to improve Business Process Workflow

  • Thoroughly understand the who, what, where, when and how that will help you in determining why things are done the way they are
  • Look for ways to shorten or automate a process through identifying the non value-adding pieces of the process and identifying non-critical points of control and check.
  • Remember, you can’t always automate; sometimes you need to just document a process and then clarify and enforce the rules with the team members.
  • **Hint: It is important to remember throughout this process that you are looking for ways to improve the workflow, not the workers. Many people streamline things in their own way to make their workday as efficient as possible. For example, the 10 minutes it takes may be a lot in terms of waiting for a specific printer to warm up so one worker can complete a step in the process, however this may provide an important psychological break in his or her day.

4. Strategize how data will be Archived, Redacted and Retrieved

  • Determine what information and documents are needed at various points within the process in order for various steps to be completed. This will determine which points in the process need to have access to particular documents or repositories.
  • Categorize documents into repositories that are simple to understand and easy to find.
  • Determine who needs access to what information so you may set restrictions on viewing/accessing rights.

5. Consult with your legal department 

  • Make sure that all laws governing the way certain information is stored are adhered to within your new process outline.
  • Ensure that your new process meets all compliance requirements. Legal departments should offer assistance to make sure that you are retaining information correctly and for the appropriate time period.

6. Highlight the Areas of the Workflow which may become Automated Procedures

  • Now that the new and improved business process workflow is outlined, look for areas that you believe should be automated.
  • Start with the low hanging fruit, the easy wins will make it easier for workers to see that the optimization efforts of the business workflow are, in fact, useful.

7. Test your new Automated Business Process Workflow Before Launching

  • As with anything, do not take your business process solution live until you are sure that all steps are working properly. This may include several trials with various tweaks and changes made to ensure that it is working optimally.

Because every organization and business has different processes, it can be important to have experts with Business Process Optimization help in the outlining process. While employees within the organization know their processes better than an outsider can, experts can provide insight into new ways to improve upon them while bringing industry acclaimed “best practices” to the table.


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