Overview of Common Process Analysis Techniques

Kathy A.  Long
Kathy A. Long Global Upstream Process Architect, Shell Oil Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Kathy A. Long

Quite often, when process work enters the analysis phase, there is either a fair bit of confusion or (perhaps more typical) a lot of running forward with no direction.  At this point in a project, the effort of gathering process information is finished and people are eager to move on to the next phase of fixing/improving the process or redesigning it.  However, they know they "should" do some analysis first.  Sadly, the very approach that created problems in the process may be used at this point to analyze the problems, e.g., fire-fighting, checking the box, or "the way we've always done it" (whatever that is).  This is really unfortunate.  The highest Return On Investment (ROI) from a process improvement effort will be generated by excellent analysis.  Really good analysis of a process will uncover the real problems instead of the symptoms, the perceived problems, or the personal pain points.  Improving/changing a process based on the symptoms or pain points results in sub-optimization and frequently produces negative, unintended consequences.

For example, I recently sat in on a presentation by a group whose project objective was to solve the problem of not knowing who, how, or where to contact the staff in the event of an emergency situation (such as a hurricane in the Gulf).  They put together a very good presentation on their solution, which included compiling all the necessary information so that it would be readily available in the future.  That's a great idea, right?  Not really.  They missed the fundamental problem.  The real problem was that the assessment process that was supposed to ensure that there was a process in place when an "event" occurred to contact people was completely inadequate.  Otherwise, the problem would never have been a problem.  With their solution, they now have a contract list, but the next time an "event" occurs, if the people are different or their numbers have changed or the person responsible for actually doing the contacting is different or...  they will still have the same problem.  Had they done a proper job of analysis, they would have realized where the real problem was.  And by fixing that core problem they would have helped not only their own area of the business but several others as well since this safety assessment is an integral part of almost everything in their business.

Understanding the various analysis techniques won't necessarily fix this kind of problem, but it does provide a well-stocked tool kit to pull from when planning the analysis of current business processes.  This in turn results in higher quality, with more accurate and valuable results.

There are a multitude of analysis techniques that can be applied to business processes in an effort to determine what problems need to be addressed.  This article provides a brief overview of the most common and useful techniques.  Many of the techniques are referred to by different names in the various disciplines of process analysis.  The most common/generic names will be used although it should be noted that many of these techniques are also used in Continuous Improvement, Lean, and Six Sigma efforts but have acquired different names even though the techniques remain the same.  This can cause confusion for people who are new to process and process analysis efforts and it can create the impression that the Lean and Six Sigma concepts are new ideas.  In fact, the techniques in both disciples have been in existence and have been used by analysts for many years prior to the Lean and Six Sigma 'branding'.  A mapping of the original or most common name to the Lean or Six Sigma names will not be part of this article but will be included in follow-up articles that go into more detail.

 Focus on the "Right" Things

Often, just deciding on what to analyze creates a frustrating dilemma.  It's so easy to be distracted by the identified pain points and symptoms, making it very difficult to step back and view the information objectively.  There are no "silver bullets" for this but the following concepts should help.

  • First, address those things related to the KPIs, Goals, Objectives, and CSF for the project.  If these haven't been defined, define them:
    • Start with the basics — problems in the process and performance targets for the process often drive which type of analysis technique is used.
  • Remember that gap analysis drives much of the time spent in analysis.

  • Ask yourself, who, what, where, when, how, and why (5 times).

  • When choosing the approach and focus, some useful questions to ask are:
    • Is the flow correct effective, efficient, and adaptable?
    • Are there a lot of defects in the process?
    • Is there an overabundance of frustration?
    • Is there an excessive number of reviews and/or approvals?
    • Is anyone in control/accountable?
    • Are there any metrics or defined levels of acceptable outcomes?
    • Is there a "standard" way of working?
    • Are there appropriate controls in the process?
    • Are the activities/tasks/steps really necessary?
    • When the "unexpected" occurs, does it create a "train wreck"?

There are other questions, but hopefully this list will get you started and will help generate ideas for other appropriate questions to ask.

Process Analysis Techniques

There are a multitude of techniques that can be used to analyze processes. This is part of the problem too many choices. It has been my experience over that last twenty years that there are five techniques that should be used every time. Beyond that, the answers to the questions in the previous section, as well as common sense, help determine if other techniques will be necessary or useful.

Critical (5) Analysis Techniques

The critical five techniques are:

  1. Gap Analysis
  2. Value-Added Analysis
  3. Root Cause Analysis
  4. Observation
  5. Examining the Experience

The first three can be done in facilitated sessions.

Other Analysis Techniques

Other useful and frequently-used techniques include:

  • Critical Path Analysis
  • Scenarios
  • Customer Requirements Analysis
  • Matrices Analysis
  • Correlation Matrix
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Process Constraint Analysis
  • Cultural Factor Analysis
  • Customer Focus Groups
  • Supplier Feedback
  • Comparisons to Documented Procedures
  • Role Playing

The Critical (5) Analysis Techniques

  Gap Analysis Utilizing all Process/Activity Information

Gap analysis is one of the most useful types of analysis.  However, if complete information about the process isn't available to conduct this analysis then most of the value it should provide will be lost.  The complete information about process includes inputs, guides, outputs, and enablers.  This is not a new concept, although many people haven't seen it or haven't seen it in a long time.  It is part of the oldest modeling technique.  Definitions of each component follow.

