Note From the Authors, Micheal Gispert, Accelirate Business Analyst, and Robert Booth, Accelirate Director of Process Discovery
Have Patience. Currently, everyone is trying to schedule their days as much as possible with meetings, do not disturb times, and any other tasks they have assigned. However, these times may come as a shock to many as working from home may be a new environment, one that will take some time to get used to. By being proactive in client engagements, you can overcome some of the delays that may arise due to the change in working conditions.
How to Continue Digital Transformation During WFH: Remote Process Design Documentation Tips
COVID-19 presents a unique situation where a significant portion of an Organizations workforce is now required to work from home unless being deemed “essential”. Working from home (WFH) without distraction is hard enough, couple that with multiple individuals in the same workspace such as children, college students, and partners or roommates, you can begin to see how productivity can be affected. However, digital transformation projects do not need to be put on pause, this article breaks down the best practices for deconstructing a business process, ultimately resulting in a Process Definition Document (PDD), into 4 easy steps. Following these instructions ensures that an organizations RPA program can continue to grow during this time of WFH whilst mitigating delays and increasing utilization.
- Process Analysis and Documentation
Traditionally speaking, a “kick-off” meeting with the business is how a business analyst for RPA begins the automation lifecycle, the analyst and the stakeholders discuss the process to be automated, identifying the respective SME (Subject Matter Expert) to be interviewed to gather the requirements. Preferably, this meeting would be in-person, however, in current times that is not a possibility. Instead, scheduling a remote meeting via Zoom, Teams, etc. will suffice and will ultimately lead to achieving the same objectives which are:
- Set Business/Provider Expectations
- Gather High-Level Process Context
- Identify SME’s for further interviews
Once the above items have been accomplished, the team can move forward with scheduling the SME Interview, which is the first (of potentially many) interview(s) where the “Current State” of the business process requirements are analyzed. The method in which the requirements are extracted can vary, however, in general, at Accelirate we follow this structure:
- High-Level Description
- Process Specifications
- Process Steps
Each SME interview is approached with the aforementioned structure in mind; depending on the size of the process, there may be multiple interviews required, however, they will always follow the same structure (i.e. Interview 1: High-Level Description/Process Specifications/Input were discussed, Interview 2: Process Steps were discussed, Interview 3 Outputs were discussed). The purpose of following this structure is to standardize the deliverables provided and minimize the risk of missing requirements, or not providing the optimal automation. To guarantee the desired automation results, it is best if SME interviews also follow some structured guidelines.
Best Practices for SME Interview(s):
- Schedule meetings promptly, with ample time to ensure the SME is prepared
- Record ALL MEETINGS and write reference notes by viewing recordings
- Prior to the end of the meeting, clarify with the SME, any/all assumptions or behaviors that have been agreed upon in current/previous meetings
- Do not take notes during the interview, pay attention, and refer to the recording for notes
- Have any/all follow-up questions answered at the beginning of each meeting
- Handling the Follow-up questions (If Applicable)
In regard to follow-up questions, the analyst should send an email with a list of questions for the SME to answer about their process. During these times, it is best for everyone to interact more and build a rapport with one another. Here at Accelirate, we prefer to handle follow-up interviews in a similar format as the initial SME interview; Schedule a meeting with the SME and have questions prepared beforehand. Follow these steps to ensure a successful follow-up interview.
- Send a meeting time to the SME with the follow-up questions attached. Assure the SME, he or she will be able to answer the questions in the meeting, however, be open to any other scenarios the SME would prefer
- Record the meeting and make sure to not take notes during the follow-up; fully listen to the SME during the meeting
- Be sure to allow the SME to complete explanations before asking any additional questions about variables that may arise from the original follow-up questions asked
Another note unique to our situation during COVID-19 is sometimes Wi-Fi connections can be spotty with multiple individuals using their own at home Wi-Fi connections. If the previous interviews had a spotty recording, ask the SME to showcase those specific process steps that were missed. It is understandable during this time that we have to adjust and accommodate; it’s better to ask for clarification rather than miss a crucial process step that will cause errors or dissatisfaction later when the automation is complete.
- Making Your Process Maps
Gathering process steps and creating a workflow map is the next step in completing a PDD. At Accelirate business analysts are responsible for identifying how a process can be separated into modules. This aids in creating a smooth, high-level overview of the as-is process. Our methodology for constructing the high-level map is as follows:
- Develop “swim lanes” to indicate different applications used in the process. “Swim Lanes” provide a clear linear depiction of the applications in use and which steps of the automation are executed in which application. You can have a swim lane to signify that you are using Excel, another for Outlook, etc.
- Include modules that the SME can easily identify the process steps that would be included for each one
- For any documents used in the process, utilize the document shape and color code it to your liking for organizational purposes
- Have the high-level map read from left to right to ensure clarity and standardization across documentation
Once the high-level map is accomplished, move onto fleshing out the process steps for the modules created. Have those maps read from left to right also, and if need be, create a module inside that map to perhaps highlight specific process steps.
- Collaboration with the PDD
Collaboration during these times are essential in keeping business partnerships alive. At Accelirate we value each of our clients and their needs, which is why we believe it is essential to collaborate with the client to accomplish the PDD. Typically, a PDD would be constructed and sent off to the client for review to either sign-off on or send back with revisions. Currently, we recommend having a virtual meeting where the two parties review the PDD together. Because all client interactions are virtual during WFH and cannot be in person, certain steps of the PDD process, like this one, that originally were executed via email should be done via virtual meeting to ensure nothing was missed and all parties are in agreement. During the meeting, cover the following items within the PDD:
- Verify the project scope is in line with what is to be automated
- Review all the assumptions; make sure everyone is on the same page
- Discuss any risks or constraints
- Verify any system changes on the client side that may happen throughout the automation development phase
- Review all inputs, outputs, and triggers
Once the meeting has concluded, send the document with any changes requested and have the client review on their own time for final approval. We recommend the clients utilize the comments section of Microsoft Word for ease of use. Finally, we at Accelirate recommend using a log of how the PDD has been altered since initial creation. It is an excellent way to showcase progress and makes it easy to revert to older version items if something was over-corrected or accidentally changed.
As we creep towards months of enduring WFH during COVID-19, let us all remember the goal of RPA; to aid workers in realizing their full potential, eliminate tedious work, and replace it with meaningful work. We feel these steps and tips are a good starting point for completing PDDs remotely, and during these tough times, let us lean on one another as business partners, and together work towards optimized business productivity and digital transformation.