Process Documentation – A Modern Approach

Every organization aspires to grow with time. The most common hurdle faced by an organization in the path of scalability is the absence of proper processes and systems. To overcome this, an organization needs to adopt a standard approach to business process creation and documentation. All business processes should be documented in a systematic way to remove operational ambiguity and to serve as a training reference for all the process users. This meets the organization’s current and future needs of achieving a desired business output in a methodical and replicable fashion.

The New Way of Process Documentation

Over the years process flowchart preparation has undergone a sea change in its approach. The traditional approach to process flowcharting covers the sequence of events in a process by including all the exceptions in the path. Today flowcharts should present the desired flow of the process without the exceptions. The exceptions are presented in a separate section below the flowchart. Some of the exceptions that are lengthy and difficult to manage are detailed as a separate process altogether for better understanding. The difference between the new approach and the old approach of process documentation is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: A Comparison of Approaches to Process Documentation
Traditional Approach to Process Documentation New Approach to Process Documentation
Graphically represents the entire sequence of events in a process – including the flow exceptions Graphically represents the desired sequence of events in a process – minus decision boxes and exceptions
Exceptions are presented within the process flowchart Exceptions are presented in the process description section below the flowchart
Exceptions that are lengthy are covered within the main process flowchart making it cumbersome and difficult to understand Exceptions that are lengthy and have a unique flow are detailed as a separate process
Does not identify improvements in the current flow readily Identifies immediate improvements in the existing process
Lean cannot be implemented easily as documentation does not readily identify improvements Lean solutions to eliminate waste can be easily implemented
Difficult to understand and implement because it is bulky and complex Easy to understand and implement
Has been made redundant by Lean experts and process writers because all exclusions can never be covered in totality in process flowcharts The preferred way of documentation for Lean experts and process writers
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Advantages of the New Approach

The new approach, as opposed to the traditional approach of covering all exceptions within the flowchart, has several advantages. They are:

  1. Referenceability: The output of this approach is a neat document which is easily referenced – unlike the cluttered bulky document, produced by the traditional approach, which is confusing and difficult to follow.
  2. Management: The process documents (containing process flowcharts and process descriptions as well as key process indicators, escalation matrix, glossary, etc.) produced by the modern approach can be easily managed as they are not as cumbersome compared to those produced through the traditional approach.
  3. Dynamic exception addition: Making process flowcharts without decision boxes gives an opportunity to the process owners to include exceptions dynamically. The exceptions can be easily listed in the process description without changing the flowchart. This is particularly useful for processes with a large number of exceptions that are discovered as the process matures.
  4. Implementation: This approach is easier to follow from the implementation point of view.
  5. Handling of new versions: It enables ease of handling of newer versions of the processes (created due to modifications in the existing sequence) as the basic flow fundamentally remains constant.
  6. Continuous improvement through Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): It presents an opportunity to the team to do FMEA on all of the process boxes separately and ensures all the exceptions are mitigated with the appropriate solutions.
  7. Continuous improvement through Lean: Lean can be more easily deployed in this approach than in the traditional approach.
  8. Visualization: The flowchart in this approach gives a one-shot view of the process steps and registers more significantly in the minds of the process users.

Example: New Service Connection Process

The figure below is an example of a process flowchart done with the modern approach. It details all of the steps in a new service connection (NSC) process in a power management company.

Example of Modern Business Process Flowchart (Click to Enlarge)

Example of Modern Business Process Flowchart (Click to Enlarge)

This flowchart describes a cross-functional process flow establishing clear-cut accountability for each business function. The business function that has the maximum number of activity boxes becomes the “process owner function.” The accountability of an activity box, which is critical in the overall process, stays with the process owner function even if it is to be performed by another business function. The process owner function remains responsible to create mechanisms (in the form of metrics, dashboards, etc.) to bring transparency into those particular steps.

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In this flowchart the NSC team was the process owner function as the customer documentation was outsourced to a documentation agency, which was managed internally by the NSC team. The activity “Do the dedup [deduplication], basic details captured” was critical but was being performed by a different function. Here the NSC team brought in transparency with system-driven checks and measures so that when the details of the customer were entered, dedup happened automatically and the consumer number was generated through the IT system.

