An Introduction to Business Process Normalization
Business Process Normalization is an analysis technique that leads to sound, modern business process and workflow structures.
Business analysts, process analysts, systems analysts, and process owners use Business Process Normalization to more effectively elicit, perceive, unequivocally define, and model sound, modern business process structures, and workflow configurations. Proficiency with this analysis technique benefits their process management, digital transformation, and regulatory compliance projects.
What is a Business Process Anyways?
For decades, business analysts, process analysts, and their projects’ stakeholders have tried to define business processes according to various characteristics. Business processes have been said to transform inputs into outputs. They can be decomposed into smaller parts. They start. They “flow”. They end. They have customers. They can cross organizational boundaries. They can be automated. They can be manual. They are measurable. While all those statements may be true, none of them are sufficient enough to elicit, perceive, and unequivocally define and produce high-quality business process structures.
There will be about as many points of view and opinions about what any business process is as there are stakeholders in that process, at least at the start of the process analysis. As always, business analysts and process analysts need to be able to consistently perceive processes and facilitate the journey of business process elicitation, definition, and modeling, with their stakeholders. However, the pace and the technologies of modern, digital transformation, low-code and no-code projects demand that business process and workflow elicitation, and definition be done in an efficient, competent way, instead of ad-hoc questioning and trial and error.
Times have changed
Traditional procedural notions and flowcharting notations have become archaic. They were invented in the days of procedural language programming – in the last millennium. Those notions don’t always work in today’s business and technical environments. Today’s distributed business structures (has anyone been working remotely recently?), technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge, mobility, and cloud computing services have radically modernized the business process landscape. Today, a high-quality business process structure is one that has been conceived, structured, and can be readily configured as a modern, collaborating network of event-driven, outcome-oriented services, not just as a sequential procedure.
The Universal Business Process Definition
Let’s look at housing. Any house, no matter its scale, degree of abstraction, location, building materials, and all its unique details, etc. must have a foundation, walls, and a roof to be a house. If it’s missing any of those, it is not acceptable as a house. And for obvious productivity and quality reasons, those basic structural elements are established first, before it is practical to invest time and money in a home’s other architectural, engineering or construction refinements.
The same is true for business processes and workflow structures. Any business process must have a sound, cohesive structure of basic elements to be considered a business process. Its basic structural elements should be elicited and consensus reached, before pursuing all of a process’s possible details and refinements. Even after all desired process refinements have been applied, the process will still have its defining structural elements. This holds true for any process structure or model at any degree of abstraction (i.e conceptual, logical, or configuration), a process’ scale, or the unique details about a business process or workflow.
So, what are the basic business process-defining elements? Paraphrasing the Universal Business Process Definition, any business process (i.e., business activity for that matter) is 1) a repeatable collection of work activities, 2) initiated in response to a business event that, 3) achieves an expected outcome, 4) for a customer of that process. These four common-sense rules define all processes, workflows, and activities regardless of a process’ or activity’s scale, the process model’s degree of abstraction, the overarching project methodology, the modeling participants, and the organizations and the technologies that will implement the process or workflow.
Uses of the Business Universal Business Process Definition
Business analysts and process analysts use the Universal Business Process Definition’s four common-sense rules throughout their business process modeling journey and they work out and arrive at high-quality, robust, predictable, and operational business process structures. They use it to guide their elicitation agendas with business stakeholders. They use it to frame their observations of business processes. They use it to normalize what they and their stakeholders have named as candidate processes. They use it to resolve ambiguity among stakeholders and to organize business activities into the optimal, modern business process and workflow structures. This is akin to understanding and applying the Business Normal Forms, long used by business analysts and systems analysts to work out and optimally organize data attributes into entities and to produce high-quality relational data structures.
The resulting business process structures are high-quality structures because they have been elicited, perceived, and defined by asking and answering the right questions. They can be implemented equally well as traditional sequential procedures or as today’s, distributed business structures and networked technical (like cloud services) architectures. As event-driven, outcome-oriented business process structures, they are consistent with modern networked, collaborative business relationships and cloud technologies.
Business Process Normalization
Business Process Normalization is the analysis technique of testing the contextual meaning of a candidate business process according to the Universal Business Process Definition’s four rules.
