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3 types of process design to help you map your business procedures

By: Leanne Armstrong

If a business process is how work gets done, then process design is simply a way of ensuring that work gets completed as consistently, efficiently, and impactfully as possible.

You can apply different types of process design to any area where you need to optimize workflow to meet your goals for performance or strategy. And while there are different types of process design you can use, the approach you take to mapping out your business procedures will depend largely on whether you’re formulating the steps in a process for the first time or revamping an existing workflow.


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Better process design, better process results

The main goal of process design is to consistently transform a defined set of resources into a specific outcome through a structured flow of established work tasks.

Of course, that’s not always as straightforward as it sounds.

Some processes must unfold as a strict series of events, some will occur simultaneously as part of a bigger system, and some will inevitably overlap with other workflows.

Fortunately, you can use different types of process design to clarify work purpose and parameters by:

  • Visually organizing the activities that make up a particular process or subprocesses
  • Defining the roles of workflow participants
  • Determining which resources must perform which tasks, in what order, under what conditions, and to what standard to achieve a particular goal

Applying the right process design ensures key business procedures are repeatable, allows you to predict costs and timing more accurately, and makes it easier to evaluate how changes to a process will affect its results.

Why use different types of process design?

Different approaches to process design serve different purposes. They may be categorized by the role a particular process plays in your organization, by its complexity, or by the goal it helps you accomplish.

The type of process design you use will ultimately depend on whether you want to:

  • Map out a new workflow or lay down an established process (process mapping or process documentation)
  • Create a single-stream flow of events or multiple, interconnected workflows (serial vs parallel process design)
  • Revise a current process by testing different workflow options to see which operates most efficiently (process improvement or process modeling)

Let’s see how choosing the most appropriate path to clear, predictable results will help you and your team achieve the best possible outcomes.

3 key types of process design

Broadly speaking, most business processes fall into one of two categories: primary or supportive.

  • Primary or operational processes create a customer-driven value stream for your organization. They could include order processing, client onboarding, or the manufacture of a product.
  • Support processes prop up your primary processes and may be driven by administrative, compliance, or legal requirements. They could include employee onboarding, expense report management, or safety training.

In either case, the process you design may include a straightforward chain of sequential events, or a compound system of workflows that contribute to your overall goal. Your first step, however, should be to determine whether you’ll be mapping out an entirely new process or overhauling one that already exists.

1. Process mapping

Process mapping is a catch-all design process that can be used in virtually any business scenario. It works especially well when you need to visually lay out the steps for a new process or for an established procedure that’s yet to be documented.

Mapping software like MindManager makes it easy to use flowcharts and other types of process design tools to illustrate:

  • The flow of activities required to carry out a particular process
  • Relationships between tasks, people, materials, and other resources
  • Various decision points along the way

Committing key processes to paper (figuratively speaking) allows you to share, track, analyze, and improve on them over time. And that offers big benefits whether you’re creating a process around a new product, service, or marketing initiative – or mapping established workflows for an employee training manual.

2. Serial vs Parallel process design

The processes you design for your business may be simple or complex, but you can capture their structures either way by organizing your workflow activities accordingly:

  • Serial process design lets you illustrate tasks that need to occur one after the other
  • Parallel process design lets you display interrelated activities that can – or should – be carried out simultaneously to save time or increase productivity

If you were designing the process for company webinar production, for example, your workflow might require choosing a topic and then a format, but the tasks of creating a script, contacting potential guests, and nailing down promotional tactics could all be carried out at once.

3. Process improvement

Laying out primary and support processes with the help of swim lane diagrams and other efficiency tools allows you to better evaluate workflow performance. And spotting weak points, bottlenecks, or redundancies in a process highlights where improvements can be made:

  • Are certain workflow tasks taking too long or costing too much? A design process focused on continuous improvement may help you conclude that automating certain steps is the solution. You could, for example, decide to introduce customer relationship management (CRM) software to follow up with new email subscribers, or an accounting app to capture invoice data digitally.
  • Have the goalposts for a particular process shifted? Taking a process modeling approach to process design lets you map out and test different workflow paths and outcomes. You could, for example, experiment with adapting your current event planning process to one that’s focused on virtual gatherings.

Basic business process design principles you should follow

Whether you’re creating, improving, or documenting a work process, you’ll have better success if you follow a few fundamental business process design principles.

To start, don’t forget that process design should always begin where work is actually being performed. In other words, make sure you optimize your business processes from the ground up by designing work flow around core value-adding activities.

Keep it simple. There’s no benefit to overcomplicating process design. Defining the customer’s or end user’s needs upfront will help you design the simplest approach to fully meeting those requirements every time a process is carried out.

Remember: a solution can be complete without being complex. Drilling down as far as you can in terms of the steps required to create consistent, repeatable value will help you avoid building unnecessary costs and delays into your process design.

View responsibility exchanges as potential weak spots. Take extra care around the points in a process where responsibility for certain activities changes hands between individuals, teams, or departments.

Every junction in a workflow is an opportunity for error to occur or a lapse in focus to set in. And it’s these handoff points where your process is most likely to run into work jams, interruptions, and holdups.

For best results:

  • Involve as few participants as possible in any process you design
  • Include a single point of contact for specific tasks where possible
  • Separate clustered activities out into parallel workflows

Evaluate before you automate. Don’t just assume that automating as many tasks as you can in a new or existing process will yield better results. Technology is an invaluable tool when it’s applied with both perception and intention. But no labor-saving app will make up for a poorly planned process.

To design or redesign your business procedure to be as efficient as possible, start by re-reading the principles above. Then use the versatile brainstorming, mapping, and modeling tools in MindManager to explore and evaluate your most promising workflow options.

Collaboration is critical when it comes to making the most of the various types of process design available to you. In fact, including the people who’ll be carrying out a particular process in its creation, review, and improvement is the most effective way to get valuable, implementable input.

Once you have a working model of your new business process, make sure everyone involved takes your prototype for a test drive so you can smooth out any wrinkles together.

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