How to Define Business Process Workflow

Business process workflow is everywhere. Any business that offers a product or service uses business process. Some do it poorly without defining business process, while others do it well with defined and enforced business process workflow. All businesses are process oriented, and without well defined business process no business can be sustainable.

So, what is business process, and what does it mean when you use it with the word workflow?

Business process is simply defining and enforcing repeatable steps to accomplish work. It’s a function box. When we define a business process we are defining a function. A workflow item is a function input that moves through the process function in order to achieve a result. A business process workflow takes that concept one step further and draws that process function on a chart with boxes and arrows to build a technology based solution to enforce the defined process.

There is no question that business process workflow is important, yet so many businesses struggle with the basic step of accurately defining a particular business process.

We get it. It’s confusing, and unless you have a background in six sigma or lean process, you’re probably not that familiar with process improvement concepts. That is normal. In fact, that’s why we are writing this article. If you can define your process well, then you have a great foundation to build on as you give consideration to the idea of process improvement. Below are some helpful steps for defining a business process workflow well.

Crucial Questions to Define Your Business Process Workflow

The building blocks for great writing are also the building blocks for great business process definition. Who, what, where, when, and why? These questions will ultimately carry you through all the steps of defining a workflow process. To begin defining your process, lets start with the who’s.

The Who of Your Business Process Workflow

What functional groups are going to touch this item as it moves through the business process? The first crucial step to defining a business process well is understanding what roles are involved in the process. Once you gather your people, you can help them understand the business process workflow holistically so as to put everyone on the same page with the same expectation about the end result of all the steps in your process.

The What, Where, and When of Your Business Process Workflow

What does each functional group involved in your process do? Do they build? Do they inspect? Do they approve? Where does their work happen? (inside or outside the network?) These are the steps that form the process. At this point you ought to be able to assemble a logical progression of actions being performed by specific roles that will yield a consistent, timely, and satisfactory result.

Data Matters

What data elements do you need? Armed with the information you have already collected, you should be able to define the data elements that drive decision making within your business process workflow. This will provide the structure for your forms and databases.

While you’re at this point in the definition of your business process workflow, go ahead and define all of your business rules for making decisions. Think in terms of If, Then, Else statements. There should be no undefined business rules. Poorly defined business rules yield poor results, so tighten it up and make everything logical and repeatable.

Securing Your Workflow

What security roles do all of the functional groups involved in your process need to have? Implementing security roles is tricky at best. Everyone wants permissions for everything, but most people don’t need permissions for almost anything. And of course, there is always an over zealous new hire in the IT department that seems to make it their purpose in life to keep people from doing their job efficiently because they have security locked down so tightly.

Our recommendation is to define the roles and responsibilities for the owners of the various steps in your workflow, and let your favorite workflow professionals guide you through the process of setting permissions.

Build Your Workflow

I should take a moment to note that we built our business doing business process workflow consulting and solution implementation using a tool, now owned by Microfocus, called Solutions Business Manager. SBM, as it is affectionately known, is a software suite that allows you to implement user defined business process workflows in your organization. It can be used for Change Management, Operations Process, ITIL Help Desk, HR Organizational Processes, or any number of creative business solutions.

Using SBM, take the process and related information you have collected up to this point and flesh it out into a diagram of states and transitions. Think of states as nouns with owners and transitions as verbs or actions. First, form states by combining the functional groups with the short description of what they do. The what is the state name, and the who is the state owner. Then, tie those states together with transition arrows which are the actions completed within the workflow. This is how the who, what, when, and where come together and then are executed as a business process.

Why?

You might have noticed there was one question left unanswered. Why? The answer to this question is because business process workflow removes process variation caused by the human element with the end goal of accomplishing work in a way that is repeatable and efficient. If we can grasp the bigger picture of a holistic business process and help others involved to grasp the same, we are positioning our team for success.

These are the nuts and bolts of defining a business process workflow. If you can give this information to your workflow consultant or developer on staff, they will be able to develop your workflow solution with the same quality and efficiency that you want to achieve with the installation of your new business process workflow solution.

For more information about our business process workflow consulting visit our website, blog home, and be sure to contact us.

Globalization, COVID-19, and Supply Chain Disruption

Globalization is great for business. Technology allows us to make calls, send emails, and board planes in order to attend meetings on the other side of the country and still be home by bedtime. Thanks to the ever-increasing developments in technology we can conduct business on the other side of the planet without leaving the comforts of our home office. As an entrepreneur myself, I could not run my business without the capacity for fast, international trade of goods and services. Yet it is this globalization that is proving to be the largest threat to supply chains during this time of crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

As borders are closed and people are confined to their homes, this virus has given us an excellent opportunity to discuss global dependencies, the effects of a pandemic, other emergency-based supply chain disruptors in the modern supply chain world, and hopefully to begin a very necessary discussion on risk mitigation. It starts with recognizing that international supplier dependency, though beneficial for profit margins, leaves supply chains exposed to risks that can be detrimental to the continuation of business operations.

