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The Business Process Handbook

Kristen Craft | May 15, 2019
business processes

If you want to gauge the health of a person, you might take a look at their BPM. If you want to gauge the health of a company, you might also take a look at its (similar but different) BPM.

In the first case, of course, we’re referring to beats (of the heart) per minute. In the second case, we’re referring to business process management.

Business processes lie at the heart of how companies operate — across teams, departments, and initiatives. In fact, everything we do is a process. Process dictates how engineers write, test, and deploy code. It structures the way in which marketers strategize, create, and distribute content. It guides how those in HR or People Ops recruit, hire, and onboard new employees.

That’s why it’s so crucial to document your business processes. This way, you can more efficiently track, measure, and optimize each budget, department, and strategy.

As one small business owner told Fundera:

“My small business management advice to other entrepreneurs would be to document all of their business processes. Documenting my procedures has made me examine everything necessary to run my business in detail and make processes more efficient.”

In this article, we’ll dive into what business processes are, why they’re so important, and how you can document them with the right tools and templates. Let’s take a look.

What are business processes?

Business processes define a company and its ability to thrive. According to Gartner:

“A business process coordinates the behavior of people, systems, information, and things to produce business outcomes in support of a business strategy.”

More practically speaking, a business process can look like a guide, checklist, or model that maps out how a certain task is completed, such as answering a customer support question or sending an invoice.

Across an organization, business processes are many, since they can be developed for each department, team, and individual employee. To help simplify, these processes are often broken down into three categories:

  • Operational processes, which involve revenue generation and customer interaction. Ex: fulfilling a customer order.
  • Supporting processes, which are the backbone of those core, operational processes. Ex: providing technical support to employees.
  • Management processes, which monitor and maintain the operations of a business. Ex: planning a quarterly budget.

The concept of the business process isn’t new, either. It was first proposed by economist Adam Smith in 1776. He broke down the process of creating a pin into 18 steps, including drawing out the wire, straightening it, cutting it, and making the head. And what did he find? Well, by mapping and following such a process in a methodical way, manufacturers could see a 240x increase in productivity.

Why is it important to document your business processes?

Documenting and managing your internal processes well means you can operate more efficiently, increase productivity, and better navigate change, which is inevitable for growing companies. Specifically, there are several key reasons why business process documentation is crucial for any organization.

Improve efficiency and cut redundancies

According to a 2018 survey from enterprise software company Red Hat, 65% of business managers said that business process management helped improve efficiency and versatility. Not only does proper management and documentation help employees clearly spell out their tasks; it also helps them identify problem areas that need to be addressed.

Think about a high-end dishwasher. If one small piece breaks, you’re not going to throw out the whole dishwasher and go buy a new one (or, at least, I’m not wasteful or wealthy enough to do that!) Sacrificing an otherwise functional dishwasher for one defective piece doesn’t make sense. Rather, you can just fix or replace that broken part. It’s by far the cheaper, faster, and more efficient solution.

We all strive to take the same approach when managing business processes. With each process dissected, you can more easily pinpoint ineffective or redundant steps. Then, you can focus on addressing just those problematic sections instead of overhauling your whole operation.

Find the right person for each task

It was Henry Ford who first brought this idea to mainstream manufacturing in the early 1900s. Instead of having one person build his Model T car, he cut the process down into 84 steps that could each be done by individually specialized employees. As a result, production time decreased from almost 13 hours to less than three hours.

By similarly documenting your business processes, you can take a nuanced look at how each process is completed and ensure that you have the most qualified person assigned to each task.

Increase transparency

Business process documentation forces you to take a magnifying glass to look at how teams operate — and that’s a good thing.

This transparency makes it easier to adhere to check your processes with compliance guidelines, avoid overlap with collaborating teams, and receive approvals for new initiatives from managers and stakeholders.

Preserve institutional knowledge

You don’t want your best processes to disappear if and when the people who built them decide to leave — especially since 10,000 Baby Boomers now reach retirement age each day.

Fostering the development of institutional knowledge can help you prevent that from happening. And you can retain this institutional knowledge by documenting processes now instead of after someone retires and you’re scrambling to recreate their secret recipe.

Stay on track towards overall goals

Sure, you might know that your approach for onboarding new engineers gets them up to speed with your programming language, but does it meet your overall company goal of retaining employees? Does it present your new talent with opportunities and incentives for future growth at the company?

Enter: Business process documentation. This simple tactic can help ensure that overall company goals are baked into each process. Just look at content marketers. According to the Content Marketing Institute, the most successful marketers are more likely to have a documented content strategy, and 81% say the top benefits of this documentation is aligning the team around common goals.

Optimize and automate for growth

It’s tough to improve the segments of a process if you don’t know what those segments are. That’s why business process documentation is important for any company’s evolution.

With your roadmap laid out in front of you, you can easily find the routes that need to be optimized. And once you have all processes running smoothly and consistently, you can double down and find ways to automate them with new tools and technology.

How can you document your business processes?

Here comes the hard part — figuring out just what to document and how to get these processes recorded so they’re understandable and shareable for anyone who needs them. Let’s break it down.

What should you document?

Exactly what you document will vary for each business process, but we can get you started with an overall guide. In general, your documented process might include:

  • The goal (or expected outcome) of the process
  • Resources needed to perform the process
  • Steps involved in the process
  • Employees and teams involved in the process
  • Key approval points along the way
  • Measurement and review of process results

Let’s say you’re documenting the process for onboarding a new employee, for example. Here’s what these elements of your documentation might look like:

  • Goal: Onboard employee within one week
  • Resources: Training documents, video tutorials, Slack
  • Steps:
    • Complete contracts
    • Give tour of office
    • Meet with manager
    • Join team for orientation
    • View training documents and video tutorials
    • Set up on Slack
    • Provide first assignment
    • Create goals for future growth
    • Review first assignment
  • Employees and teams: HR, manager, fellow team members
  • Approval points:
    • Completion of HR contracts
    • Meeting with manager
    • Review of first assignment
  • Measurement and review: Benchmark first assignment with team performance; continue to check in with new employee and manager.

Which documentation tools can you use?

There is a range of tools and techniques you can use to make this documentation seamless and scalable.

Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Google Spreadsheets are some of the obvious ones. But beyond these options, you might look for more comprehensive platforms to build and store your company information, including:

Using business process management software

Business process management (BPM) software can help you create, track, and automate business processes. This is a common solution for enterprise organizations that want a centralized look at hundreds or thousands of processes.

A good BPM will also provide tools for mapping and modeling your business processes. These charts and visualizations aid employees in quickly comprehending complex processes and training newcomers to get started.

Using a knowledge management system

According to a 2018 study by Nintex, 49% of US employees have trouble locating documents and 43% have trouble sharing them. Meaning documentation is just the first step in business process management. The next is making sure those documents can be accessed throughout the organization.

That’s where knowledge management systems can help. The right knowledge management system will act as a central hub for housing your business process documents and checklists.

Here at Tettra, we make it easy to aggregate info from many different sources, including Google Docs, GitHub, and Word files. We even connect our platform to Slack so you can chat with your colleagues, find your documents, and keep collaborating without missing a beat.

Most importantly, this kind of system can keep your BPM healthy and up to speed. Here, of course, I’m referring to your business process management and your heartbeats per minute. Because clear business processes make for calm business managers — and happy, more productive employees with the resources to tackle any task.