Fundamentals of Process Mapping – Introducing Subprocesses Part 4

From what we have seen so far, we’d have 3 separate, but related process models. One for each of the following:

  • Buy a Book
  • Choose a Book
  • Pay for Book

Numbering the processes

Some of that was getting difficult to describe. The fact that Pay for Book is a process step in one diagram and a whole process was causing some difficulties in describing the relationship. I’d recommend reading through it again, slower this time, checking that you are certain which process step is being to referred to at each point.

Some standards help understanding by providing a key to each process step. The most common method is to assign a unique number to each process. The benefit of this is that you can define the process once (e.g. say we define “check stock level”) and then we can use it elsewhere as a process step (e.g. in an ordering, logistics or auditing processes).

Some standards help you navigate the hierarchy by assigning and set of numbers, e.g. everything at the top level has one number (1, 2, 3, 99, 123, etc). The next level down would have another point number so that all the process steps in process 1 would have numbers of 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and those in process 3 would have 3.1, 3.2. Down another level and we’d see labels such 1.1.1, 1.3.4 and 4.3.5. This does lean towards a parent-child relationship between processes. Not necessarily bad, but I prefer more freedom.

The more levels and the greater the complexity, the greater the need for a naming convention.

Reuse

By allowing processes to appear in other process maps, they can be reused. For instance, theScan Book process step above could be used elsewhere, e.g. to retrieve information about a book such as how many are in stock, price, different versions, etc. The process step would be the same in all processes.

Common Mistakes

  • The Process Start in a subprocess doesn’t relate to any process step in any other process map. So you’d never actually use this process.
  • The process overlaps with the previous or next process in the chain – as we saw earlier with the Scan Book process step.
  • The Process Ends (i.e. the outcomes of a process) for the subprocesses aren’t reflected in the higher-level processes.
  • Change in process mapping methods – giving a process step to a different analyst can result in that process step being described using different methods or no standards. This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but should be considered before responsibility for process mapping is delegated.

Why 3 Levels?

You don’t have to have 3 levels, they suited the early part of this article. It’s a common concept in a lot of domains. In Data-modelling, the hierarchy of Conceptual, Logical and Physical data models has long proved beneficial. Closer to the process domain, Alistair Cockburn was promoting multiple levels of Use Cases almost a decade ago.

When do you stop going smaller?

When everyone understands the process step without having to ask any questions.

For many clients, two levels is sufficient for the process analysts to be involved in; a high-level mapping of all the processes, then a more detailed view of each process. a 3rd level may be created for the more complex processes that require more analysis. Developers are likely to look for further detail, so either another level or different diagramming technique can be used.

Recap

  1. A process step can be described in more detail in its own process map
  2. Processes can be re-used in more than one process
  3. Process maps should contain sufficient information to relate to each other – using the Process Starts and Process Ends
  4. Different readers will have different ideas of how much detail they want to see
  5. The different levels of process maps can be used for different audiences
  6. As the number of processes and levels increases, the greater the need for a naming convention

Next Article

Notice that Buy a Book was written from the buyer’s perspective whereas Pay For Book was written from the Bookseller’s perspective. We’ll discuss how to handle that in the next article.

Which Diagram type?

All the diagrams above could be process maps. In some cases, especially with mapping the flow of user-interfaces, then UML Sequence Diagrams can be more useful than Activity Diagrams. I’ll explain why in a later article.

This is an article in the Fundamentals of Process Mapping online book provided by Alan Ward

Fundamentals of Process Mapping – Introducing Subprocesses Part 3

In the previous diagram, I’ve put two crosses, not part of any standard. I’ve used them to highlight what’s wrong with the Choose Book process as depicted above. The second of the crosses is easiest to explain.

The process step of Scan Book more properly belongs in the Pay for Book process. We can see it in the Pay For Book process, so let’s keep it there. If it’s also in the Choose Book process, then we’re duplicating actions. Someone following the overall process in the diagram above would end up scanning books twice. That’s not right.

The cross on Take to Pay Desk is more awkward and shows where we cross the boundary between science and art. Does Take to Pay Desk belong more to selecting a book or paying for it? My view is that it should be in Pay for Book. Since the book is chosen at the point that the customer picks up the book. Anything after that (apart from putting it back in the bookrack again) is beyond the scope of choosing a book. Two other scenarios come to mind that reinforce the fact that it’s in the wrong process above:

  • if they were going to steal the book, they wouldn’t take it to Pay Desk.
  • if they were going to read the book in the store, as is getting a lot more common-place in the UK, they wouldn’t need to take it to the Pay Desk.

In both the above scenarios, the process of Choose Book would still be relevant. In the second scenario, the customer would still have followed the Choose Book process.

I’ve simplified the diagram by removing the Take to Pay Desk and Scan Book process steps and inserting the Take to Pay Desk process step in the Pay for Book process.

Remember: you won’t see the processes on the same page. That’s just so I can present the relationships between them.

Process Mapping Fundamentals – Introducing Subprocesses Part 1

Introduction

Processes can be broken down into more detailed processes. In this article, I’ll take one of the process steps from the previous article and look in more detail about how it connects to the other components of the process.

Some Perspective

A key feature of any workflow system is that you should be able to look at the system from different levels, e.g. a director’s view of the system may only show 5 or so process steps and cover what it takes 10-200 people or more to perform. A user’s workflow will probably require several process maps, each relating to the different processes that they perform on a daily basis and some that are less frequent. The solution’s workflow could feature many process maps, perhaps describing the user interfaces and the core system’s interfaces with external solutions.

Each map communicates to its intended audience. That means that we, as analysts, have to write for that audience. Fortunately they all follow the same basic principles. They should all relate to each other, if they don’t, then there’s a gap that needs to be addressed.

Using the 3 levels above, we should be able to look at the director’s level process model and delve into the process steps. Say we look at the process step 1 in that model, we should be able to find a user-level process model that shows us the detail of that step. Similary when looking at the user-level process model, we should be able to look any process step and see more detail in the process described in the solution workflow.

So how do the processes fit together?

The first point to understand is that most process steps can be a processes in their own right, usually with more detail. Rather than have all that detail on every diagram, it’s more common to display a box for the process step and that refers to a more detailed process map for that step.

Let’s take the Buy a Book process from the previous example and work through that.

The Pay For Book process step includes a number of its own steps when it’s viewed as a process. We’ll take a very simple concept of paying by cash. The same principles apply to paying by credit card, just that there’s more involved in that process.


Like all of these processes, real-life is more complex. For instance, scanning the book would display the price on the till. There’s also more happening with process cash payment, e.g. what about giving change back? I’ve changed to yellow just so it’s easier to show the different levels in the following diagram.

The glue is the Process Start and Process End points. These connect to other processes.

Note the name of the Process Start? It’s the same text as the process step in the original Buy A Book process. When reading Buy a Book, you may want more detail about Pay for Book, so look for the process model entitled Pay For Book and it should have one Process Start with the same name. The End point again assumes that the process has been completed. If we were looking at more detail, it could be that the buyer couldn’t pay and so didn’t purchase a book. For the moment, we’ll leave that outcome.