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as-is versus to-be blackboard

As-Is vs To-Be: Where do you start?

Have you ever kicked off a process workshop only for someone to ask “are we mapping what happens today or how we want it to be in the future?” There follows a long debate about the merits of mapping As-Is or jumping straight into the To-Be.

The debate not only eats into the valuable time you’ve made for the workshop but it confuses people that are not familiar with these terms. This important workshop hasn’t got off to a good start!

Whatever the reason you are mapping processes it is essential that you are clear on whether you are mapping the As-Is or the To-Be. In this article we explore the difference between As-Is and To-Be and provide a series of questions to ask yourself to help decide.

We’ll help you determine whether you need to start mapping the As-Is process or whether it’s safe to jump straight to the To-Be. With this information you can confidently agree the approach BEFORE you start working on the processes and avoid distracting and time consuming debates at the beginning of a workshop.

Need to start mapping your As-Is Process? Read our guide here >>

Jumping straight to your To-Be design? Read our how to map a To-Be process guide here>>

What do we mean by As-Is and To-Be?

Let’s go back to the very beginning and make sure we’re clear about how we define As Is and To Be. In this case we are talking about business processes and the need to map and understand them. 

As-Is process mapping is about understanding the here and now. It tries to answer the question;

  • What is happening in this process right now?
  • How does it work today?

As-Is process mapping is also known as the Current State and can include lots of other information about the business.

To-Be process mapping is where we start to explore the future. This time it’s trying to answer the question; 

  • How should this process work tomorrow?

You may hear To-Be process mapping called Process Design, or Future State mapping. It might be that we are making minor improvements to an existing process, or designing a process that doesn’t even exist today.

The disagreement many have is whether there is value in spending time documenting the As-Is or whether you should jump straight to the To-Be. As we discuss today this decision really depends on the individual project but it’s up to you to make that clear from the beginning. 

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Why are you mapping processes?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is – what are you mapping these processes for? These typically break down into the following types of process mapping; 

  • investigation to see what can be improved 
  • documenting for compliance / quality / training reasons,
  • understanding requirements for an improvement or designing a completely new process.

Be aware that only designing a completely new process can legitimately have a case for going straight to a To-Be. Even if this is the case, you’d need to do some investigation beforehand to understand what the business already knows about this area. You may need to understand if there are any constraints but this doesn’t necessarily require process mapping.

Mapping processes purely for the purpose of creating and maintaining documentation, such as for training or consistency reasons suggests an As-Is approach. However, you may well be documenting processes for the first time. In which case you are capturing As-Is processes but with small improvements as the teams come together and learn from each other and discuss the best way to do things. You are building a future state process but I tend to call the As-Is Plus.

Want to learn more about process mapping and how to make it easier for people across your business? Check out our process mapping guide here.

The other two types of project, investigation and requirements gathering absolutely need some degree of As-Is capture and analysis. And it’s perhaps here that most will argue over the need for one versus the other.

The problem is really in the perceived value of conducting the exercise. It’s time consuming and focuses too much on the past when everyone is excited about the future of the project. However, it is important for us to understand the here and now so we can understand what needs to change.

So any project that aims to change the way something works today really needs some level of As-Is understanding.

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Do we really understand today’s problems?

Building a shared understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve is essential for success. When we understand today’s problems people will buy into the need for change. However one of the biggest challenges here is whether people have the same perception of those problems.

People normally describe problems in terms of the symptoms they experience. As analysts, part of our job is to help identify the root cause of those problems. But if we do that away from the stakeholders they will still see the symptoms they experience as different problems. Our job is to show stakeholders how a solution will solve the problem and relieve their symptoms.

One of the most powerful aspects of process mapping in a workshop environment is that it aligns people firstly around the work that happens and then gives them space to have a conversation about the problems.

Understanding today’s problems is not just about the project team, it’s also about ensuring everyone else shares that understanding. As-Is process maps are a powerful way of investigating and validating problems with the wider business. Indeed that workshop you organise and the conclusions you make together is key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page going forward. 

Is there a clear business case for all stakeholders?

Having identified and clarified the problems it’s possible to build a business case for improving. The impact of those problems can be measured and then used to assess the viability of potential solutions.

The point here is to ensure that there is a clear business case at all levels. A business case that increases revenue or profits is great but if it requires individual stakeholders to work harder with no additional pay they may not be so keen to implement it.

This is why having alignment on the problems is so important, it allows you to understand how each problem impacts individuals and therefore create a clear business case at each level.

Are all the constraints and risks understood?

Many projects miss important deadlines when a key constraint is only identified in the final stages. Constraints could be anything from legal requirements to legacy technology and it’s essential to know what these are as early as possible.

Shows a part of the Skore Process Map with a comment and not on it.
Notes made on part of a Skore Process Map

Again, one of the most powerful aspects of As-Is process mapping is that it provides a simple clear language for lots of different stakeholders to align against. This makes it that much easier to have focused conversations about what might prevent any solution being implemented.

Is Change Management required?

Here we focus on implementation plans. What do we need to know to make sure that the project will be a success, where are the gaps and how are we going to fill them.

The only way to truly identify the gaps is again to understand how things work today, who does them and what with. That is an As-Is process. You need that in order to compare it to your To-Be to identify the gaps in personnel, skills, systems and so much more.

Conclusion – As Is or To Be?

If you answer yes to any of these questions the chances are you need some sort of As-Is process before continuing, The cost of not doing so can be expensive. It is your role to ensure that the business understands the value in taking the time to go through the As Is. The key is to address that question up front, as part of your introduction: “today we are here to map the …. because this will give us ….”Making sure that is understood before your workshop kicks off will save you valuable time and ensure stakeholder satisfaction. 

Skore has been designed specifically to make process discovery and analysis easy. It’s simple two shape system means anyone can understand a process. All you need to know is how to describe what happens and why. Used remotely or live in workshop mode it provides instant analysis

Data such as roles, durations, costs, risks, requirements and many more can be captured against the process and generate rapid insights. This not only makes As-Is capture much quicker but also quickly identifies opportunities for your To-Be design.

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