Process Architecture: Definition and Examples

Process architecture refers to the hierarchal design of processes and systems that are applied when transforming inputs into outputs. The term can be applied to computing, the processes businesses undertake, and project management to name but a few. In fact, it can describe any process or system of processes.

Now that we’ve seen that mouthful of a definition, we can easily understand why we find this term being used in so many contexts. But is it just a buzz word, or can you reap real rewards by capturing and analyzing current process architecture? The answer is a definite “yes.”

In this article, we’ll use simple, generic examples of process architecture, but as you read, do remember the breadth of the definition.

Why Process Architecture is More Complex Than It Seems on the Surface

When capturing and considering process architecture of any kind, it’s important to remember that no process, no matter how simple it may seem, exists in isolation. There are always factors that contribute to the process. Without these, transforming inputs into outputs would be impossible.

For example, making hot dogs may seem like the simplest process imaginable. The chef heats up a sausage, puts in a bun, wraps it, and hands it to the client in exchange for money. It’s easy, right?

But if we think about it in a little more depth, other processes are essential to the core process of making a hot dog. For example, before our hot dog vendor can get started, he has to undertake a purchasing process during which he buys hot dog rolls and sausages, packaging, and sauce.

He also needs to undertake processes that ensure an acceptable quality standard, and he needs to keep his hot-dog stand hygienic. And that’s not all. He also must take care of many other processes, such as ensuring he has the right change on hand, and so on.

If a hot dog vendor works with so many interdependent processes, you can be sure that more complex operations will involve even more processes – and if one of them isn’t working as it should, the final output will be flawed at best, impossible to attain at worst.

Why Understanding Process Architecture is so Important

We’ve already seen that interdependent processes are vital to producing an output from inputs. But processes also require energy, time, and space.

In the business context, the process architecture results in one output without which there is little point of being in business at all: profit. If we fail to understand the full process architecture that goes into making that profit, we are very likely wasting at least some of our inputs, energy, time, and space. And, of course, these wastes will have a negative influence on profits.

The same example could apply to almost any other type of process. The ultimate output is not only what we come up with after completing a process or set of processes. Rather, it is the benefit to ourselves that we are trying to accrue by undertaking it.

By picking up the flaws in sub-processes, we can fine-tune the overall process architecture, helping us to move towards the fulfillment of the goal we had in mind when we embarked on our undertaking.

The Benefits of Defining and Analyzing Process Architecture

The potential for maximizing profit is the primary reason why businesses undertake the study and analysis of process architecture. However, there are additional benefits that could be realized. Once again, our examples will focus on process architecture in the business context.

A full overview of all activities and how they relate to one another: When capturing all the processes that your business undertakes, you will be able to see which sub-processes or tasks add the most value. Any adjustments that can enhance these value-adding steps will have obvious benefits. You’ll also see how support functions enable the value-add – and which aspects of their activities have the least impact or even impose a burden on the value-adding activities that matter so much.

This allows for simplification: For example, when capturing an existing business process architecture, you may find that the administrative tasks that accompany value-adding activities are excessive. While some admin tasks and record-keeping activities are certainly necessary, you may spot unnecessary ones that are just diverting energy and financial resources away from the business.

This is particularly true of older businesses where systems and procedures have been added on top of others over the years. There may be duplication or steps that, while they seemed like a good idea at the time, now have no functional use.

Cutting costs: Needless complexity costs time, energy, and money. Cutting costs improves profit. Thus, simplification is a very worthwhile exercise.

Improving response times: When analyzing the process architecture, bottlenecks and resulting delays become apparent. Apart from saving time and money, businesses are able to improve the time it takes to move from one process element to the next.

Aligning regular activities with overall business strategies and goals: When surveying business process architecture, executives will constantly be asking themselves how various activities contribute towards organizational goals and strategies. Very often, they will identify areas where a few tweaks can improve that contribution.

Identifying opportunities for automation: Although automation will imply investment, the returns can range from the substantial to the astounding. Repetitive, highly uniform tasks that are seldom if ever open to variation are the most likely areas to explore automation options. The process of compiling payrolls is an excellent example. Instead of manually calculating hours worked and remuneration due, most businesses use some form of payroll software.

Easier training and onboarding: Whether appointing staff at executive or lower levels, helping them to see the way in which different processes or parts of processes contribute to what the business does is a big help. Not only does it provide a roadmap showing what must be done, and when, it also highlights the reasons why task performance is important to outputs.

Strategizing: Knowing where energy is being exerted helps with SWOT analysis and may influence strategic direction. For example, if a manufacturing concern with a diversified product range discovers that niche products are using up a disproportionate amount of effort and resources, the company can strategically redesign its product range. More resources are then diverted towards processes that yield better profits.

Predicting the impact of systems changes: When viewing a process in isolation, it is easy to make the mistake of implementing changes that will negatively affect dependant processes. Knowing just how each process affects subsequent ones limits the chances of this happening.

Capturing and Testing Process Architecture

Pen and paper are the old-fashioned way of capturing process architecture. As you can no doubt imagine, even relatively simplistic business models can generate files packed full of flow charts that are a chore to go through and piece together. Plus, there’s a massive gap between having process architecture for an entire organization on paper and seeing how it works in practice.

Digital tools simplify the process, and few of them are as useful as Tallyfy. Simply put, Tallyfy is a workflow engine, and since processes consist of workflows, it becomes a powerful tool for capturing and evaluating process architecture.

When you use Tallyfy, you not only set up processes and automate the transfer of tasks between one person or department and the next, you can also evaluate how it is working in real time. You can also model and test new processes before implementing them. With one of the benefits of studying an organization’s process architecture being opportunities for simplification, choosing a user-friendly, time-saving tool is the sensible thing to do.

Would you like to see how Tallyfy can help you to capture, adjust, and monitor the practical outcomes of process architecture? It’s as easy as getting started.

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– Dennis G. / Head of Operations / See more    stories


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