Input:  something that is consumed by or transformed by an activity/process.

Guide:  something that determines why, how, or when an activity/process occurs but is not consumed.

Output:  something that is produced by or results from an activity/process.

Enabler:  something (person, facility, system, tools, equipment, asset, or other resource) utilized to perform the activity/process.

When analyzing gaps in the process from an input/output perspective, it is useful to consider the following items: 


  • Sequence of activities
  • Linear activities
  • Missing connections between activities
  • Feedback Loops
  • Unnecessary Reports
  • Handoffs
    • To/from wrong interface
    • Wrong format
    • Timing
    • Phantom-handoff that don't really exist but are assumed to exist
  • Direct interface with the customer
  • Activities performed redundantly in different parts of the organization


  • Restrictive policies & guidelines
  • Activities with experience as the only guide
  • Assumed policies
  • Lack of training, education, and/or knowledge/experience
  • Inappropriate or no measurements
  • Steps controlling others
  • No consistent process

Guides are the source for the greatest opportunity for improvement; therefore they should be carefully analyzed for:

  1. Legitimacy
  2. Accuracy
  3. Relevancy
  4. Appropriateness
  5. Value to the Customer/Business


  • Inadequate use of technology
    • Using an adding machine with Excel
    • Using a dictionary with Word
    • Creating Spreadsheets to analyze Enterprise Data
    • Creating Access Data Bases to store and update Enterprise Data
  • Lack of technology
  • Environmental or Facilities Issues
  • Human Performance Technology (HPT)
    • Lack of training, education, and/or knowledge/experience
    • Focuses on analyzing and improving human performance, on job design, training, motivation, and management system

  Value-Added Analysis

Value-added analysis is a detailed examination of every activity/task in a process to determine if it supports/contributes to customers'/stakeholders' requirements or needs.  To add value, a process/activity must produce an output that creates value for the customer, and the completion of the activity must be required to create that output.  The objective is to optimize the value-added steps and to minimize or eliminate non-value-added steps.  It is worthwhile for the team to identify the non-value-added actions as early in the analysis as possible.

The decision tree shown here depicts a very basic approach for the initial evaluation of the "Outputs from Activities."  Each activity should be evaluated for its true value to the process.  This technique can be used as a starting point in a facilitated session with the business.

Depending upon the discipline for "process improvement" that is being followed or implemented, the titles assigned to the three categories of value-add are:

  • Real Value-Added (RVA) — refers to activities that are essential to the process in order to meet the customers' expectations.

  • Business Value-Added (BVA) [Necessary Non-Value Added] — refers to activities essential to conducting business, such as policy and regulation compliance, that add cost to the process but do not add value from the customer's perspective.

  • Non Value-Added (NVA) — refers to activities that neither add value to the process from the customer's perspective nor are required to conduct business, such as storage, movement, rework, or approvals.

When evaluating the potential for value, activities are classified into the four phases of a typical process life cycle:  Plan, Execute, Review, and Adapt.  Furthermore, Plan can be broken down into planning (VA) and preparation (NVA) activities.  Execute can be broken down into execution (VA), storage (NVA), movement (NVA), and handling (NVA).  Review can be broken down into prevention (VA) and control (NVA).  Adapt can be broken down into prevention (VA) and processing defects and waste (NVA).

The Planning part of Plan and the Execution activities in Execute normally are considered value-add activities based on these definitions:

  • Planning:  the preparation of a detailed method that is formulated prior to execution, for doing or making something.  (The objective of planning is to reduce the chance of error and to minimize rework.)

  • Execution:  the transformation of information; the output of information; the delivery of a service that directly meets a stakeholder's needs. 

The verbs in the table below describe activities that are normally considered value-added.

Utilizing the concept of the process life cycle to evaluate value, the verbs used in the activity naming convention are the focal point.  This method examines the verbs that should be part of the verb-noun naming convention.  There are many verbs that indicate a strong potential for an activity to be non-value added from both the customer and business point of view.

As a key to identifying non-value-added actions, the following is a sample list of verbs or actions that are normally considered to be non-value-added.  This is a valuable method for creating the "top suspect" list.  This list can be used to ask more detailed questions, if necessary, regarding who, what, where, when, how, and why (5 times).


To change something to make it fit, conform, or suitable for use.


To give consent to someone or something as being good or satisfactory.


To set something apart from something else or mark it for a specific purpose.


To alter, substitute, or replace something with something else.


To put something in its proper order.


To gather things together for some purpose.


To make an imitation of an original thing.


To carry something and leave it at the proper place or places.


To give something out, scatter, or spread it out.


To take someone or something out; remove it or get rid of it.


To speed something up or make the progress easier.


To arrange something in order for future reference or to put it in its proper place or order.


To look at something carefully or examine it critically in order to detect flaws or errors.


