Wondering how to capture your organization’s knowledge, experience, and procedures into a process model without accidentally setting everything on fire?Look no further! We at ProcessModel have been facilitating process improvement projects for a gazillion customers in a million different environments, and we’ve learned a thing or two about capturing processes correctly.

So grab a seat and a pen (or a laptop, if you’re feeling fancy), and get ready to learn the ins and outs of running a process capture workshop like a boss. Trust us; it’s not as hard as it sounds. Just add water and stir, and you’ll be well on your way to process modeling mastery

Capturing a Business Process:

The Best Approach (or How to Transform Your Grey Matter into Shiny Process Models)

Before the Meeting

Want to make your process discovery workshop a success? You better believe it starts with some good ol’ fashioned preparation. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Nail down the scope of the information/processes you want to model (or it will quickly get out of hand).
    • For example, for this project, the process starts with Sample Collection and ends with Results Posted.
  • Get the process owner’s blessing for your project and support for their team members to attend the workshop. OK, I severely understated this one. What actually needs to happen is that the process owner needs to create a “burning platform” communication – that is, “if we don’t put out the flames, we are all going to die.” Why does it need to be so dramatic? Because you will be touching sensitive areas, employees typically don’t feel comfortable sharing details. In their mind, you might point out a glaring inefficiency that will cost them their job. Or, they might already know the inefficiency and don’t want to see it change. In any event, ensure the leader communicating the “burning platform” communication controls all departments included in the process.
  • Things needed for data collectionHold your workshop for no more than 1 hour. Yes, you will have to be efficient, and we’ll show some tricks to make this possible. The subject matter experts are essential to the process. They will appreciate your effort to minimize their time requirement, and let’s not forget that we are giving you some great tips.
  • Invite the subject matter experts from the business area you’re modeling. Keep the number of attendees small (like less than six people small) to avoid chaos and unproductivity.
  • Send out an agenda and supporting information to explain why everyone’s invited (because people like to know what’s happening). Obviously, the last two items occur in the same communication.
  • Grab a small box, collect some materials, and get your computer ready to go (Painters tape (the blue stuff — holds tight, leaves no residue), Scotch tape loaded in a dispenser, three colors of sticky notes – 3” X 3” a least five pads of each, felt-tipped pens, ballpoint pens, and two large pieces of paper (3’ X 5’ rolled up and held tight with a rubberband – you don’t want it to get away from you)

Now, for the actual workshop

The purpose of the meeting is to provide process improvement by creating a model to capture the behavior of the current process, then using that model to simulate ideas to improve the employees’ jobs and make the company more competitive. Your workshop is a model of “how to collect” the information to make this process improvement possible. It has to look like you have done this a hundred times – so you might want to practice. For example, when you open your computer, it should have ProcessModel running with the proper model loaded. When you set up the room, “look the part” by being efficient in your movements.

Set Out the Equipment

It’s time to get crafty! Set down that computer and box of goodies, then pull out your trusty painter’s tape. Peel off four little strips of tape and stick them to the back of your right hand like a pro. Now grab a paper roll in your right hand, and pop off the rubber band. Hold the roll with the loose end on the left and place it on the wall (or any other suitable surface). Roll out about three inches, and then use your hand tape to secure the upper left corner. Now do the same for the lower left corner. Next, roll out the paper, and tape the upper right and lower right corners. And just like that, you’ve made an enormous mobile document in under 15 seconds without assistance! You’re a natural. Now just set out the rest of the box’s contents, and you’re all set for the “warmups.”

[Discussion Leader] Wait, you own a process modeling and simulation software company. Why are you suggesting we do this with paper and sticky notes? You’re going to be using ProcessModel and simulation soon enough. In the meantime, a few tricks provide faster capture, parallel work, and excellent group participation that you can’t duplicate with one person on a computer. So we’re going old school for the first phase. Read on, and you will see what I mean.