The activity boxes that could be automated in the future were color coded (yellow) to clearly display out the IT system requirements. Moreover, there was a need for standardization of some activities in the existing flow for eliminating occurrence of errors in that step. These were color-coded as well (blue). The mapping allowed for readily recognized areas for implementing mistake-proofing solutions through Lean. The activity box “FE collects and verifies the documents” was identified as a step which could generate maximum errors if not done properly. The Lean solution, which was implemented to counter this pain area, was preparation of an activity checklist that is mandatory for the FE to fill up during the visit to complete the document collection and verification.

The procedure to handle the exceptions are not covered within the flowchart but are explained in an accompanying table, an excerpt of which is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Examples of Guidelines for Exception Handling
Exception Process of Handling the Exception
Customer does not make the payment of the demand note
  • Due date + 1 day = Auto SMS to applicant informing them that they have missed the due date of the demand note payment
  • Call to customer if demand note is not paid 2 days after the due date till 7 days after the due date (maximum 3 call attempts)
  • In case the applicant does not make payment of the demand note within 30 days from the due date, the NSC request expires. In this case, if an applicant wants the service connection after the date of expiration of request number, the NSC request process will start from the beginning.
TF report – not feasible Site is not ready

  • Guide applicant about the readiness and what is pending at the site
  • Send the case to the planning team for next steps

Load falls in these ranges:

  1. Greater than 7.5 KW and less than 20 KW
  2. Greater than 20 KW and less than 150 KW
  3. Greater than 150 KW

Case is sent to planning team, which will judge the requirements (e.g., civil work, access, transformer availability to assess from where connection needs to be allocated, etc.) based on the category in which the load falls and implement the appropriate course of action for the range.

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Business process creation, optimization and detailed documentation are indispensable for an organization’s sustenance and growth. Voluminous process documents prepared by a traditional approach (which are rarely referred to after their creation) are archaic. The new approach of process documentation gives businesses a definite edge in process adherence and maintenance. The key process indicators defined on the process can be used to track the performance of the business in various areas and an action plan can be put in place to address any issues.

Comments 12

  1. Punnyabrata Chakraborty

    Thank you Debasmita for the excellent article on such an important topic. This helps laymen like me to develop SOP in a more meaningful manner.

  2. leejae guevarra


    Thank you for the informative article, this will help me introduce a better way and a business user friendly version of work flow to our clients.

  3. Indresh

    Most often we start making processes around exceptions which happen not more than 15% of the time. The decision boxes always makes the reader think of what all can happen as an exception than focusing on learning how process flows normally.
    The one shot view gives clear visibility of critical steps where error and waste starts to put robust measures. These measures eventually should be kra of people.
    At the end of the year we re look as to how many boxes have been removed or tat reduced to make it leaner.

  4. Nisha W

    Excellent article on process documentation. I am QA professional and I believe every process should be properly documented in a way that it will help any user.

  5. Inn-LeanDesign

    Your approach make easily to draw the flowchart but the process to draw before improvement is the real state not the desire. I prefer to draw the full process including the loop occurring mire than 5% of the time.

  6. CA Atul Nandrekar

    Great work Debasmita!
    Your presentation style (use of varied colors, abbreviations etc.) made so called complex & lengthy flowchart easy to understand. Very much informative!

  7. Michel Simard

    I think this is an interesting way of presenting a process. It gets people to focus on the standard process rather than all the exceptions which complicates things needlessly when you are trying to map a process. Presenting the exceptions in a table instead of capturing them in decision points makes it easier to explain them and gives them their proper place, seperate from the standard process.

  8. Richard Lewis

    This is a better approach and good article. Keeps the clutter out, but not lost…they are indeed separate decisions and often outside the main process.

  9. Ramalakshmanan S

    Well written article Debasmita. The new approach in documenting the SOP is elegant and easy to refer and follow. However, the decision boxes are excluded from the flow chart and exceptions are detailed. What are the alternatives for handling this missing piece ‘Decision boxes?’.

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