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Stage 5 – Analyzing Alternatives and Contingencies to the As Is Business Process


Yesterday we looked at the Information Gathering Phase and described different ways you can get that information from Subject Matter Experts and those in the frontline who use the procedures.

Gathering Data For Procedures

In general, Business Analysts gather data through workshops and interviews. Emails work too but I prefer to see the white of their eyes.

You can also collect data from reading historical documents which may give more background to the project. These may include Specifications, Requirements and Flowcharts. Gather all these and hold them in a centralized location.

Does the Process Work?

As mentioned in the previous tutorial, we need to test the procedures (aka SOP) and determine if they work. Your goal at this point is to:

  • Determine if the procedure works as documented in the SOP.
  • Identify mistakes or anomalies that have crept into the material.
  • Determine if the procedure has been updated, version controlled, and also if multiple copies of the same SOP are in circulation. It’s not unusual for multiple copies of the same procedure to be in circulation if there is no known Document Owner or if there are no Version Controls in place.

Once you have captured the existing process, share your notes with the team members.

Looking at Alternatives To The Current Process

The next step is to look at alternative ways of performing this process and contingencies that need to be considered when developing the new process.

At this point, you should understand how the current process works. What you want to do is see:

  • Where it can be improved.
  • How the process can be streamlined so there are fewer activities, transactions, manual interactions required.
  • Who needs to be involved in the revised process.
  • What technologies are required to perform these tasks.
  • What parallel processes must be performed for the primary process to work correctly.
  • What sub-processes need to be developed to support the new process.

There are several ways to approach this. One is to look at the actors in the process, (for example, the Cashier) and see how his role could be streamlined.

  • What activities can be removed?
  • What activities could be collapsed into a single activity?
  • What tasks could be automated?
  • What activities could be changed so there are fewer activities later on.
  • What security measures need to be considered, for example, sharing information between department and/or with partners.

Here’s an example from the real world.

When I apply to have my credit card limit increased, the process works as follows:

  • Ivan contacts his Local Branch.
  • Local branch tells me to call another number. They can’t forward me for technical reasons.
  • Ivan called the Credit Card office.
  • Credit Card Dept ask me to fax in the paperwork, e.g. utility bill. They do not accept documents over the web. Oddly enough, you can apply for a credit card and even a mortgage over the web….
  • Credit Card Dept faxes this to Relationship Manager at Local Branch for verification purposes.
  • Local Branch forgets to process my application… Relationship Manager may have moved to different office.
  • Credit Card Dept don’t follow up.
  • Ivan calls Credit Card Dept to remind them to chase up Local Branch.
  • Ivan needs to send over the documents again.
  • Does Ivan do this? You know the answer, I’m sure.

OK, clearly this process could be improved if I could give the documents to my Local Branch  instead and if there was a reminder for the Credit Card Dept to follow-up if they did not hear back from the Local Branch. Otherwise, applications disappear into black hole.

FYI – actually, I did. While re-sending the documents was an inconvenience, I wanted to finish this task and move on to the next thing… which you can read about tomorrow.

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Business Process Design Tutorial # 1: Why, What & How?


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

We’d come 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.

Business Process Template – MS Word

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. Woohoo!


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? Please share your thoughts or lessons learnt below.

About the Author: Ivan Walsh is a contributing editor to the Klariti Small Business Centre. Ivan also shares Business Plan Ideas for SMEs on his business blog. Follow him on Twitter