In less than 5 minutes, your need to accomplish the following:

  • Greetings, and thank everyone for making themselves available
  • Overview of the purpose of the meeting: The specific process, improve the process by creating a model to capture the current process’s behavior, then use that model to simulate ideas to enhance the employees’ jobs and make the company more competitive. State the levels to which specific KPIs must change.
  • Show a completed simulation running in ProcessModel, then open the output. Then, go back to the layout. Note wording on the model layout so they can have an example of how things are described (short names).
  • Describe the purpose: capture the process and participate in the potential improvement because they are experts.
  • Explain the Information and level of detail needed for a process model.

Play the Game

Capture the process using the following steps.

  1. Process flow – where things go and how long they take to process (work time). Only add detail if needed by a subsequent process. For example, if the process step Enter Customer Information has five fields and none of those fields change downstream processing, then there is no need to break out decisions for each entry.However, for example, if one of the questions is “Have you ever committed a felony,” then you will need to know the percentage of customers that answer that question YES, and add the detailed steps resulting from answering the previous question YES.Teach the process experts to keep the activity names short, using verb-noun descriptions whenever possible. Use notes to capture additional detail desired.For example, a process expert may want to write a detailed description such as:

    illegible tak call activity name
    As a result of your workshop, they might change the name of the activity to the following:

    legible take call activity
    In the model diagram, many of the details automatically become apparent. For example, the model will display the percentage sent to support and exiting the system—record extra information with a ballpoint pen to help the modeling process.

    Write each step in the process on a sticky note with a felt marker. If needed, add descriptive notes in pen. Then place the sticky note on the “wallpaper” in the approximate process order. Let them know they can add or move things at any time. Turn the group loose for a few minutes observing if they are on the right track. Stop the group, provide feedback, and teach them the concept of the “happy path” or what happens most often. The happy path is a top line in a process model. In addition, when they encounter a decision, select a different color post-it note to record the decision and then continue on the happy path.

    When finished with the happy path, return to the first decision. Follow the same pattern for the first decision path (you could have a decision on the decision path). This pattern of completing “paths” creates a focus that allows more capturing and less confusion.

    Once you start the process, you may need to ask questions to pull the group back on track or tackle challenging problems, but they will be very engaged and usually do a large part of the capture with minimal input from you.

    If different class members are familiar with other parts of the process, consider working in two groups. You may even need to roll out a second sheet.

  2. Draw the flow lines on the chart connecting the process steps. Have the group participate in establishing the correct flow. Move or add steps as needed. Walk them through what they have done. Sometimes it takes a stranger talking through the process out loud to uncover flaws. Be gracious in your comments and careful in your corrections.
  3. Does the system collect data for the process step? Can we access the data? Go through each process step and identify if the work time (or percentage) resides in electronic form. You are looking for raw data. It’s not the total time something sat in the activity, but rather the work content.If there is data for this activity, write DATA with a pen on the activity note. If we can access the data, write YES after DATA.Regardless of data availability, estimate the time for each activity by asking three questions.
    • What is the fastest time ever to complete this task (specify units)?
    • What is the most likely time to accomplish this task?
    • What is the longest it takes to do this task (remember to only count work content)?Write the time T(Min, Mode, Max)Some people will say they can’t estimate the time. If that is the case, have some fun with them. Ask, “do any of these items take a year (of work) to process?” Then proceed with the following times: six months, one month, a week, Twenty four hours, until they agree on a reasonable time. Yes, they can estimate the time.Suppose the times are complex, such as different products requiring additional time or the time changes based on the employee level of training. Note which process step requires this detail and who can supply this information, and move on. You can collect this information later.
  4. Describe the Arrivals – How and when do entities enter the process? Is there any system-captured data that provides the date and time of arrival? It simplifies conversion to ProcessModel if they have raw data, including date and time of arrival. Identify who has access to provide that data.
  5. Resources used for each processing step – Use a different color sticky note for the resources. Is the resource person, a group of people, or a piece of equipment? Draw lines from the resource sticky note to the places of use. Put the resource’s name on the sticky note with a felt pen. Write extra details in pen. If they don’t know an answer, ask who could answer the question, note that information on the “wallpaper,” and move on.How is the resource assigned to multiple activities? What shifts do the resources work? Eventually, you will need names, shifts, and wages, but see HR for the specifics. However, there is no nee