Posted by: Adam Deane | 29/06/2011

BPM: Process Documentation

Process DocumentationSurely it can be done better than it is done today?

Process documentation is one of those “things” we all know is important, we all know is necessary… but to be honest… we don’t give a flying monkey about it. It’s boring… no one reads it (except for the writer)… its lots of words… attention spans aren’t what they used to be… information overload… must… read… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So the question is – Are we doomed to live with the current situation or will the social media/twitter/facebook revolution have an impact on the way process documentation is created and presented.

In a era when even the last defender of the written word, J.K.Rowling, has brought Harry Potter into the digital world with her magical Pottermore, In an era where ebooks are adding search and note-taking functionalities, where information sites have added interactive web experiences and gaming elements, where virtual world meets social networking……
Surely process documentation in the BPM world needs to change as well…

At least make the documentation more interesting, more visual.
Why can’t we have 3D documentation? Why can’t we have voice? Why can’t we have “minority report” type access to the information?

End-User Process Documentation:
Activity descriptions, tooltips, online help, printed documentation…
I don’t know about you, but I never ask people for directions when I’m driving, I never read instructions, I’m too lazy to hover above controls to read tooltips, I pay no attention to recommendations, I have no time to read long manuals … and I leave reading the process spec to phase 4 of the project (the outside-in approach)
You’d be amazed how many technical writers think that guys like me are a minority…

Design Process Documentation:
Companies stopped printing word files only when they started to feel comfortable with online document management systems.
The printing and generation of as-is/to-be process documentation will stop only when companies feel comfortable that their systems will enable them to pull out whatever they need whenever they need it. Unfortunately we are still not there yet.

Software Process Documentation:
Ever seen a software company that has up-to-date documentation?
(if you answered yes, it probably means that the software hasn’t changed in years… but that’s another problem)
What about BPM software… Is process documentation a tick-in-the-box?, is it user-friendly? Is it used at all?

Audit Trail Process Documentation:
Audit trails (time, activity, by who…) are slowly becoming more interesting. Nowadays you’ve got nifty 3D graphs, gauges and electronic reports, accessable to management and employees, showing realtime data.

Work Process Documentation:
Work process documentation probably gets the most stick.
For example, call centres have documented processes that they follow when answering your call:
“My internet doesn’t work” – Is the cable connected?
“Yes it is” – Please reboot your computer.
“Still doesn’t work” – Please reset your router …
“I want to speak to the supervisor” – “I’m sorry, he is currently busy..”
“$”£%%”%%”%”!!!!” – “Thank you sir, and have a very nice day”
You can hear them reciting the process documentation in front of them.

One of the ways to beat these systems is by beating the process.
Most UK call centres have a little known rule that forbids employees from putting the phone down before the caller does.
So basically.. If you are polite, dismiss offers to pass you to their manager, and just repeat “sorry, this is unacceptable” you have a good change of breaking their process (I did it once with ‘PC World’, 15 minutes and they gave in… )

Process documentation is important, but it’s low priorty in most organisations.
Even if documentation exists – is it used? Does it generate real value?
Process documentation needs a revamp. Surely it can be done better than it is done today…


  1. Adam

    Great blog. Call it process documentation and no one will read it. Not even the most enthusiast process geek. But it is clear that you need people to follow processes, particularly in highly regulated industries.

    So a couple of things need to change:

    1. call it something emotive; (brand it: How2, PACE, MyToyota, HitchHikersGuide)
    2. make it intuitive, easy, relevant and useful (ie not process diagrams or flowcharts)
    3. make it easy to find, first time (personalised and delivered onto the device the user wants; web, iPad, iPhone)
    4. make sure it is up to date (which requires process ownership and governance)

    Can that change behaviour? Absolutely. One client we have gets 6.2m hits per year on the ‘process documentation’. That is 4 hits per day PER PERSON in the entire organisation.

    Your conclusion is “Process documentation needs a revamp. Surely it can be done better than it is done today…”

    It is and it has been, but don’t look at the Business Analysis tools for inspiration. They are targeting different audience – process analysts and professionals.

    There is a new breed of process vendors who care about everything in your article. The future is already here, but it is unequally distributed.

  2. […] Deane raised some excellent points in a recent blog BPM : Process Documentation. He lamented that most process documentation is rarely read. And he is right. Call it process […]

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