What is Globalization?

Investopedia defines globalization as the spread of products, technology, information, and jobs across national borders and cultures. From a supply chain management perspective, we are talking about developing a supplier network that produces critical components of the manufacturer’s product outside of the manufacturer’s country of origin. Once upon a time this was simply not feasible. Now, the same improvements that we have been enjoying for the last several decades have made global trade not only possible, but also convenient in many cases.

Is this good or bad, and why does it matter? There are many benefits of developing a global supply chain that are mutually enjoyed by the supplier’s and the purchaser’s country of origin. Some examples include access to natural resources that are necessary for the production of goods, positive economic growth in developing countries, and lower cost human capital.

There are negative affects to consider as well. For example, without ethical checks and balances the benefits previously mentioned can often become harmful to the land and the people in developing regions. Globalization is often the secret sauce that allows for keeping prices low and the product accessible to its target market, however, globalization also creates a dependency on the stable flow of components and goods from places beyond the borders of the geographic target market. Each dependency is a risk. At some point, something will happen that will to affect the supply of goods and materials on a global scale, much like Coronavirus. Wars break out, accidents happen, natural disasters destroy, and international policy interferes.

Globalization and a World-Wide Pandemic

I want to reiterate that my goal is not to sensationalize the current situation. It is, however, to look at current circumstances and ask what we can learn for the benefit of our customers. Enter COVID-19. It is the infamous Coronavirus that playing all kinds of havoc in the stock market and at the grocery store. People are panic buying essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and food which is causing demand-based shortages. These shortages are the result of people pulling items through the distribution chain faster than what forecasters were able to predict.

Make no mistake, the Coronavirus pandemic is a unique occurrence and the global response is without precedent. The bottlenecks in the supply chain that it is causing, however, are not. In an article from The HillZach Budryk writes:

“A worsening coronavirus outbreak reportedly could threaten shortages of about one hundred and fifty prescription drugs, several of them with no alternatives. China’s role in supplying the ingredients used in medications means that decreased Chinese production capability amid the outbreaks could threaten supplies of the drugs.”

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/484276-coronavirus-outbreak-could-cause-shortages-of-150-drugs-report

What is going on? A disaster situation in China is affecting the world’s ability to obtain vital medication. What is the takeaway for supply chain professionals? Too much dependence on global suppliers exposes your business to vulnerabilities and risks that we have to mitigate strategically.

Tsunamis and Red Toyotas

We need a reality check. There is a gaping hole in the armor of major supply chains, and global pandemic is not the only threat. Natural disasters, local epidemics, labor strikes, and political instability are all events that have the potential to derail a smoothly operating supply chain with a moment’s notice.

In 2012 a destructive tsunami hit the shores of Japan. The nuclear power reactor at Fukushima covered by the media was heavily damaged by the catastrophe, but it was not the only structure affected. In an article from The Atlantic Lizzie O’Leary quotes from The Institute of Supply Chain Management CEO Tom Derry with regard to the incident citing that

“you couldn’t buy a red Toyota for months, because the one factory that made red pigment for Toyota was offline.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/supply-chains-and-coronavirus/608329/

There are larger problems than a lack of red Toyotas, but what if this were a critical component of an entire product line that suddenly disappeared? As a consumer it might annoy you, if you even noticed the shortage, but as someone who works for Toyota on this product line this could be devastating for your job and add extra stress to your personal life.

Paycheck to Paycheck

Consider for a moment how many people live within two missed paychecks of failing to make a mortgage payment. Much to miss O’Leary’s point, the current supply chain model that relies heavily on just-in-time delivery, outsourcing, and minimal margins places our businesses, and consequently our livelihoods, in the same dangerous position when we fail to account for these risks.

When uncontrollable circumstances keep a supplier from delivering a crucial component of the final product, your business has to react. Depending on cash flow, availability of substitute components, and the understanding of your customers, the results could be disastrous for you, your company, and those who normally purchase your goods and services. As we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain professionals need to give consideration to this reality. 

Putting It All Together

The topic of globalization can be extremely emotionally charged. It is often a discussion that takes places along clearly defined political party lines. There is a temptation here to throw personal attacks and engage in group think, neither of which are helpful.

What we need is to have an honest conversation about strategic supply chain management as we move forward from COVID-19 in the business world. There will always be risks in business. It is often said that without risks there are no rewards. While that is partially true, many executives have a job because businesses must anticipate risks and deal with them at the tactical and strategic level.

From the perspective of a supply chain professional, we need to consider international supplier dependencies as a risk. The Coronavirus pandemic is shedding light on many strategic weaknesses, and now supply chain professionals have to pause and think about what we are going to do with the information that is coming to light.

Supply chains are complex. There is no magic solution that will solve the problems of every supply chain overnight. However, for the sake of our loved ones, we supply chain professionals must begin the discussion on strategically managing the risks that comes with an overdependence on international trade because it is only a matter of time until the next supply chain disruptor starts to play havoc. 

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