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Four Things to Consider Before Mapping Processes for Software Requirements

January 4, 2019

by Frank Weiss
Strategic Consultant at POWER Engineers

#1: Wouldn’t it be Great to Manage Processes and Related Information Together?

The first of four articles regarding the use of process mapping in support of software projects, particularly GIS projects

Organizations often embark on business process mapping efforts in conjunction with new software projects.  The process flows help an organization to understand how their business will be affected by the deployment and identify opportunities for improving existing processes. A typical approach is to document the “As-Is” processes and then develop the expected “To-Be” processes resulting from the new project(s). Performing a gap analysis between the “As-Is” and “To-Be” states will help guide planning and decisions on staffing, training, testing, deployment, etc.

The information captured during the process mapping effort has value throughout the entire project lifecycle. This information drives business requirements, software requirements, process improvements, testing and change management efforts. However, significant challenges can occur when this information is captured in multiple places. Process steps may be captured visually in a diagramming software package like Visio, while process descriptions may be captured in various MS Word documents, and requirements may be captured in separate spreadsheets. This segmentation of information makes it difficult to create a consolidated view and poses a challenge to keeping all the information in sync when changes occur. Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep all this information in one place for easy reference and updating?

Business process modeling and design software is designed specifically to do just that. This software allows you to capture detailed information at the same time you are creating process flow diagrams. All the information is stored in one place, allowing you to directly access the information or generate reports to extract and disseminate the information. The same information captured and utilized as part of the process modeling exercise can be leveraged and re-used through all phases of the project lifecycle.

There are several vendors that offer business process mapping products. Some are free, some are moderately priced, and others sit on the higher end of the price spectrum. Some products are stand-alone, while others use a centralized database which facilitates collaboration and sharing. Some are mostly visual in nature, while others maintain more complex models behind the visual elements.

POWER Engineer’s Geospatial and Asset Management Division has standardized on Enterprise Architect[1] (EA) as the tool-of-choice for managing all this information. EA uses a database (called the repository) to store diagrams, process flows, element descriptions, requirements, systems and relationships. As such, it serves as the single source of truth for all this information.  All the information can be easily viewed and reported on from one location. Also, any updates are reflected across the entire model and any visual elements supported by the model.

The workflow image to the right is from a mockup of a mobile work application. The process begins with the dispatcher evaluating and prioritizing the outstanding work. The next step is to assign work to the appropriate crew. Artifacts used are the outstanding work assignments and the resultant crew assignments.

This looks like pretty standard stuff, until you double click on one of the process steps and see the image below.


Above you see information related to the activity which is stored in the repository. The information includes:
• A more detailed description of the activity (center arrow).
• Systems used to support that activity (right arrow).
• Other types of information related to the activity that may be easily accessed with a mouse click (left arrrow).

For example, clicking on requirements in the list will provide the display below.

In this manner you can keep descriptions, systems, requirements, constraints and link files related to each activity on the diagram. All this information is stored in the central repository, providing seamless access across the organization.

In Summary

The capture of business processes provides valuable information that will be repeatedly leveraged and updated throughout the entire project lifecycle, without resorting to duplication. Business process modeling and design software can provide a convenient mechanism for capturing, viewing, updating and reporting on this information. This single source of truth allows the information to be effectively utilized through the project lifecycle and provides the traceability so important to delivering a successful project.

Next in this series: #2: Sharing the Process Results with the Enterprise. I will discuss the various mechanisms for providing access to this data to others in your organization.

About the Author

Frank Weiss, P.E., is a strategic consultant in POWER Engineers’ Geospatial and Asset Management division. He has over 40 years’ experience in the utility business, including 19 years as a consultant. Frank has utilized his expertise to deliver solutions in engineering, operations, process reengineering and software implementation projects. His process mapping experience includes mobile workforce dispatch, T&D work management, outage restoration, energy market resource dispatch and GIS-based job design and posting.  If you have any questions or comments for Frank you can contact him at frank.weiss@powereng.com.

[1]Enterprise Architect is a software product developed and sold by Sparx Systems Inc. Note: there are many other tools provided by EA including Data Modeling, Use Case and Sequence Diagramming.