Developing a solid implementation methodology is so critical to the overall success of a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) initiative. A comprehensive methodology, or framework, allows the business to iteratively improve on implementation cycles to drive greater quality, consistency, and repeatability. In this article, we will explore why the first step in RPA implementation, process documentation, is such an important and foundational element.
What is process documentation?
Process documentation is a step-by-step detailed account of the business process that is being automated. Within this documentation, every step that is taken by the employee to execute the business process to produce the desired outcomes is recorded in sequential order.
Documentation is typically conducted by a business analyst who will observe the process subject matter expert or process owner completing the process. The business analyst will ask questions along the way to ensure they accurately capture the process pathways that produce the desired outcomes.
What is captured in a process document?
Steps that are recorded in documentation can include opening an application, navigating to a URL, entering login credentials, selecting a menu item, clicking a button, entering text into a field, copying text from one field and pasting it into another, etc. The business analyst may also include simple exception handling within the documentation as well. Examples of this could include a pop-up window that occurs within the application, an error that displays when a number is entered into a text field, or the character count of a text field is set to certain character count.
Any step completed by the employee that is not captured in the documentation will not be included in the robot instructions. It is a common misconception that robots will “think” their way through process exceptions. While robots are capable of exception handling, they must be specifically instructed on how to handle them. Missing steps will cause a robot to halt execution as soon as they encounter the missing step in their instructions. This is why complete accuracy is so critical.
Why is documentation beneficial?
Process documentation is an RPA best practice that has a variety of benefits:
- Record of current process state – Having a record of a process in its current state prior to automation can be future reference point as the process evolves. The automation Center of Excellence (COE) can refer back to the initial documentation when a process is improved or re-engineered to plan out the change management required for the robot. It can also serve as a learning tool for new automation personnel to quickly get them up to speed with business processes.
- Identifying process issues – The process of documentation allows the RPA specialist, or business analyst, to identify problem areas in the process. Many times, through the course of documentation, it is discovered that a process would be an excellent candidate for process improvement or reconfiguration before being automated. Regardless, identifying problem processes before they are passed to an RPA engineer or promoted to a live environment should be a priority for every business.
- Facilitating robot development - Documentation captures the exact requirements that robots must execute against to produce the same outcomes as your employees do. RPA engineers typically do not have a deep understanding of the business processes being automated. Having this documentation on-hand facilitates development of the robot instructions (the “behind the scenes” code) as they can visualize the various pathways a process could take to produce the desired outcomes. Armed with this information, engineers can also build recoverability into the robot. Recoverability ensures that when a robot encounters something unexpected it knows what it should do next, who should be alerted, and where it should pick back up to retry processing the item once again.
- Driving quality and consistency - Quality in process documentation drives greater understanding of the process mechanics for every member of the automation team. Deeper process knowledge can accelerate implementation and yield robots of greater quality that do not have to reverse-engineered later on.
Documentation is not a mandatory step in robot development, but it’s a wise practice for businesses looking to minimize the learning curve and cost of development. It is also immensely valuable to have current-state documentation of business processes as companies embark on digital transformation.