How To Draw A Business Process Flow Diagram

Hi there! If you're a business analyst, one of the key skills you need to have is "business process re-engineering". What's that, you ask? Well, business process re-engineering is the discipline of looking at a company's operations, mapping them out, then determining what can be improved.

Process re-engineering projects are very commonplace in banks and insurance companies, where operational flows can number hundreds, if not thousands of steps, incorporating people, process and technology.

One of the standard tools in business process re-engineering is the "business process flow diagram". This is a representation of the process flow within a department, laying out in a neat, visual manner who interacts with what.

In this article, I want to explain how to draw a business process flow diagram, with tips gleaned from my years of drawing these flows for clients.

how to draw a business process flow diagram 1A sample business process flow diagram

Step 1. Identify The Business Process Scope

The first thing to do, before you even begin to draw a business process flow diagram, is to understand the scope.

For example, for which department in the company are you drawing these process flows? For Sales? For Finance? For Internal Audit? You need to understand which department is in scope before you embark on a major process documentation exercise.

In addition, it's critical to identify up front what level of processes you are drawing. In process flow diagrams, we usually identify Level 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to specify what level of granularity to bring process flows to.

Promising that you'll deliver Level 5 process flows (e.g. with detail down to specific forms or data entry steps into systems) is something you don't want to do unless you've enough time and resources!

Step 2. Get Business Process Mapping Software

One of the tools you'll need for drawing process flows is a good piece of software. There are business process mapping software programs out there - ARIS, Visio, IBM Process Modeler, and even PowerPoint and Excel.

ARIS is a great piece of software which I've seen used in many banks. This is an industrial grade tool which allows multiple users to draw "swimlane" process diagrams and deposit them in to a version controlled repository. Many banks run their daily operations off of ARIS.

Visio is another popular tool for drawing process flows. It's certainly one of my favorites but it's not a dedicated "process modeling" software - unlike ARIS. That means, you can use Visio to draw network diagrams, organization structures, etc. - above and beyond process flows.

As for PowerPoint and Excel - you COULD use them to draw processes, but I'd recommend that you don't! I've tried using them to map out processes and it drove me nuts!

Case Study: I once was the Lead Business Analyst for a large government project in Singapore. We did a major business process re-engineering phase, where hundreds of business processes were mapped into - of all tools - PowerPoint!

The problem with PowerPoint is that it is a "slide creating" tool. It's used for communicating messages or presenting data. It's NOT a process flow drawing tool. I had to interconnect all the boxes with small connectors, shift them around to fit things in. If something was wrong, I'd spend hours aligning and correcting the error.

So, the lesson learnt - go for a dedicated process flow drawing tool whenever possible. ARIS and Visio are good, solid choices.

Step 3. Draw The Business Process

The next step is to draw out your business processes. Now, at this point, it's important that you understand there's a "taxonomy" or guidelines to drawing business process flows.

An example is shown below.

Try your best to stick to these standard guidelines, as it makes it easier for you and other project members to understand what you're drawing.

Also, business rules should be reflected in process flows whenever possible. If there's an check on a withdrawal operation, e.g. "Is Withdrawal Amount > $5,000", you should build that in as a decision point into the process flow.

These business rules are great for explicitly documenting knowledge in the company. Sometimes these things are "buried" deep in someone's head and that's not healthy for the organization.

I also think that process maps need to "connect" up properly. You see, each process map has only a limited amount of space - sometimes you have to "spill over" process flows into another page. Make sure that you connect them properly by specifying clear connectors between the two diagrams.

Tip. A great tip to remember in drawing up business processes is this - try to re-use stuff! If you had a business process that can be shared across many other processes, then replicate it, don't re-draw it.

For example, in banking operations, "Open Customer Account" could be a standard process that is used across different products and departments.

What you should do is to map out one version of "Open Customer Account" and then re-use it across other areas (e.g. if a customer wants to buy an equity, but is new to the bank - you'd flow him through "Open Customer Account" before he can go through the "Buy Equity" process flow.

Another point concerns the level of process detail. As mentioned earlier, if you're delivering Level 3 processes, then make sure you don't go into Level 4. Make sure there's a Quality Assurance person who checks all process maps done by your team for consistency.

The last thing you need is a couple of process flows with extreme detail and the client or stakeholder asks you to do the same for ALL other processes!

Step 4. Validate Your Process Flows

In drawing your business processes, you need to understand that it's from YOUR point of view. It may not yet reflect exactly what the department's processes really are.

You need to validate your completed process flow with the correct stakeholders. They'll give you some input on steps, decision points or business rules which need to be refined or make clearer.

Once you've amended the flows to their satisfaction, your final process flows will be valuable assets to the company.

Step 5: Practise Version Control

One thing that I hate to see in process flows (or any other kind of documentation work) is the lack of version control.

You should install a good versioning system to ensure that anyone who touches a document increments its version as well. Ideally, there's some kind of "version control guy" who is overseeing the "check in and check out" processes of project documents.

Wrapping Up ...

I hope the above has given you some good insight into how to draw a business process flow diagram. Typically, you need a good tool, coupled with knowledge of process mapping taxonomy before you can produce a good draft.

Validate the flow with stakeholders and practise good version control. If you follow these tips, your flows will continue to be used by the company for many years to come.

That's all I have for now. Until next time, have fun drawing those business process flows!

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