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6 Most Expensive Words in Business Process Improvement

Kathy Claycomb

Kathy Claycomb

6 Most Expensive Words in Business Process Improvement
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Someone once shared with me the six most expensive words in business process improvement: “We’ve always done it that way.”

I love that idea. For me, it brings to mind some of the incredibly complex and convoluted processes I’ve seen. When you start digging into them and trying to make sense of them, you often find yourself asking someone, “Why do you do it that way?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like, “we’ve always done it that way”, I’d be retired and living on a beach somewhere…

Companies undertake business process analysis to dig into those complex and convoluted processes. While the ultimate goal may be to improve the process, business process analysis can also be used to:

  • Merge processes during merger and acquisition activities
  • Standardize a process across business units or teams
  • Establish metrics to help track and monitor performance
  • Document processes in order to comply with certain standards (like ISO)

In our Business Process Analysis class, we stress the importance of understanding a process before changing it. It’s always tempting to start proposing fixes as you are laying out your AS-IS process. But honestly – if there was a simple fix, the business area probably would have implemented it already. The real value in business process improvement comes from thoroughly understanding a process before proposing any changes.

So, what do you need to know about a process? Well, there are certain things that should be understood about a process that’s under analysis. The table below provides an informal checklist of questions you can use to make sure you have covered the major points. Listen carefully to the answers you get; this will help you ensure that your process models are accurate and useful. It will also help you thoroughly understand what the challenges and problems are before you propose changes.

Hint: Don’t treat this as an interview guide. Many of the answers you need, particularly those at the task level, will come out as you walk through a process with the task performers to develop your process model. Instead, use this list as a reference. Go back through and make sure you have the answers. If you don’t, it’s a good time to directly ask the question.

QuestionPrimary Interviewee
Process Owner/

Task Performer
What value is delivered to the business by this process?#
What are the inputs to this process and how or where do those inputs originate?#
What are the outputs of this process and how are they used?#
Which organizational units/roles are involved in the process? What about outside organizations, such as customers or vendors? #
What are the possible risks to the business if this process/task is executed incorrectly? (For a task performer, a better question is “What problems can happen if the task is not performed correctly?”)##
Are there any impending or expected changes in your organization that may affect this process? #
How long does the process/task typically take? Is there a specified time frame?
Are there ever significant variations in the time required? If yes, please explain the reasons.
How often is this process performed? Will this number change at some point or over time? If yes, please explain.#
Are you maintaining any other metrics on this process? If yes, please explain. #
What information do you need to perform this task?#
What new information or changes to input information does this task produce?
(Tip: Become familiar with the CRUD matrix for documenting how each data element is handled by the process. “CRUD” stands for create, read, update, delete.)
How and where do you perform this task?#
Are there any particular rules that you follow when you perform this task?#
How do you know when to perform this task?#
Do you always complete this task? Or is this task ever terminated before completion? Please explain. #
How do you know when the task is completed?#
How do you know that you have performed the task correctly?#
What are the key indicators that tell you that a problem or issue has arisen? And how do handle these specific issues? ##
Is the work monitored or measured? If so, how?##
Do you use any job aids to perform the task? Please identify any formal documentation, such as step-by-step manuals, as well as informal aids – e.g., mnemonic devices, “cheat sheets,” etc.
(Job aids can help the analyst identify process details that a task performer may not think to explain. They can also provide insight into the difficulty of performing a task.)
Do you always perform this task the same way? If not, please explain.#
Do you have any ideas for improving the efficiency of this process/task? ##
Do you have any ideas for improving the quality of the outputs from this process/task?##
Do you know of similar processes that may provide us with insight on how to improve this process?#

Download this Business Process Definition Interview Checklist!

Once you’ve got the information you need (at least the information you think you need), you can start building your process model.

Keep in mind that there’s no one correct way to do any of the diagramming techniques. A process model is “correct” if it communicates as intended and provides value to the audience. Having said that, there are various notations and standards that are used to provide consistency and minimize misunderstanding among a project team. Check with your team to see if they have a preferred notation, otherwise you can choose one that best communicates to your audience.

For help getting started building your process model and a cheat sheet to process flow chart symbols, checkout a blog I wrote a while back– the Unofficial Guide to Process Flow Chart Symbols.

Want to learn more? Our Business Process Analysis class walks you through the life cycle of process analysis, from identifying candidates for change to implementing enhancements. Business process analysis isn’t just about building process models…it’s about creating processes that deliver value to your organization. Hope to see you in class!

All the best,


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About the Author

Kathy Claycomb

Kathy Claycomb

Kathy Claycomb is a Netmind Senior Instructor and brings over 30 years of IT experience to the classroom. She has participated in all phases of application development across a wide variety of platforms, and has used numerous methodologies to analyze, design and implement systems. Kathy holds a Bachelor of Science in Business and has worked in transportation, training, and software development organizations. Her first love is teaching, and throughout her career she has always managed to spend a portion of her time instructing. Kathy's students consistently praise her teaching abilities and her talent for drawing on her personal experience to enhance their learning. Connect with Kathy on LinkedIn.

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