Business Process Design Tutorial – Part 1

Summary: Process design provides decision makers with snapshots of how systems currently work and where they could be improved. 

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At the end of the workshop, our client confessed, ‘I didn’t know our business worked like that’.

We’d moved onsite and over three months mapped out the processes in his Finance, Sales and Operations Depts. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of Business Analysis is discovering how a business works and then mapping it out in Visio.

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Definition: What is a Business Process?

We write the process narratives in Word. In simple terms, business process design is a way of gathering related, structured activities (tasks) that serve a particular goal, usually for customer though it can also be for an IT system.

The best way I’ve found to capture the business process is in flowcharts, which show the sequence of activities and where each task inter-relates.

I’ve learnt so much how business models work by taking a business apart, process by process, and seeing where it’s working best and where it needs some fine-tuning.

One definition of a business process is that it’s a ‘set of coordinated tasks and activities that will lead to accomplishing a specific organizational goal’ TechTarget’s Definition of Business Process. In addition, business process management (BPM) is a systematic approach to improving those processes.

The Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) promotes the standardization of common business processes, as a means of furthering e-business and business-to-business (B2B) development.

To realize end, it developed the Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based meta-language for modeling business processes.

A business process diagram let’s you illustrate activities that are designed to produce specific outputs.

For example, if you worked for a bank, you might have a Credit Card application process.That shows what the customer needs to give in, what happens when the application is received, and what results are expected. The customer gets a new credit card or is rejected. You need to design processes for each these scenarios.

Visio Business Process templates

Business Process Example

Let’s look at an example of creating a process flow diagram for a Credit Card application. Like we said, business processes show how to capture (record) the order in which activities occur.

For example.

  1. Customer applies for credit card on the bank site
  2. Customer applies for credit card in the branch
  3. Customer applies for credit card at promotional event
  4. The credit card application is received electronically, but the email is wrong (separate process flow)
  5. The credit card application is received at main office, but address is missing (separate process flow)
  6. The credit card application is received at branch office who send it to head office (separate process flow) Then
  7. The customer gets a new credit card in the post
  8. The customer is offered a new credit card but has to come into the branch (with ID) to pick it up
  9. The customer is offered a new credit card but it send to the wrong address (printing error)
  10. The customer is rejected online.
  11. The customer is rejected at branch.
  12. The customer is rejected at sub-branch.

All of these scenarios need to be mapped correctly and, if necessary, form part of a new process.

For example, the credit card rejection process. As a Business Analyst, you need to design business processes for each these scenarios.

Business Process Analysis

A process must have a start, inputs (documents or information) and outputs (reports/forms/results). At its most simple level, every process has a:

  1. Start – what triggers the process into action? I want a credit card.
  2. Middle – what goes on in the process? The different steps, including variations, business rules, and possible exceptions.
  3. End – what conditions are necessary to close the process? I got my plastic friend!

Business process modeling involves designing processes that add value by showing the transformation of inputs into useful outputs.

What inputs go into the Business Process?

Inputs are whatever enters something into the process, for example, the customer (a human resource) submits a credit card application. In another process, a HR system (equipment) may submit a report to anther IT system, maybe the SAP or Oracle databases. Inputs can be resources (people), materials, energy, and equipment (software).

In UML, a resource is an input to a business process and is consumed during the processing. For example, as each daily train service is run, the service resource is ‘used up’ as far as the process of recording actual train times is concerned.

When mapping business processes, an Input link indicates that the resource is consumed in the processing procedure. For example, when customer orders are processed they are signed off and used only once per order.

What are Business Process Analysis outputs?

Outputs are the result, the end product, in the business cycle. Outputs may be a physical product (possibly used as an input to another process) or a service. Outputs are whatever is produced as a result of this action.

While this seems obvious, remember that in complexes there may be two or more outputs. You need to decide which is the main output and relegate other outputs to sub-processes. More on sub-processes later.

As a Business Analyst, this means that in the credit card application, the outputs will be the Acceptance of the Credit Card request or a Rejection of the request. When designing the process map, make sure you cover all scenarios so the process flow and all intermediate activities are mapped.


A business process will typically produce one or more outputs to the business, either for internal use of to satisfy external requirements. Outputs may be a physical object (such as a report), a transformation of raw resources into a new arrangement (a daily schedule) or a business result such as completing a customer order.

Remember, business process A’s output may feed into business processes B, either as a requested item or a trigger to start new activities.

Next week, I’ll look at how to use Business Process design techniques for large Software Development projects. You might want to read this if you’re looking at ways to improve your department’s performance, outsource projects, or to improve your knowledge of process design.

Do you enjoy process design or designing flowcharts?

[Learn more about these Process Design Excel templates here]

11 thoughts on “Business Process Design Tutorial – Part 1

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  6. gravitygardener says:

    As a process mapping consultant, it is imperative to get everyone to see not only their own procedures, but how As a process mapping consultant, it is imperative to get everyone to see not only their own procedures, but how they interconnect into the organizational structure. Once in place and agreed upon by all the contributors, you begin to be able to challenge the current way of doing business and assist them in finding inefficiencies that could be costing the business thousands of dollars.

    When defining the as-is process, the following methods may also assist in accomplishing the objective:

    1. Invite a manager to the session – An executive level manager who is not intimate with the lower level steps can help determine if business rules are being supported or not. They can also become a catalyst for change and challenge the way things are done because they are not so close to the daily tasks that make up the process.

    2. Using a Swimlane format can help breakdown the various parts of a complex process into organized “lanes” that allow anyone to track the entire process. Helping the team analyze this process using a Swimlane configuration enables them to logically follow the sequence of steps, specific rules within the processes.

    3. Sometimes the reason behind the traditional rules is simple” We have just always done it this way”. Challenge the team by helping them understand why they currently do things in their approval cycles.

    Gravity Gardener

    • Ivan Walsh says:

      Thanks a good point about business processes. Arrange the workshops like you said improves understanding and helps create clearer vision.
      What software do you use to create the flowcharts?

      • gravitygardener says:

        Good morning,

        Getting the group to the same place is easier with pictures… (you know what they say). As a procurement engineer I deal with various departmental agencies who have no idea how their processes work outside of their own piece. Going through the exercise allows them to see the linkages and business rules…

        You still need to guide and challenge the group, but having a map on the wall can get the group in synch a lot faster.

        For basic flowcharts I use simple powerpoint; it is easy to work with and makes presentation friendly flows.

        For more complex flows, I have used Visio or Edraw Software. Visio can be a little cumbersome to work with but Edraw is easier and only costs about 50 bucks…

        Hope that helps

        Gravity Gardener

    • Ivan Walsh says:

      We put Post-It notes along the wall, one for each step in the biz process, and move them about to refine the overall process.
      Like you said, once you have agreement on how the process actually works – which can take longer than you’d expect! – then it’s time to do the PC work. I use Visio but heard good things about Smartdraw.

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