Before I outline the different scenarios between the process narrative and process flowcharts, I want to provide some context to this discussion. I look at a process as something with repeatable steps where the steps are sequentially dependant on each other. A process narrative is mapping out a process in a step by step outline in a narrative form without graphics. I typically place the steps, who’s responsible and any notes in a customized template form in MS Word. This is done to improve understanding and readability. A process flowchart is similar in verbiage but takes on the form of a flowchart. This includes graphical shapes such as process, decision, sequential data, on-page and off-page reference and terminator. Due to the comfort level of MS Visio, I’ll use this application when creating or updating process flowcharts.
In my mind, there are at least two reasons why you map out a process: One, if it’s physically layed out, you can clearly see any “tweaks” or improvements to help ensure it’s more efficient moving forward. Second, seeing the process step by step may help you address those potential risks or gaps in the current operation.
1. During the process documentation gathering, if you inherit existing flowcharts and you’re able to add the notes and potential control points to the flowcharts without any narrative, it may suffice to just having this process displayed in the flowchart manner.
2. If you inherit process narratives from other projects on the subject and you’re able to create an accurate and complete narrative without mapping it out through MS Visio, you may not need building process flowcharts. Of course, it’s quite important to ensure your client is fine with this agreement.
3. If you write a process narrative and add it to the table template but you may need to visually map it out to assist with notes, understanding or a possible process improvement, consider using both options. Sometimes, putting together the narrative helps the flowcharts and vice versa.
4. If your client is trying to understand all documented processes through visual diagrams and also likes to see the process in a narrative form, you may consider doing both. Of course, you may need to factor in how many processes you’re considering. If you have to document 8 or 10 processes for one department or product, it may not be cost effective to create both the narrative and visual flowcharts for all processes. There may just be some key processes where you do both.
5. If you are working with a number of clients on the documentation project and you find one or more clients prefer the process narrative and others clients prefer the visual, you may want to consider doing both. Of course, if there are many processes to document, for some of them, you may want to choose either channel.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. The key is effective communication with your clients. Explain your philosophy and approach and you will try to meet their needs as much as possible. At the same time, it’s important to be prudent and not do additional work to solely make the document look pretty or more complete. It’s important to call out control points, risks, or gaps within the process. It’s also important to “pick apart” the process once it’s documented in the hope of streamlining it at some point. Create a process document that any client, employee or auditor would be able to easily understand.