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How to Document Business Processes for the Best Outcome

Written By: Denise O'Berry
June 23, 2016
3 min read
How to Document Business Processes for the Best Outcome

Who does what when and how do they do it? An all important question for any business.

That means you have to document your business processes and improve them as your company grows. It’s never too early to start. Whether you’re a company of one, 100, or 1000, having your business processes documented can help.

So where do you start and how do you do it?

The Flowchart Process

Payroll Process Simple Flowchart Example

When a company is small and working hard just to get processes documented, it’s normal to use a basic flowcharting process just to get things down on paper.

Start by doing a brainstorm of all the processes in your company. Think in terms of those major processes that help your company function – sales process, customer service process, payment process, collections process, fulfillment process, hiring process, payroll process, etc. Then start breaking them down by identifying the steps that must occur for the process to have a successful outcome. Once you feel you have enough information, document them.

Using flowcharts to document processes is an easy first step and most people are familiar with them so there’s a short learning curve. As you ramp up, they can be used as learning tools to train new employees who come on board.

Here’s a sample of what the “Pay Employees” process might look like in flowchart form.

You could have an entire catalog of processes for your company.

But as your company grows and expands, simple flow charts just aren’t enough. Although they do a good job at defining how things flow, they don’t show who does what, how things are handed off between departments or staff, and whether there are duplications of effort or other inefficiencies that need to be fixed.

The Swim Lane Diagram – or Cross-Functional Process Map

That’s where the Swim Lane Diagram comes in handy. This type of flow chart shows how people or departments are interconnected and who “owns” what part of the process. Made popular in the 90s as the Rummler-Brache Method for performance improvement and also known as the Cross-functional Process Map, swim lanes have become a mainstay in the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) effort.

You might have been invited to a “swim lane meeting” and wondered what in the heck that was all about. It’s simply a meeting focused on documenting business processes in a swim lane format.

Why is it called a swim lane anyway? If you visualize a swimming pool at a swim meet where each competitor has their own roped off lane to swim in, that’s what this type of diagram looks like. Each lane identifies an individual, department, or function who has a role in the identified process. Steps of the process that are owned by that role are placed in their own swim lane.

Let’s take a look at the “Pay Employees” process in a swim lane format.


Notice how specific steps are now allocated to the role that performs them in the appropriate swim lane.

This format makes it much easier for you to identify steps that can be changed to improve the efficiency of the process. From here, you can create a “To Be” map that reflects those changes.

One thing to keep in mind is that the swim lane doesn’t show everything so you’ll want to dig deep to find and fix those hidden inefficiencies in the process as you move forward.

Written By: Denise O'Berry
Denise O’Berry gets a lot of joy from helping businesses improve day-to-day operations that impact the bottom line. Not only does her advice come from the heart, it comes from years of experience working as a team member, team leader, manager and owner of her own company. She has truly walked in your shoes. Find her at and on Twitter @deniseoberry.

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