A business analyst or process analyst need not ask a lot of questions to normalize a business process or workflow. They only need to ask a few focused questions (four in fact) and doggedly pursue and gain consensus to the four, sometimes-elusive, answers. The assumed basic structure of a business process will either be affirmed or restructured by the answers to the normalization questions. If any of the four tests have not yet been satisfactorily answered, then the analyst will need to elicit more clarity to satisfactorily answer the four process-defining tests.
Once all four tests have been sufficiently answered, the process has been normalized. Ambiguities have been resolved. A sound, fundamental business process or workflow structure has been understood. The answers to the four tests can then be used to write a contextually accurate, unequivocal, plain-language process definition. No two processes will likely have the same definition within the same domain of analysis. The normalized process’s defining structure will be the foundation of a contextually accurate, high-quality business process model, configured business procedure, or automated workflow.
Benefits of Business Process Normalization
The benefits of using the four-part Universal Business Process Definition’s rules and the Business Process Normalization technique are that they are relevant for today, it is efficient, it boosts contextual quality, it minimizes redundant and non-value-adding activities, it aids in well-written process descriptions, and it improves the potential for reusable business services.
- Relevant for Modern Business Structures and Technologies. Processes that have been normalized according to the Universal Business Process Definition are event-driven and outcome-oriented. They are structured so that they can be readily implemented across enterprises’ geographies and boundaries. They are easily modeled using modern notations, like BPMN. They can be readily translated into modern networks of collaborating services (such as SaaS services in the cloud), just as well as traditional sequential procedures and workflow designs.
- Efficient – Whenever discovering and defining business processes among a group of stakeholders, it’s more effective to be asking the right questions than a lot of questions. The Universal Business Process Definition frames the elicitation and normalization agenda with four simple questions. The process modeling work comes down to doggedly pursuing and getting consensus to the questions’ answers among the right business stakeholders.
- Boosts Contextual Quality – Assuming that everyone will understand the same meaning for the name of a business process is insufficient. By normalizing a business process according to the Universal Business Process Definition’s four rules, the contextual knowledge and consensus about that process become unequivocal among readers of that definition.
- Minimizes Process Redundancy. An enterprise may have different processes that do the same thing. They are just named differently. Any two candidate business processes that, through process normalization, answer Business Process Normalization’s four tests with the same answers are very justifiably two different names for the same process. They should be closely re-examined to decide if one of them can be, in due course, feasibly eliminated.
- Minimizes Non-value-adding Activities. People, departments, and enterprises tend to propose or perform activities that they do, instead of what is needing to be done. The value of their activities toward achieving a process’ or workflow’s expected business outcome may be unclear. According to the Universal Business Process Definition, a process includes the activities that lead to a process’s expected outcome. Candidate activities that are not needed to achieve a process’s outcome should be closely re-examined and either be discarded, or they may belong in another process.
- Aides in Well-Written Business Process Descriptions. The answers to the four business process normalization questions can be simply written in plain-language sentences to form consistently written, clearly written, and contextually meaningful, process descriptions. (Examples of such process descriptions can be found here.)
- Improves Potential for Reusable Services – According to the Universal Business Process Definition, activities are themselves perceived and defined as event-driven and outcome-oriented processes. Each is defined in part and bounded by its initiating event and expected outcome. Because of this event and outcome-oriented structure, activities have the potential to be recognized as reusable services, which may be reused in more than one larger process.
Learn more …
You can establish or improve your business process modeling competence and learn the Business Process Normalization technique, by reading:
- Universal Process Modeling Procedure – The Practical Guide to High-Quality Business Process Models Using BPMN, (Metera, 2018, 2022). This how-to guide’s topics include the step-by-step Universal Business Process Modeling Procedure, razor-sharp elicitation agendas, the Universal Business Process Definition, Business Process Normalization, basic and refined process modeling patterns using BPMN, and Universal Business Process Model Quality Checklists.
- Find related topics at ProcessModelingAdvisor.com. The site’s purpose is to help you establish or improve your business process modeling competence. It includes articles, process model examples using BPMN, checklists, and access to out-of-the-box IIBA-endorsed and bespoke business process modeling training.
Copyright 2022, Edmund Metera
 Universal Process Modeling Procedure – The Practical Guide to High-Quality Business Process Models Using BPMN (Metera)
 Universal Process Modeling Procedure – The Practical Guide to High-Quality Business Process Models Using BPMN (Metera)
 The Data Modeling Handbook (Reingruber and Gregory)