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3 Steps to Successful Process Mining

Susan Coleman, Content Marketing Manager
January 26, 2022

Processes exist within organizations to help them carry out the tasks and activities necessary to keep the business running. But often, these processes don’t run as smoothly as they should. Inefficiencies creep in, certain activities take longer than necessary, or important steps are skipped altogether. How can you get at the root of the issues that are bogging down your processes to get them running more smoothly and efficiently? 

The old approach to process optimization is no longer enough.

One approach for evaluating a process is to interview the people responsible for its day-to-day tasks and activities. But this approach can be prone to error and bias, whether conscious or unconscious. Plus, in many modern organizations, processes are often complex and span many different departments, regions, and functions, making it almost impossible to gain a holistic view of what’s going on. Process mining technologies offer a solution by delivering a more accurate understanding of the activities taking place within your processes as well as a comprehensive view of complex processes, so you can better address both localized issues and broader inefficiencies.

Process mining is data-driven.

Process mining tools use the data that resides within your systems to map your processes with a level of accuracy you could never achieve with manual information-gathering methods. These tools use event data, which is generated by every activity that takes place within a process. For example, when a shipping company sends a package from point A to point B, a number of steps take place: creation of a unique number and barcode for the package, collection of payment for the shipment, logging of sender and recipient addresses, as well as frequent status updates and package scanning at the origination and destination sites and intermediary stops. Each of these activities generates event data that includes concise information about the activity, such as a description of the activity, when it took place, how long it took to complete, and other contextual and unique information that identifies that activity as part of a larger process. 

A process mining tool uses this event data to create a clear visualization of the process with all its steps. This visualization resembles a flow diagram, which makes it easy to spot areas for improvement, such as skipped steps, steps that take too long to complete, or idle time between activities.

This level of insight is a game-changer. No matter the size of your business, the complexity of your processes, or the number of people who touch the processes—there is always room for improvement. Every organization can take the following three steps to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Step 1: Define what you need to measure and why.

Before deploying a process mining tool, it’s important to ask:

  • Is the data sufficient enough in both quantity and quality for mining?
  • Does the data include timestamps?
  • Do you have management buy-in or an executive sponsor for the project?
  • Are the necessary resources available for the process mining project?
  • Are the necessary stakeholders, including process and data owners, specialists, and system experts, looped in?

After addressing these questions about the project’s human and technological aspects, the next step is to define what you hope to achieve from the process mining analysis. This can be anything from evaluating process performance against a set of KPIs, determining why users are having difficulty keeping up with their workloads, or investigating whether changes to your processes could lead to greater customer satisfaction. At this early stage, it’s helpful to formulate a reference or target process model that represents how the process should work once it’s fully optimized.

Step 2: Dig into the data.

If the data is complete and plentiful enough for a process mining project, it’s time to dig into it by running it through the process mining tool. At this stage, the technology does the heavy lifting. By using process data to map out all the tasks, activities, and transactions that occur within the process, you’ll have a much clearer, more accurate, and unbiased picture of what’s actually taking place during your process. The best advice here is to trust the results. Because the process map is based on data, rather than human input, it’s as reliable a depiction of your process as possible. It may uncover some uncomfortable truths, but that’s ultimately the purpose of the exercise. The data will show you where the issues lie, but it’s up to you to decide how to use these insights to improve your process.

Step 3: Analyze and evaluate the results.

With a complete process map, you now have a clear and concise visualization of all the steps involved in your process. This is your as-is state, which needs to be analyzed so you can make the most informed decisions about where to optimize. Here are some things you should look out for when conducting your analysis:

  • Process steps that are taking too long to complete. This could be a sign that the people involved in your process are carrying heavier workloads than they can manage, or that there’s an opportunity to use automation technologies to complete tasks that don’t require human intervention.
  • Skipped steps. Bypassing important steps can lead to security issues or noncompliance. These can include side-stepping management reviews, failing to check for proper certifications, or overlooking other vital details needed to complete the process thoroughly and accurately.
  • Idle time. When no work is actively taking place, the process stalls.
  • Any patterns where you find frequent occurrences of bottlenecks, escalations, or other circumstances that slow the process.
  • Overlapping or duplicate activities.
  • Unplanned activities. Perhaps the activity wasn’t adequately planned for or is unnecessary to the process.
  • Deviations from your reference or target process model.

Process mining is a first step to solving real business issues.

Process mining is just the beginning. By using technology rather than outdated manual methods to analyze your processes, you can gain a clearer picture of what’s going on within your operations at any given time and use solid, data-driven facts to create a blueprint for success.

Learn more about process mining technology and its benefits in the Appian Process Mining Guide.