Process Modeling – A “Map” to Project Success

By Bob McGannon, PMP

Process modeling can be a long and frustrating exercise, and that is AFTER you have gone through the pain of convincing skeptical stakeholders that it is needed for your project to succeed. A large number of project managers do not appreciate this critical tool – it has a significant number of positive effects on the project and the sponsoring business. In short, it is worth all the pain and frustration. Let’s define and then examine the benefits of this much underappreciated approach…

Process modeling is much more than just creating a few flowcharts outlining how a business accomplishes a series of tasks. Good and complete process models include details of the conditions under which each step in a process is executed, the people or areas involved in each process, and the details of how hand-offs or interfaces are handled. Also, measurements and control points are defined and verified against existing business results. Furthermore, a detailed process model will include information on the tools, systems or decision models that are used to facilitate good business judgment. Process models should be documented in a standardized format and verified with all parties involved in executing a process. Lastly, when projects are involved, a well constructed process model is built in two parts – an “as-is” and “to-be” version, demonstrating what happens in the business today, and what will change as a result of project implementation.

Yes, this can be a tedious procedure, but the benefits far outweigh the burden.

Benefit #1: Buy-In

The exercise of creating process models has to be performed using the people who actually perform each process, to ensure their accuracy. When an individual participates in deriving process models (especially when “to-be” process models are created) they can feel a sense of ownership for the resulting processes. Also, those who feel that improvements can be made in their job environments get the opportunity to “put their fingerprint” directly on the way their department/area executes its mission. This degree of buy-in is rarely accomplished via other means. To the project manager, this means that the product of their project is more likely to be accepted with enthusiasm, work well immediately after installation, and as a result senior stakeholders will more directly realize project benefits.

Benefit #2: Organizational Efficiency

In my experience, few organizations have a concentrated and ongoing focus on processes, and their integrity. Frequently, the creation of detailed processes for a business area will yield inefficiencies that can be easily corrected. Reports or procedures that are “leftover from a situation long since resolved” which ultimately go into the wastebasket unused, are identified and can be removed appropriately. In addition to the project benefits being discussed here, simply the creation of process models can pay for themselves in reduced waste across the organization!

When an organization has created a sound set of “to-be” process models, the introduction of the product of your project is a known entity to those who participated in the modeling, increasing the efficiency with which the changes are assimilated. Also, the benefits of those changes are capitalized upon more thoroughly and more quickly, enhancing the return on investment for the project.

Benefit #3: Requirements Verification

One of the recurring issues with project requirements are the everyday details that get overlooked in requirements collection sessions, Joint Application Requirements (JAR) workshops and other requirements gathering exercises. The creation of process models enhances the probability that details won’t be missed, because the step by step actions that facilitate actions in the business are being examined. Differences or “gaps” between the existing and new processes are also examined, so unintended omissions or unintended consequences occur much less frequently when process models are used as part of the requirements gathering and verification exercise.

Benefit #4: Testing Integrity

The control and measurement procedures included in a complete process model are perfect elements for deriving and verifying the integrity of the project’s product. Test cases can easily and efficiently be created from segments of each process model. Completeness of testing can be assured via checking each “pathway” through a process model and insuring that a test for that path is created and successfully executed. These benefits for testing have positive “side effects” as well. The customers of your project who may be apprehensive of their abilities to successfully test a product will more likely “come to the table” and participate in testing. The process models give a natural checklist to the customers, and the confidence that a complete evaluation of their business area can be produced. The creation of process models therefore leads to a well staffed and higher integrity testing stage for the project.

Benefit #5: Accelerated Training

The creation of process models forms the basis for training materials that can be used for training existing customer staff in the use of the project’s product. The models can also be used by the customer organization for ongoing training of new personnel when new hires enter the business or people change departments.

The step by step and pictorial nature of process models provide intuitive methods for describing how a persons’ job will be accomplished – and a great comparison tool highlighting how that job will change when the product of the project is installed. When well constructed, the only additional training materials that have to be created are those which confirm appropriate understanding of the process models.

Benefit #6: Facilitates Quality Programs

Most quality certification programs involve the creation, maintenance and adherence to a set of standardized procedures. The process models can serve as the detailed documentation for others to follow, or can serve as the basis for creating more detailed documentation, should that need arise.

The existence and detailed examination of the process models serve nicely as a basis for deriving incremental improvements, and/or accommodating new project requirement sessions. The process models make this exercise much faster and more effective, leading to incremental improvements being made more quickly, accurately and cost effectively.

Benefit #7: Faster Project Completion

Although many people’s intuition tells them otherwise, creating process models on the front end of your project will most likely expedite project completion. In addition to the premise of “doing it right the first time”, process models actually can serve as the test and training packages that are frequently lacking in projects. Thus, you are creating a multi-purpose deliverable that facilitates other processes that are vital for project success, while assuring user buy-in at the same time.

Sound like a winner? It is! Process models… don’t leave the planning stage without them!

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting services, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at www.mindavation.com or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).

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