It's a TRAP! - "Documenting" processes rather than managing them

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You know you've done it. The boss has said "Let's get our business processes sorted out" So you've drafted in some Visio guy who's put together your business process documentation. Now it has been printed off, bound up, reviewed and signed by the department head. Everyone is happy, right?


It's a waste of time and money doing this because it's just paying lip service to the whole concept of business process management, and will result (usually) in a set of documentation languishing in a drawer for years.

If you think doing this is going to help you become a sleeker, more efficient, business entity then you are sorely mistaken. This will actually have the opposite effect as your users. They will resent the time they've spent helping put the documentation together. There is no guarantee that it's the right process and therefore there's no guarantee it will actually be followed.

Actually you're not alone in doing this. Many companies have fallen into the same trap of thinking that a documented process is a defined and managed process. But it doesn't have to be like that. Let's look at ways out:

How to solve this issue

1) Don't go there in the first place.
If at all possible try to make sure that you don't confuse documenting processes with defining and managing them. If you want to get some documentation of what your processes are, bring in someone who knows about facilitating processes and get them to do the work for you. But understand yourself WHY you are doing this. If it's just to say "I've documented the processes" then you're probably doing this for the wrong reasons. If it is part of a bigger review then this is slightly better. If it is a small step in a larger Business Process Management initiative this is the best reason of all

2) Don't take the documents as gospel.
Given that you've spent the time documenting your processes, make sure this is the start of the process rather than the end. Look at how you can take the documented processes and use them as a basis for improvements. Don't look at this as the end state i.e the gospel according to St Swim-lane (the patron saint of process), but look at this as the first step in a journey to process salvation. Use the existing documentation as a springboard to build a full process documentation set - along with a process management capability.

3) Ignore and start again
I know it's painful to throw away things that you've worked hard on but the fact is that unless the process documents were put together under the authority of someone who knows how to document and manage processes, the chances are they will not be right. The might not fully reflect the process as it exists. They might not be a complete record of all the items needed for process documentation. They might not even be documented according to set documentation standards. All these factors mean that it is probably just as useful to throw them away and start again using someone who knows what they are doing. As in the previous suggestion, use this as a basis to build an internal process management capability

Build the capability
Managing processes is much more than just documenting the work in Visio. Building a process management capability involves identifying and training individuals who can expertly analyse and document current state processes, who can design future state processes and who can appropriately work a tool to store all this information in. They can identify owners at a process level, implement a governance process and put in place appropriate metrics to measure the processes.

The next time someone asks you to 'just document our processes' you should be wary of this and understand the pitfalls and problems associated with it.

With an appropriate strategy - and a couple of rules about 'what' and 'why' - you should be able to appropriately manage this request and end up with a useful end product.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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