To put someone or something into or on something else.


To keep something in good condition, position, or repair.


To determine or estimate the dimensions of something by the use of a standard.


To check on or regulate the performance of someone or something.


To change the place or position of something by pushing, carrying, or pulling it from one place or position to another.


To make arguments, ideas, texts, or accounts of something consistent and compatible with something else.


To put something back in good condition after damage or decay.


To express a wish or desire for something in a polite or formal way.


To bring, send, carry or put something back.


To examine or inspect something formally.


To read something over carefully and to correct, improve, or update it where necessary.


To choose or pick something from among several alternatives.

Sets up

To prepare something for future use.


To stop something on its journey through a process and hold it in a particular place.


To bring something up to date or make it conform to the most recent facts, methods, or ideas.


To test or check the accuracy or correctness of something through investigation, comparison with a standard, or reference to the facts.

Waits for

To stop and wait for someone or something to catch up.

  Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis:

  • Is used to perform a thorough analysis of a process in order define a problem;
  • Uses brainstorming to identify all possible causes and potential effects and impacts on customers/stakeholders;
  • Pinpoints main cause and identify key contributors until the "real" cause of the problem is identified.

This technique uses what is commonly called a "fishbone diagram," Ishikawa diagram, or "cause and effect diagram."  This diagram relates all possible causes to specific effects.  Finding the real root cause of an identified problem is not a science but rather a technique that repeatedly asks why things are the way they are.

In conducting root cause analysis, examine the following areas related to a process:

  • People
  • Materials
  • Equipment
  • Environment
  • Methods
  • Guides

Root Cause Analysis-Cause and Effect

Another technique often used to determine the "real" root cause is a Cause and Effect Matrix (or Table).  This technique identifies the potential cause or scenario where a problem occurs then records the most likely effects of that scenario for analysis.  For example:


  Observation Observing the Process ... "In Person"

One very important (but rarely applied) analysis technique is that of "observing the process."  This must be done in person.  As workers and workplaces have become more decentralized and many teams work in different locations, this has become very difficult to do, but that doesn't reduce the importance and value of the technique.  Nothing is as enlightening as actually seeing the work done.  More often than not, when people simply talk about how they perform their work, the description is more of a "should be" than it is a true representation of how the work is actually done.  Observing people at work confirms whether there is an accurate understanding of the current As-Is process. 

In a perfect world, it is best to see the work under various scenarios.  The list below represents various scenarios or approaches for seeing and understanding the "real" process activities.

  • Multiple scenarios from 'on-track' to 'train wreck'.
  • Be the transaction:  Become an order (or other inanimate object) and get processed, step-by-step.
  • Act as if you are a customer under different situations.
  • Find the pain.
  • Experience the delays and frustration.
  • Walk around:  Shadow.
  • Compare the perspectives captured from various individuals.
  • Note discrepancies for further analysis.
  • Validate the metrics.
  • Notice the office environment outside of the project scope.
  • Non-Value Added activities that have not been identified through facilitation or interviews are often readily apparent when observed.
  • Find the low-hanging fruit everyone walks on every day.

  Examining the Experience

Quite often the quickest way to reach a destination is not via the most obvious path.

All organizations have experienced and competent staff.  These individuals (who typically have 15+ years of experience) are a wealth of knowledge for a process analyst.  Their knowledge and experience is an integral part of why the business runs smoothly, even when the unexpected occurs.  These are the individuals who know how to expedite a six-week activity and make it happen in two days.  They intuitively know all of the non-value added activities and the policies, traditions, or culture that drives them.  A complete and accurate analysis of process is never complete without input from this group.


The analysis phase is often the phase where the focus of the improvement effort is lost as the goals and objectives are forgotten and the assumed problems are addressed and solved without due consideration given to whether these are the real problems.  Or it can be the phase that is given the least attention due the fact the initially-identified problems are the only problems to be solved and little or no actual analysis is done.  Yet, the analysis phase has the potential to provide the highest ROI of all the phases.  That includes the To-Be or redesign phase because if the real problems are not identified then the To-Be work may (unintentionally) actually design the same problems back into the processes.

The next article will cover the other analysis techniques and outline a variety of typical problems found in business processes and align those to the techniques introduced here.  It will also discuss which process modeling techniques are the most useful, depending on the type of problem and type of analysis being used.

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Standard citation for this article:

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Kathy A. Long, "Overview of Common Process Analysis Techniques" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 13, No. 12, (Dec. 2012)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2012/b679.html

About our Contributor:

Kathy  A. Long
Kathy A. Long Global Upstream Process Architect, Shell Oil

Ms. Long has twenty-five plus years of experience in all aspects of BPM as well as Continuous Improvement and Lean. She is certified as a Lean Office practitioner as well as a Kaizen facilitator. She is currently in the role of Global Process Architect responsible for Upstream Process Architecture. During past two years at Shell Kathy has managed projects which implemented a new Business Management System for the upstream business as well as designed and documented the majority of core business processes. Working closely with the Global Process Owners, Leads and Architects to create quality standards and fit for purpose processes.

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