Business Process Documentation

Updated: January 01, 2012

Running a business is like running a ship. You need to observe several factors internal and external and lay out your strategy to tackle them. The factors can be your products/services, customers, suppliers, rules and regulations governing your business, employees, competitors and the list go on and on.

When you decide to start your business, you probably have only one mission to generate revenue for your livelihood. Most of the businesses stabilize in a year's time. The real struggle starts when the business is growing. You are shifting from one man show to a team environment. Working alone is probably the easiest way to achieve a particular goal. But once a goal is achieved you tend to set higher goals and to achieve them you need a team. Growth brings more complexities. You need to hire few people, depend upon third party service providers, bring in the right technology to automate some functions of your business and above all manage all of those. You need to ask your team to work according to a plan, adhere to a procedure whether relating to product development or servicing a client, monitor your team's performance and ensure that everything runs as per your wishes.

When you want your team to work according to the set plan, you need to device your business processes. Business processes are nothing but the ways and means of doing a particular business function. Be it purchase, sales, accounting, customer management, supplier management or employee management. Your process must be devised in such a way that it fulfills your goal of completing and achieving a particular business goal. It must be a standard in itself. The process must be named unambiguously, must have a mission to achieve, must be verifiable, must answer why it exists, what it wants to achieve, who has to perform it, how it is to be performed, when it is to be performed, its control mechanisms and what would be the key performance indicators. Your business is nothing but a system which converts certain inputs to certain outputs and in the process, add value. The value so added is the profit/loss of the business. Inputs can be anything from people to materials to money to information while the output can be products, services, intellectual property or waste. You carry out hundreds of functions such as planning, production, research, development, marketing, procurement, sales and customer management.

As you carry out all these functions, you need to note down several things for future use. Say you need to clearly define your production plan on a piece of paper. This plan and your other business functions result into generation of business information. This business information is vital for the present and future of your business. You need to record it properly for clearing out your debts, setting deadlines for your product development, realizing sums due from the customers and so on. In order to be successful, your business information, decision processes needs to be interwoven together synergistically. The success of your business depends upon the soundness of your business processes. You must define your standard operating procedures providing an end to end view. Your processes must be transparent so that it can deliver the same message to all the process constituents. A process defines the results to be achieved, the context of the activities, the relationships between the activities and the interactions with other processes and resources.

It must have the following characteristics:

  • Visibility of end-to-end process activities
  • Process components and functionality are exposed and self-describing
  • Ability to integrate disparate information source and application functionality into a process
  • Information flow and event notification that can be automated and monitored throughout a process
  • Service level agreements that can be specified, monitored, and enforced for activities in a process
  • Ability to add, remove, or reconfigure any process activity or component without disrupting the process
  • Processes that can be monitored in real time or near real time
  • Process designs that can accommodate any exception handling requirement
  • Processes that can be easily replicated, extended, and scaled

Process documentation and process modeling:

  • Brings clarity and transparency in a process
  • Makes explicit how all of it works
  • Distinguishes a process from similar ones, decreasing the likelihood of making false assumptions about the process

How to write a process?
Your process documentation should address the following aspects:

  • Processes must be named unambiguously and numbered appropriately
  • Process must be addressed and attributed to a business function
  • Processes are performed somewhere in the business. It must address the department, division or business unit where it applies
  • Processes are performed by someone in the business. It must address the responsibility(Say designation/employee type)
  • Processes are complex. They involve several activities before completion. It must be sub-divided into tasks/sub-processes
  • Processes must be controlled. It must clearly talk about its authorization requirements, internal control requirements, accounting and inventory related requirements
  • Processes operate under a business rule. It must clearly identify the business rule and satisfy its requirements
  • Processes must clearly identify its performance indicators (How well it was performed). These key performance indicators must be verifiable and objective
  • Processes must identify the resultant information flow i.e. the documents/vouchers/electronic documents generated in the course of completing it
  • Processes must be defined in a way that the end user follows it to perfection. It should therefore include necessary guidance, checklists to avoid any ambiguity
  • Process must identify whether it's a manual process or a computerized processes
  • Many processes are computerized and hence it must therefore highlight the necessary procedures in a computerized environment i.e. the software and module supporting it, where it can be accessed and how the necessary vouchers/reports can be generated
  • In addition to textual documentation processes must be graphically modeled using tools like visio/BPM
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