Process models are tools that make abstract, complex work processes more tangible by providing a concrete illustration of how processes work and how they fit together. Common examples include process frameworks, process documentation such as RACI charts and process maps, and process design tools like flowcharts and simulation software. With process models, leaders can literally see how processes interact in order to coordinate improvement projects, choose the right measures, and manage resource and staffing needs.
Attempting to improve your business without a process model is like trying to put together Ikea furniture without the directions. Sure, people do it all the time, and a few lucky folks might end up with something approximately resembling the result they wanted. But more often, you’ll put in a screw here only to find out later that you needed to put that screw there. Soon, everyone’s sweating, arguing, and trying to just finish the job as soon as possible. But at the end, you’ve got a bunch of parts left over and one weird, wobbly piece of furniture.
That’s why leading organizations use process models. In fact, most use more than one, because different process models capture different levels of granularity. The broadest viewpoint on process comes through frameworks like APQC’s Process Classification Framework. A framework is a hierarchical decomposition of the business that describes work in terms of:
- high-level categories (such as “market and sell products and services”) which unfold into
- process groups (such as “understand markets, customers, and capabilities”), which unfold into
- processes (such as “perform customer and market intelligence analysis”), which unfold into
- activities (such as “conduct customer and market research”), which unfold into
- tasks (such as “understand consumer needs and predict customer purchasing behavior”).
Frameworks provide a birds-eye-view of the entire business, which is key for ensuring an improvement here does not create a negative impact there. However, managing and improving processes often requires more granularity, and that’s where process documentation and process design tools come into play.
Process documentation tools like process maps, RACI charts, and SIPOC diagrams help organizations define and document exactly how work flows and who does what. Process documentation is invaluable for understanding the current state. If everything is working well, these tools can be used to ensure work continues to flow smoothly as the business experiences change (i.e., employee turnover). If everything is not working well, process documentation helps you pinpoint where the problems lie.
Process design tools are for creating new, improved, and optimized processes. Flowcharts, for example, help organizations assess the workflow, technology needs, and requirements for implementing a new process. Process simulation software takes this a step further by allowing the organization to safely test and evaluate the potential impact of the new process on other processes across the business.
It can be intimidating to jump into the complex world of process management and improvement. Although process models can help navigate that world, the number of available models and tools is, understandably, a little overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created APQC’s new online course, Process Design Essentials. This self-paced class is designed to help even absolute beginners gain the skills they need to document and design processes. Get started today!