Sara Ali is a Business Analyst at CapTech. Her recent focus and interest has been with process engineering and employing the concepts of Lean, Six Sigma, and BPMN. Ms. Ali is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, with a background in foreign affairs, economics, marketing and management.
Red Octagons and Diamonds – The Value of Standard Notation
Jun 29 2012
I grew up in Abu Dhabi, where the minimum driving age is 18 years old. Eager to be behind the wheel as soon as possible, I began taking driving lessons during my summers in Virginia, where I could start driving at 16. At age 18, transferring my knowledge of traffic signs and basic road etiquette in Virginia to that of Abu Dhabi was effortless. The red octagon with white letters S-T-O-P, was equivalent to the red octagon with the Arabic script for the same word. The sign cautioning me that a school crossing zone was ahead was the almost the same - in the United States, the boy and girl were wearing a pair of pants and a dress, respectively, while in the Middle East, the duo sported the cultural equivalent – a dishdasha and burqa. There was a standard notation of traffic rules across the two countries.
Across the IT industry, there is a push for standard notation, and the world of process engineering is not immune to this. CapTech has clients in various industries producing different types of goods and services. Yet, for a Process Analyst, the work is the same: document the processes and look for risks and opportunities. When the deliverable for each client has the same outcome - a set of documentation showing current- and future-state processes and the inputs, outputs, systems, and data involved - it is crucial to start looking at a way to standardize the way in which we communicate between ourselves, as well as the client. It is critical that everyone at the client site, ranging from the junior associate, who is just out of college, to the CEO with decades of experience, have the same answer to the question of: what does the diamond shape on a process map mean? There is a need for a common language, however, what is the value of this common language?
Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is one such form of standard notation, maintained by the Object Management Group (OMG). On their website, OMG lists the purpose of BPMN as a standard form of notation for internal business processes, which aids in the process to understand procedures across departments and collaborate to enhance transactions between the groups. This is the value of standard notation – to provide a language which allows an organization to enhance collaboration and look for greater interdepartmental integration within a company.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the need for standardization seems to grow exponentially. Not only is it important for consultants to have a standard notation to communicate to different clients, consultants need a standard notation for clients in different locations. Companies are no longer geographically restricted to the city they're headquartered in. To maintain a certain level of quality across locations, it is important to document processes and procedures, which can then be replicated or even reviewed for improvements. A process may occur in one branch of a company in one way, however, a different branch may yield a process that operates slightly differently, yet, in the long run, seems more efficient. None of this analysis can occur without standard notation or a common language to speak in across different parts of the company.
In driving, a person with no knowledge of another city but understanding of basic global traffic signs, can easily navigate the roads without crashing into a burqa-cladden woman because that person didn't realize there was a stop sign. The signs and symbols create a language, where a symbol has one and only one meaning. In the business world, standard notation provides this same purpose – a common language – however, the value is the ability to create collaborative efforts to increase integration and to enhance communication between parts of a company.