Table of Contents
- Definition: The Process Documentation in Business Process Management
- Why is the Documentation of Processes so Important?
- The Most Common Problems with Manual Process Documentation
- How to make Ramen-Noodles?
- The Difference Between Manual and Automatic Process Documentation
- Benefits of Automatic Process Documentation
- Excursus: On “Space Mission” with the Process Documentation
Free Download: Automatic Process Documentation Example
The holistic management of business processes has become an integral part of COO & Co.’s everyday life. And rightly so! In particular, long-standing and now inert companies must downsize to keep pace with more agile competitors.
It is now the time to take a close look at the own processes and to shed some pounds. However, to obtain an overview of the actual situation, the processes must be documented as accurately as possible upfront. Unfortunately, this documentation is still a bureaucratic and cumbersome task for many people and often serves mainly to pile up papers and waste working time.
However, it is doubtful whether this type of process documentation is up to date.
Generally, the process documentation can be seen as a kind of “communication approach” to pass on the process understanding or process logic to third parties such as new employees, stakeholders, service providers, analysts, and auditors.
But one thing is clear: Companies that still use paper for documentation or laboriously work with PowerPoint and screenshot tools should be ready for change! But even “digital natives” often have optimization potential and will learn in the following how the right documentation method can be a real rocket engine for companies.
Definition: The Process Documentation in Business Process Management
As part of the business process management, process documentation is a prerequisite for identifying, mapping, structuring and, above all, making workflows understandable. It also serves as a tool to illustrate process inefficiencies, create the starting point for outsourcing, or even to automate processes.
A business process is a set of logically linked individual activities and supporting processes that are performed to achieve a specific business or operational goal.
Process documentation, by definition, is a method of capturing all the steps required to complete a process or task. Its purpose is to show how employees perform the process and not what the process is (process identification) or why it is performed. The documentation visualizes the logic, and the process is fundamentally understood.
On the one hand, the documentation can be seen as a kind of manual for the description of process flows and, on the other hand, as a model for interpretation and analysis purposes.
If all process steps are documented and sequenced, the process is often represented in its entirety; This visual part of the documentation is the result of the process modeling. The “process map” is the graphical representation of the connections between work steps, inputs, and outputs.
After the documentation, the analysis and subsequent optimization can begin. The process documentation forms the basis for the restructuring and optimization of inefficient processes and is decisive for the success or failure of these measures.
Why is the Documentation of Processes so Important?
The documentation of business processes is useful in many cases and can take place against the background of various motives, but it is always about maintaining or transferring the process understanding so that it can be further processed into another form. It does not matter whether this takes place within the company or between different companies or service providers.
Be it in coordination with suppliers or communication with investors. Ensuring insight into internal processes promotes the understanding of third parties and supports the smooth running of business operations.
The transfer of process understanding also supports the training of new employees, the creation of manuals and step-by-step instructions, e.g., in the software area, cooperation with process outsourcing service providers, or the establishment of a shared service center.
The Documentation as Data Basis for Further Initiatives
In general, process documentation works in the same way as the collection of other data or information. The larger and more error-free the data basis, the better the processing of the data obtained, and the better the knowledge gained from it.
This is why the process documentation serves as an important information basis for:
- Visual process modeling
If the process is documented in its different versions, the process variations can be summarized via suitable software, represented in a process diagram, and modeled. This modeling can be used to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the process flow.
- Process audits and certifications
A process audit examines whether the company’s internal processes comply with the required guidelines and standards. The process documentation records the actual situation of the internal processes and thus creates a basis for audits and ISO certifications.
- Process coordination (tasks, responsibilities, interfaces, processes, etc.)
All tasks within the company must be combined and distributed in the best way possible to ensure the most efficient processes possible. The overview of existing processes, their interrelationships and interfaces are essential for this project.
- Standardization and benchmarking
Process documentation allows processes to be standardized and then benchmarked. This allows the creation of synergies between departments and avoids unnecessary costs by merging the support tasks of several departments.
- Process optimization
The optimization of processes can be done in different ways. The main goal of process optimization is to eliminate inefficiencies in the process flow and to reduce the complexity of processes. The basis for this is always an error-free documentation of the present situation with the help of which optimization potentials can be uncovered.
- Process automation
The primary purpose of automation is to allow high-volume and rule-based processes to run autonomously. Documentation also plays a decisive role as the recording of the exact process flow enhances the developers’ understanding and reduces the susceptibility to errors after robot implementation. It is essential to record all relevant process alternatives to avoid so-called “robot downtimes.”
The Most Common Problems in Manual Process Documentation
The exact understanding of the process is crucial for the correct implementation of further optimization measures. Unfortunately, this understanding is often impaired by errors made in the documentation and prevents the mapping of the holistic process logic.
The most common problems in this context are:
- The manual documentation of processes is time-consuming.
Process instructions are often designed with the help of software not intended for this purpose. The manual effort and the use of many different applications significantly increase the documentation time.
- The documenting person has no knowledge of how the process works and what information is important for further processing.
Not every employee who documents a process has all the process knowledge necessary to describe it correctly. The consequences of this lack of knowledge and communication are information asymmetries between the person responsible for the process and the person who analyses the process in a second step.
