The first step in delivering a program of change is arriving at a common understanding of the terms and definitions we will use to describe the work we are trying to model. Done too fast without early conversations could have names and definitions being embedded into the code base and take years to reconcile.
In this article, I will provide some guidance on naming business processes and the benefits of each of the tips. The goal is to write business processes so that they are:
- Discrete – We can determine where they start and end.
- Identifiable – We can point out instances of the same process and can track them.
- Countable – We can determine the number of times the process was completed.
Structure of the Name
Business Analyst veterans will propose the name is created in a Verb-Noun format. This helps establish boundaries of the business process. If the boundaries are not properly established then it is difficult to determine where one process ends and another begins.
The process is complete when the Noun is Verbed. The process names in the example may have a customer paying a bill. Naming the process as “Pay Bill” results in “Bill is Paid” or a “Claim is Approved”.
Note: Do not name the process using a plural. We want discrete, countable instancesof the process so they can be identified and tracked. The Verb-Noun naming is quite metric friendly!
The Mushy Verb – Avoid These
This brings us to the verbs that can make conversations on processes go into 50 Shades of Grey without any suspense and excitement! In our example with “Manage Customer”, we would struggle to understand what work was done? What was the outcome or objective we wanted to achieve with the process?
PHB: How many customers did you manage today?
Support Team Member: We managed 53 customers today!
PHB: So… what did you do?
Support Team Member: Jimmy told them jokes, I gave a few of them hugs, Sally made some of them lemonade when they came into the office…
PHB: Did you actually sell them anything?
Support Team Member: The instruction was to manage them, so that’s what we did!
PHB: Who created the metric?
Support Team Member: You did! You made it clear to manage them. Did you want us to sell to them?
The moral is to name the business processes so they are specific and measurable, which is important for creating SMART objectives from these processes.
Decompose the Mushy Verb
Mushy verbs are not too difficult to break down into their component elements. A mushy verb can be used to define a family of processes, however, when it comes to specific measures we will need to drill down into further granularity to provide clarity regarding the work that was completed.
In the diagram above the mushy verb is analyzed further. The first technique I use is to look at the noun in the process name and identify a life cycle that the noun goes through. In the example, we have “Customer”. At some point in time, the customer will no longer be a customer, for various reasons. We look at the stages of the customer’s relationship with the business and pick the important events that we want to track.
In the example above we:
- Register Customer
- Provide Service to Customer
- Retire Customer
Each of these process activities will satisfy our conditions in that the business process is discrete, identifiable and countable.
We can go deeper and look at the service cycle with the customer where a service is provided, the customer invoiced then payment received. As a facilitation note, only go deep enough to advance the process to the next step in the overall flow. Flow first, detail later will save you hours of meeting time!
Lastly, if you do go deeper into progressive detail you may find yourself writing very specific operating procedures for the process. At the procedural level, the verb-noun naming format no longer applies as the specific task needs to be explained in detail so that someone can follow it. Those sequences of tasks can be labeled with a verb-noun descriptor, thus creating a business process for those procedures.