What is Process Analysis?
Business Dictionary defines Process Analysis as "a step-by-step breakdown of the phases of a process, used to convey the inputs, outputs, and operations that take place during each phase." A process analysis can be used to improve understanding of how the process operates, and to determine potential targets for process improvement through removing waste and increasing efficiency.
Process analysis is a form of technical writing and expository writing "designed to convey to the reader how a change takes place through a series of stages". While the traditional process analysis and a set of instructions are both organized chronologically, the reader of a process analysis is typically interested in understanding the chronological components of a system that operates largely without the reader's direct actions (such as how the body digests an apple), while the reader of a set of instructions intends to use the instructions in order to accomplish a specific, limited task (such as how to bake an apple pie). By contrast, the reader of a mechanism description is more interested in an object in space (such as the form and nutritional value of a particular kind of apple).
Process analysis is one of the most common types of analysis writing that you will encounter in business and in technical fields. Process analysis can directly result in changes to the process. If you were to analyze the process of order distribution at an underperforming fast-food restaurant, you could, for example, use the analysis to develop changes to improve the restaurant’s performance. Process analysis can be classified as descriptive and prescriptive.
Process Analysis Tools
When you want to understand a work process or some part of a process, these tools can help:
- Flowchart: A picture of the separate steps of a process in sequential order, including materials or services entering or leaving the process (inputs and outputs), decisions that must be made, people who become involved, time involved at each step, and/or process measurements.
- Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA): A step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service; studying the consequences, or effects, of those failures; and eliminating or reducing failures, starting with the highest-priority ones.
- MistakePproofing: The use of any automatic device or method that either makes it impossible for an error to occur or makes the error immediately obvious once it has occurred.
- Spaghetti Diagram: A spaghetti diagram is a visual representation using a continuous flow line tracing the path of an item or activity through a process. The continuous flow line enables process teams to identify redundancies in the workflow and opportunities to expedite process flow.
Process Analysis - Types and Aids
Aids to process analysis include:
- Visual process models, both static and dynamic
- Data collected at the beginning, duration, and end of key activities, lower-level processes, and the entire business process itself
- Business process analysis methods such as value chain analysis, end‐to‐end modeling, and functional decomposition.
Some typical process analyses are:
- Resource utilization
- Distribution analysis
- Cycle time analysis
- Cost analysis
- Software application usage
- Global/Local process variations.
Steps to Process Analysis
Here are the five steps you need to follow:
- Determine the process to analyze: Regardless of what bigger objective you are after, the first thing to do is to identify which process you are going to analyze. Typically, you would analyze business-critical processes. These would include processes that have a direct influence on the end product, revenue, expenses, and other critical components. You might also want to fix processes that you’re certain are underperforming. This would be an especially good choice if you want to carry out BPI. On the other hand, you could also analyze a new process you recently implemented, as a means of ensuring that it’s working as intended. When selecting the process to analyze, be sure to note the exact start and end points. Since processes can be really intertwined, your analysis might get messy and last forever.
- Collect the necessary information: Once you’ve settled on the process, you need to collect as much information as possible to analyze it. In this step, your main goal is to go through all the sources of information about the process, be it skimming the documentation or interviewing the people involved. Do not worry if it feels like you spend too much time on it or have too much information. Being thorough at this point of business process analysis will save you precious time in the future.
- Map the process: To be able to move on to the analysis, you have to put your findings into some structured form. Business process mapping involves visualization of the business process. When mapping the process, your goal is to filter all the relevant information you collected and present it in a neat and structured way. Business process mapping allows you to clearly visualize the process you are dealing with and better understand the roles of various stakeholders. It makes it much easier to see what works and what doesn’t, what risks are associated with various components of the process, and generally see the big picture. There are a number of ways to map a business process. You can go old-school and construct workflow diagrams and flowcharts. One benefit of this method is that it is available to anyone who can find a pen and paper or construct a diagram in MS Word. You can also use any of the common process mapping tools, be it a value stream map or SIPOC (Supplier Inputs Processes Outputs Customer) diagram, depending on your goal. You can also up your game and use workflow software. Unlike the pen-and-paper option, the software allows you to keep track of processes in real time, seeing whether there are any holdups or delays. It also allows for some degree of automation, as the software itself is in charge of making sure that the process is completed in a timely manner.
- Analyze the process: Now that you have all the needed information, it’s time for analysis. With all the data you’ve gathered at this point, you should already have a clear idea of what you can improve. To find even more potential improvements, however, you can also ask yourself such questions as What are the most important components of the process? What is their impact? Would improving just these components alone be enough? Are there any systematic delays or issues in the process? Can you see the reason why it happens? Is there a way to fix them? How big is their influence on the output? Does a particular component of the process require too many resources? Is there a way to change it? These are just a few of the questions to keep in mind. As you dig deeper, you will understand better what exactly needs to be taken care of.
- Determine potential improvements: The point of everything you’ve done so far is to understand how you can make your business process better. Using your findings from the previous steps, you can sort out the flaws and come up with potential improvements. The kind of improvements that would work for your business depends on your specific situation. There is no one size fits all solution, and you may need to go creative to come up with potential improvements. Make sure to keep in mind the long-term effects of any changes you’ll make – while something might seem amazing in the short term, it might turn out to be disastrous down the line. For example, by improving process speed, you might have also doubled the defect risk rate, which puts you back on square one. Depending on your findings, you might also decide whether you’re making small, modest changes to the process, or completely reengineering it. While the latter might take more resources and time, the effects can be very consequential.