- Process steps are skipped, or information is passed on incorrectly.
Documentation “by hand” does not follow a standardized procedure. It is easy to make errors during the often monotonous work.
- Loss of process information
The manual documentation and the lack of knowledge regarding the process characteristics often lead to the loss of important information. Most of the time, it is only the so-called "happy path" that is documented, whereby the process works as expected and is not disturbed for example by error messages. This causes the holistic understanding of the process to suffer enormously. Tasks are often carried out subconsciously and, therefore, not documented. However, these cognitive decisions are indispensable for process understanding.
- People behave differently when they know that their statements or actions are recorded in a process document.
Many employees, who have their work steps documented, act differently than if they would intuitively follow this task. This change in behavior distorts the image of process documentation.
Can you describe the Process of Making Ramen Noodles?
The obstacles described here can also be shown in everyday life situations and become clear with the following video, were a family father from California executes the instructions of his children efor the preparation of a portion of ramen noodles.
Process Documentation Is No Childs Play
What comes across here as very amusing is not so funny in a business context. Whether ramen noodles or business processes, many of the hurdles mentioned above occur mainly because different people are involved in the documentation process. The situation is the same as with the game “Chinese whispers.” Errors emerge as a result of incomplete or incorrect information transfer between the parties involved, resulting in a process that has little in common with the process to be documented initially.
A slim and simple option is now offered by selected documentation software. They have taken up the challenge and designed the user interface and workflow in such a way that the entire documentation can be carried out by just one person. This leads to the intuitive storage of more information, which eliminates information loss and better transfers understanding.
The Difference between Manual and Automatic Documentation
Nowadays, there are different software solutions that document processes in different ways, but only a few are target-oriented. In order to better differentiate the approaches, functionalities, and advantages, we have divided them into categories of manual, semi-automatic and automatic documentation.
“Manual” Process Documentation
Manual documentation can be defined as all procedures that use several auxiliary software tools for process recording and description. The manually taken screenshots are often copied into a second application to describe them in the best possible way.
These very monotonous approaches are characterized by high susceptibility to errors. Process steps can easily be forgotten because the person in charge does not execute the process intuitively but must switch between different applications that are not intended for documentation purposes.
“Semi-automatic” Process Documentation
Semi-automatic documentation software is the term we use to describe solutions that guide the user through the documentation process, but still require a high degree of personal effort. These tools often have a built-in screenshot function. This reduces the number of required applications but retains the manual characteristics of the documentation.
“Automatic” Process Documentation
These solutions are tailored to the documentation of processes and guide the user intuitively through the individual documentation steps. The interactions between the user and the computer are automatically recorded and arranged one after the other.
A special feature is that interaction elements such as buttons are automatically recognized during execution, allowing them to be highlighted and described in the documentation afterward.
Further information about Automatic Process Documentation and the functions of AM Muse can be found in our blog post "Automatic Process Documentation: It' s Time for a New Status Quo!".
In special cases, some tools are even able to store technical information in the background. This allows the recognition of the used applications as well as the framework and technical "selector values."
To illustrate, here is the automatic created documentation of AM Muse. It shows a process that searches for a specific email with an Excel attachment. From this email links are read and opened in order to research and save the prices for certain products and send them back to the sender.
Before buying suitable documentation software, you should inform yourself thoroughly and weigh the various pros and cons. Our experience has shown that the main focus should be on ease of use and useful export functions. At this point, however, many people forget that process documentation is not the end, but the beginning of holistic and long-term process analysis and optimization phase.
Benefits of Automatic Process Documentation
Automatic documentation has many advantages over the manual creation of click instructions and process flows. With the help of intuitive user guidance, the process is designed in such a way that intermediate steps cannot be forgotten. This not only eliminates information asymmetries between the various parties involved but also increases the motivation of the person documenting.
Professional documentation software works much faster. Compared to manual methods, this method only uses one program that works without interfaces and media breaks and relieves the user of a large part of the manual work. In addition, these solutions often incur the lowest costs as less time is required.
Excursus: On “Space Mission” With the Process Documentation
Without precise process documentation, mankind would hardly have landed on the moon a good 50 years ago. But what do Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 have to do with the documentation of processes?
Before the launch of a spacecraft, the commander and crew go through several different checklists to ensure that all operations are performed correctly.
Even during launch operations, spacewalks, or sudden system failure, the crew goes through this “process documentation” in order to guarantee a maximum of quality. Astronauts even use so many checklists that Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins referred to the mission checklists as the “fourth crew member.”
A Small Step for the Individual, but a Big Leap for Companies
The way business processes are documented is critical to whether companies take a small step forward or leave orbit in a figurative sense. This is because the information on the process flow can then be used for technologies based on it.
Nowadays, it is possible to collect process data in such a way that it can be used in the next step for optimization, outsourcing or automation, e.g., through robotic process automation (RPA). It is important that the tool used for documentation records and processes the necessary data.
Companies that see process documentation as an integral part of business process management and as the initial spark for business optimization technologies have now everything they need, to save valuable time and money!