Senaj Lelic is the managing director at oneAssist, a Microsoft-certified partner. oneAssist brings fun and joy to the way other companies work. They are experts in process documentation and data visualization and build custom Microsoft cloud solutions for products like Microsoft Visio, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft SharePoint that enhance customers' work through helpful work environments.
COVID-19 has made many organizations aware that they lack proper business process documentation (BPM). But even those with the right documentation felt unprepared for the dramatic upheaval the pandemic caused.
But why? For years, the general perception was that if you had your processes adequately documented and “knew” how the organization was supposed to work, you were prepared for any situation. But the pandemic taught us this is not necessarily true. For more than three decades, our team at oneAssist has helped educate and counsel companies to prepare for various disruptions, and now we want to share our expertise to assist you in today's environment.
What we learned was that those business processes lived “on paper” in idyllic flowcharts, connected data, and files. They assumed the best-case scenario and that all the people, systems, and non-human components in the organization operated as they should. But in reality, and especially in the face of a pandemic, those processes break down in the face of unexpected challenges.
So, what is the answer? How can you build business processes that account for the unprecedented?
The answer is, you can’t with BPM. You need a business continuity plan (BCP).
What is the difference between BPM and BCP? Basically, a BPM describes the desired way the organization works and performs with all its contributing components. It’s the foundation of your processes. We’ve long used and recommended Microsoft Visio to document and visualize business processes. Any process documentation is a “visualization code or language”; hence, we suggest using the BPMN or ISO standard within the cross-functional flowchart template in Visio, which comes out of the box with all Visio plans. But this is only a suggestion. The most important thing is that the process is easily understood in your organization, so choose the flowchart template that will resonate best with your team. Visio offers more than 325 templates, of which over 40 are flowcharts. Whichever template you choose, remember it will be the visual standard for all documentation types, be it BPM or BCP. Designing your BPM is the first step in building a robust BCP. Without the former, you can’t have the latter.
Once the BPM is in place, you need to get from that to a BCP. Doing this is straightforward.
The easiest way to start a BCP is to open the process you’ve already documented in Visio. You’ll then need to identify the critical steps and components—you can do this with any number of built-in Visio tools, like changing the shape color or adding an icon—estimate which of those could fail, and determine the possible causes of failure. After that, create a copy of the Visio file and add the failing component to the file name. For example, if your original BPM file name is, “production.vsdx” and you’ve identified parts delivery as the reason certain production parts are missing, rename the file to, “production-faileddelivery.vsdx.”
Working in the new file, you can now remodel the process so the failed component is replaced in a way that makes the process work again.
Store your processes in a place where others can securely access it, like Microsoft Teams or Microsoft SharePoint. You could even export the new file to Microsoft Word, which pastes each diagram component and its associated metadata separately so you can add additional written context next to it.
It may sound like every process needs a bunch of “shadow” variations that document the what-if scenarios. But in reality, you only need to do this for the core processes that are not inherently resilient. For example, IT systems, especially now with the cloud, are backed-up by design, so you can likely skip IT entirely.
But what about the rest? One simple approach could suffice.
Look over the processes that are not related to an IT system and check how often they failed in the last 12 months. If a process fails:
Now that the BPM and BCP processes are both in Visio, the next step is adding insights to critical process components. To do this, add a metadata element to the necessary component shapes, configure a data graphic element with a critical indicator (e.g., a flag), and turn it on for shapes/components so you immediately see what’s critical. The metadata you add can come from another underlying data source, like an org chart or cost sheet, and when that source changes the critical indicator you added will change too.
The second step for the BCP assessment should be the business impact. If the failure of this process only has minor consequences, a BCP is not needed. The larger the business impact of the process, the more likely it requires a BCP. Various components can have a significant business impact and can be located within and outside of your company. Some examples of business interruptions include delayed delivery of product parts, team member illness, or the breakdown of a machine, each of which can cause a process to fail and result in lost clients, missed revenue, and general disruptions to the company’s success.
Feel free to reach out to us if your company needs assistance building a BPM or BCP or would like more in-depth advice. We believe in times like these, every company should use its knowledge, skills, and expertise to help others prepare for and, more importantly, overcome challenges. We will be happy to assist you!
This is the first of two articles from our team about business continuity. Next week, we’ll consider whether the COVID-19 pandemic and all its challenges should part of or outside of traditional business process thinking and planning.
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