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Why Process Exploration is better than Process Documentation

Why process discussions and analysis are core requirements for process documentation, and how to go about that.

The need to clarify one’s way of working is increasing. Even the smallest organisations are confronted with stiffer compliance regulations like the GDPR. Process documentation is a must. However, merely documenting your processes without an ongoing exploration and discussion of these processes will lead to static organisations.


When internal or external consultants are tasked by documenting your core processes, they merely summarize and map the collective of individual tasks. The work is normally done by interviewing those that work in the process. But the people interviewed do not have the full picture of the complete process. More so, they do not know where exceptions to a normal case are made by their collegues and whether double work is done at these moments. The process documentation done will result in a static observation that often lacks relevant detail.


The case for process exploration

Instead of focussing on the documentation of your processes you should consider process exploration instead. Process exploration is an activity where you get all involved roles together in a room to discuss, explore, analyse, reconsider and review the process from many different angles. You should discuss:

  • Who is doing what in the process;
  • At what moment in time is this happening and how long does it take;
  • Using which documents, IT-systems, methods and tools;
  • At what location;
  • With which customer interaction;
  • Where and what the exceptions are;
  • To which compliance rule or regulation;
  • What personal data is involved at that moment, for what legal reason;
  • What input and output of each activity is;
  • Where bottlenecks in the process are located.


The results of good process exploration

Process exploration is difficult on the onset. But with the right method and tooling it is easier than process documentation. And if done right, it will give you wonderful results.

Results of process exploration:

  1. Full documentation of the process. Yes, this is a by-product, but you’ll have the required documentation as well.
  2. Employees working in the process will become involved and take ownership.
    When you get your people together and truly ask their input to discuss all necessary detail of the process, they will get involved and take ownership. Collectively they will get more insights in your process than any individual has had before.

  3. By doing a process exploration of your critical processes, one at the time, you'll actually install Continuous Improvement in your organisation. Because, after you have done an initial exploration and the team is involved, it is easy to ask them again. And by doing so, they will create Continuous Improvement on the fly.
  4. And last but not least, it will make your organisation an agile organisation. If you are successful in embedding continuous improvement in your main processes, your organization will end up being Agile automatically. Teams that are used to work together to explore your processes will also be prepared to deal with any changes, both internal or external, both expected or unexpected.

Process documentation and process explre two different things


With the right method, process exploration is easier than documentation

Many organizations have tried to involve their teams in process workshops. Using post-it notes and brown paper, the people involved in the process (the roles) spent hours on mapping the current state of their process. However, a process exploration workshop goes further!

 With all the focus points listed above, a process exploration workshop requires you to go much further than you can ever achieve with brown paper and post-it notes. The process exploration workshop is a workshop where all roles of a process are represented and come together to discuss and analyse your key processes.

A good process exploration can be done in two or three sessions of about three hours each. The team will first make a draft of the process, explore and analyse this process and create a ‘TO BE’ or new version of the process.

 But how do you conduct an effective process exploration workshop? We’ll discuss 9 quick steps to do this:

  1. Select one process at a time and take a process that matters! For example: your order taking and delivery process.
  2. Discuss the process with the roles/employees that do the work in the process. Make sure each role is represented.
  3. Get everyone around a big screen for a workshop and start from scratch discussing their process.
  4. Always start with discussing the current situation or “AS IS” to make sure everyone knows what you are doing today.
  5. Discuss and highlight all relevant exceptions. In most organisations the sum of exceptions exceeds the so called clean-case.
  6. Keep track and visibly document all critical remarks and improvement tips.
  7. Show detail when needed, such as input and output, documents, locations, IT-systems etc, that are relevant for everyone to understand the process. But make sure you don’t show all that detail unless you discuss it. Otherwise participants will get lost.
  8. Run calculation through the process to validate that the model reflects reality. Especially calculations on the sum of processing times and the total lead time will give lots of insights to the participants.
  9. Use icons that can intuitively be understood by the participants. Whilst triangles and squares are commonly known by process management specialists, they will likely not be understood immediately by other participants. A meaningful icon showing a computer screen or a forklift truck intuitively tells them what needs to be done at that process step.

 A more detailed explanation about running effective process workshops can be found in our white paper "Tips & tricks for succesful process workshops".

State of the art process exploration tooling will greatly enhance the quality and results of a process exploration workshop. You should look for tooling that allows you to map the process automatically. Especially when processes are big and have relevant exceptions, it can become  complicated to map them. When this is done automatically, the people in the room will keep ownership and feel they are visualizing their process without any special expertise; they will become the process experts.

You should be able to change the view of the process as well. Are we discussing documents, input, output or processing time? Highlight them and hide the rest! Are swim lanes needed to show who is doing what? Then show that instead of a value stream. In other words, you should be able to instantly change the view of the process to many different needs.

Interested in "enabling" tooling to do all of that? Ask us for a demo and we will show you how our platform can help you. Process exploration will result in better process documentation and will bring both continuous improvement and an agile organisation on top of that.

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