A participant in our ILT course, “Business Process Modeling and Analysis – Simply Put!” recently asked, “Is the time it takes to create a detailed process model for my project a worthwhile investment?” Here is our take on it.
Generally speaking, a business process is a complex, multi-dimensional activity containing a myriad of moving and evolving parts. Eliciting the requirements for changes to IT applications that affect the business process is a challenging and often time-consuming activity. So, assuming that you actually had the time to create a reasonably detailed process model for your project, what would the benefits be?
- For starters, just drawing any kind of process model forces you to ask the right questions – and for anyone trying to understand a business process, that alone is worth its weight in gold! Getting answers to these questions early in the project minimizes the probability of missing requirements. In addition, asking pertinent questions builds the customers’ trust and establishes your credibility as the one wearing the business analysis hat.
- The process model you create lets those responsible for performing or managing the process see their own process in a different light. Quite often, they have never visualized the process. In many situations, that can cause them to want to make changes to the process immediately. If this happens to you, ask them to wait until you have had time to finish your analysis to reduce the potential for unintended consequences of changes. We actively discourage making any changes during the analysis phase based on our core conviction and experience that every solution leads to a different set of problems
- The process model helps focus everyone’s attention on any specific component of the diagram. Visual representations like the process model actually enhance communication by giving you the power of pointing. If all you have are words describing a process, you might point to a word in the text, but the word does not convey nearly as much detail as the picture. If you point at a process on a data flow diagram, for instance, everyone in the room can see the process, the data flows coming into the process, the data flows coming out of the process, and the related sources or recipients. There can be no misunderstanding as to which process on the model you mean – even without mentioning the name.
- The model captures a snapshot of history at the time it is created. If you have the luxury of creating a relatively detailed model, you have a reference point for future changes. If you implement a change and the results are not what you expected, you can use that reference to analyze what went wrong. You then have the option of reverting to the original situation – where everyone knew what problems they had and had some work-around. Alternatively, you could also update the diagram to reflect the changes.
- The visual representation of a diagram activates different areas in the human brain and enhances your memory. As you work with a process model, it becomes easier and easier for you and everyone involved to recall the depicted processes and flows in discussions – even when the diagram is not readily visible.
- Finally, the diagrams are a crucial prerequisite for doing a wide range of analysis techniques that we teach in our training courses. If you cannot or do not use those techniques, there is a considerably higher probability that any solution you develop will have holes that you will have to plug after the fact.
All in all, the time it takes to develop a process model just might be the most productive time you spend in the requirements elicitation effort for your project. At least, that is our humble opinion.