Process Analysis – A logical approach

One of the key constituents of Business Process Management (BPM) initiative is Process Analysis. The exercise usually commences during pre-inception or inception phase of a project (considering RUP). The participants comprise of process analysts (some call them process engineers) working with subject matter experts (SMEs) and senior management executives. The goal (vastly simplified) is to discover and map the AS IS process and then based on certain criteria, design the TO BE process(es).

An advantage of being a process analyst is the concession to pose certain types of questions to the senior management of large organizations – on subjects that few will otherwise discuss.  Allow me to defend my case for asking these seemingly naive questions, by drawing parallel from some common fallacies discussed in economic theory. Through these questions, a process analyst avoids the errors an economist or scientist does, when trying to arrive at conclusions of an experiment.

  • ‘Why should these activities occur in this particular sequence?’

The post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, is associated with the common notion ‘after this, therefore because of this’. In other words, ‘event B occurred after activity A, therefore activity A is the cause of event B’.

In organizational processes too, many such activities are performed (or avoided), because people ‘believe’ that they should be (or should not be) carried out in sequence. Whatever the reason for such beliefs, it is advised to analyze the process and ask this question until you get a convincing answer.

  • ‘What value does this activity add to the overall process?’

The fallacy of composition arises from the inference that, ‘since it is true for a part, therefore it is true for the whole’.

In describing organizational processes, how often have you heard, ‘Department A did that and they got great results, so we decided to implement it as a best practice across all departments’? Not that it is always wrong to make such decisions, however an analysis of benefit (and cost) is necessary. It is essential to ask this question to make sure that it will actually work for you.

  • ‘What if …?’ – Also known as ‘scenario analysis’ is a very useful tool for TO BE process design.

The trap of Correlation and Causation (also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy) is described best as ‘with this, therefore because of this’. That two events correlate does not automatically imply that one is the cause of the other.

Analysis of empirical data and events is often used to design processes. It is essential to identify the components (tasks, activities, participants etc.) of these processes and perform scenario ‘what if’ analysis by excluding, including and using different composition of components (or sometimes using different components altogether). Such exercises, when performed carefully and extensively, reduce the risk of falling into this well known trap.

These questions have rescued me on countless occasions from reaching erroneous conclusions. Properly executed, one will soon discover that they also help as effective navigation tools through the process mapping exercise. What other questions have you found helpful in analyzing processes?