The Trouble with Procedure Documents

While business process management (BPM) is clearly past the early adopter stage, a recent survey of U.S. companies indicates that only 46% have a BPM system in place. Nearly two-thirds of those companies are still using Microsoft office tools such as Word or Excel to manage their business processes, while nearly 60% admit that they still rely heavily on staff knowledge – aka, the information in their employees' heads.

If you think that's alarming, consider this: 44% of the companies surveyed say that few or none of their processes are actually used by employees; 39% admit that few or none of their processes are documented; and 43% acknowledge that few or none of their processes are easily accessible.

Why is this an issue? If your company's valuable process knowledge is stored away in inaccessible flowcharts and binders stuffed with Word documents, they aren't accessible. If they aren't accessible, they won't be used and updated. And if they aren't being used and updated, then the whole concept of process management and improvement is doomed to failure.

Using static documents, including complex flowcharts or pages of text, to manage your company's business processes is a recipe for disaster. They're difficult to search, hard to update, and challenging to access remotely – not a positive and engaging user experience.

They're also nearly impossible to manage. Making just a simple change to a procedure might require searching for and then updating numerous process documents which are more than likely to be stored in multiple locations, from the company intranet to individual staff computers. And of course, all of that can become significantly more complicated if changes need to be made to multiple processes simultaneously.

In addition, with static procedure documents it is extremely difficult to notify employees of process changes or ensure that they are using the most current version of a process. Effective process management depends on personalized notifications and reminders, ideally using a personal dashboard that triggers emails to a dynamic list of affected stakeholders.

Bottom line: Process knowledge isn't helpful unless it's both functional and accessible. That's why search, tracking, reporting, and analytics are part of most process management systems. Using static documents makes it difficult and time-consuming to answer even simple questions about your processes: How many process documents do we have? How many documents are out of date? When were these documents updated?

To bring your company's business process management up to 21st century standards, you should focus on five factors that are essential to creating a truly sustainable approach to managing business processes.

First and foremost, executive buy-in and visible leadership from senior management is a must for business process improvement and innovation to become a reality. Before even thinking about which process management software might be right for your organization, make sure process management efforts will be actively supported at the senior management level and throughout the business.

Next, process information needs to be engaging. Present process knowledge in a user-friendly format and make it relevant. Processes should be made available on a personalized dashboard where users can see the processes relevant to them and their role. Processes should be laid out in simple steps, with more detail available as needed. A simple test for ease of use is whether users are able to read and understand process information at a high level in less than 30 seconds.

The ability to access information when and where you need it is also important. If information is available where workers already are, it will become part of their daily routines rather than another task they have to perform. Process knowledge should be easy to access and share using email, the company intranet or through software programs that are already in use. Employees should be able to see at a glance how many processes they're in and when they were last updated.

It's also essential to recognize that process information is only useful if it reflects what's actually happening on the ground. Clear process ownership is key. The process owner should be responsible for changing and improving processes to keep them relevant. And because processes are often used by multiple people across the business, it should be easy for other staff to provide feedback and suggest changes. It's all about empowering the people who actually use the processes every day to help improve it.

Finally, change management is one of the biggest challenges of process management. It can be complicated and time-consuming to make certain all process documentation is up-to-date and all stakeholders are kept in the loop when changes are made. To that end, businesses need to adopt a process management approach that makes change management fast and simple. Editing a process shouldn't be difficult, and if you choose a cloud-based solution, updates will be rolled out automatically. That means no more updating multiple documents. Ideally, the process management solution will easily keep all stakeholders up-to-date. Individual dashboards highlighting any changes can help keep track of updates, while simultaneously being used for sign off and compliance management.

It may seem pretty straight-forward, but engaging, accessible process knowledge can make a huge difference to the way your company works. Done properly, it can create a culture of improvement among your business teams, leading to significant business advantages.

Using a 21st century approach to process management isn't just about making it easier for business teams to access information. It's about using that information to drive improvement and innovation to move your entire organization forward. A static procedure document won't do that.

Ivan Seselj

Ivan Seselj is CEO of Promapp Solutions, an industry leading provider of cloud-based process management (BPM) software for creating and storing business processes online. You can contact him at ivan.seselj@promapp.com or follow him at @Ivanseselj. You can visit Promapp at www.promapp.com.

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