Process analysis and process modelling are two commonly used and interrelated business analysis techniques. There can be significant benefit in understanding how a particular business process works, improving it to ensure that it is aligned with the needs of the customer and other stakeholders, whilst ensuring that resources are being used efficiently and effectively. Good processes contribute towards a consistent customer experience—they ensure that the organisation can deliver a reliable and predictable service every time. An effective process will typically minimise the number of subjective decisions that need to be made ‘on the fly’ by staff, and ensures that staff are empowered with the tools that they need to do the job.
Yet, it doesn’t automatically follow that changing a process will improve it. I am sure we have all seen process improvement initiatives that didn’t achieve their desired outcomes. We may have even seen initiatives that made things worse! As businesses analysts, we have a significant part to play in helping to avoid these failures.
Understand Variety in Demand
There are many angles which should be considered when aiming to improve a process, but one that is often overlooked is variety of demand. A process, at its essence, will need to respond to a trigger (a business event), then perform a series of actions to create an outcome. One of strengths of formalising processes is the ability to standardise—yet this can (ironically) become an organisation’s Achilles’ heel. Standardisation that accommodates the types of customer demand that you want or need to serve is great; anything else risks being perceived as rigid and bureaucratic.
This probably sounds rather abstract, so let’s take an example. I recently received an e-mail from the company that supplies the electricity and gas to my house, asking me to take meter readings and input them online. Nothing unusual there, except when I input the electricity meter reading, it wouldn’t accept it. After a bit of digging I realised that the reading was exactly the same as the reading I input six months ago. The meter’s dials had not moved at all in that period. Some further investigation led me to conclude the meter is completely dead, and had been for some time.