Simple process flow diagramming - part 1

A picture says a 1,000 words... or so the saying goes, but do you really need 1,000 words to communicate a process? In truth, it depends.

Many times, on business analyst engagements, I've asked people to describe, in picture form, the basic processes that are important to their business. What I usually received was something that required a plotter to print... a huge, complicated process flow that took into account every single odd-ball anomally (even if it would only occur every 5th blue moon.) Why did this happen?

  • Subject-matter-experts (SME) can talk ad nauseum about what they do.
  • SME are detail-focused people; every detail is important to them.
  • SME do not like to see their business processes trivialized into one or two little boxes on a process flow diagram.
My own learning point was to find another way of getting what I needed to know rather than ask this of the SME directly. When diagramming a high-level process flow I usually follow some basic guidelines:
  1. Identify the initiator and actors of the process.
  2. Be technology and system agnostic.
  3. Understand what is required to move from one part of the process flow to the next.
  4. Show the main process flow not the alternates.
  5. Understand the goal of the process.

The time will come when more detail is needed and the process will be flushed out. But I do not feel you have to start like that. Simple and elegant always win out.


Scott Sehlhorst said...

Great simplification ideas! I like it.

Stewart Rogers said...

This is why I love activity diagrams. Simple.