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Breaking the Complex Down to Simple – Process Decomposition

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In my last article we discussed the importance of:

  • Understanding your Organizational setup
  • Defining Clear Terminology
  • Educating the Organization on those terms
  • Defining a Common Method or Approach

Now, let’s take a look at one approach to breaking down a process.  I personally like to use the Functional Decomposition Diagramming concept to identify processes whenever I can. 

Here’s how I approach this:

  • First, understand the organization as a whole.  We discussed the importance of this in my last article.
  • Second, focus on an aspect of the organization (this could be one department, line of business line, etc.).  Don’t try to understand everything at one time as this will become overwhelming. 
    • Understand holistically how the pieces fit but stay focused on a particular portion of the organization if at all possible.  This will also depend on how large or small the organization is.
  • Third, ask the question: “What are the main functions performed in the area of focus?”
  • Fourth, for each function break down what processes are conducted at a very high level.
  • Document the process name and process purpose.
  • Document the process start and ending points.
  • Document the main activities completed in the process.
  • Fifth, analyze the data to determine if the process is “truly” a process or potentially an activity step opposed to a process.

Let’s look at an example to bring this to light.

Example: ABC Organization (Multi-Faceted Department Store)

Step 1: Understand the organization (Different areas within the department store)


Step 2: Focus on one aspect of the organization to begin decomposition (this may require prioritization – a topic for another article).  Under the Home organization there is an Appliance Division and an Electronic Division.

Step 3: What are the main components of the Appliance Division under the Home organization?

  • Selling Appliances
  • Financing Appliances
  • Inventory Management
  • Restocking Appliances
  • Financing

Step 4: What processes are completed for inventory management?

  • Obtain Approval to Order Inventory
  • Order Inventory
  • Validate Inventory Received is Correct
  • Stock Appliance Inventory
  • Handle Customer Complaints

Step 5: Let’s determine if the processes are “true” processes or just “tasks or activities” completed in maybe a larger process by doing some high level definition.

Example Process: Handle Customer Complaints

  • Process Definition: This process outlines how customer complaints are handled in the appliance division of ABC Organization. This allows the organization to ensure customer complaints are acknowledged, and handled, as quickly as possible.
  • Starts: When a customer calls, or sends in a complaint in writing to the company.
  • Ends: When the complaint is resolved.
  • Activities completed (at a high level)
    • Receive Customer Complaint
    • Research Customer Complaint
    • Determine Result of Customer Complaint
    • Communicate Result of Complaint to Customer

Some of the above processes may be decomposed even further into sub processes if it warrants it, but this particular process is not just an activity, but a process that could be quite involved. 

As this is my first iteration of decomposition, I may find that I go back and make changes as I learn more about the processes and organizations.  The first time you will probably not get it 100% correct. That is okay.  It’s a process in itself to decompose, but decomposition can really help you “Break the Complex Down to Simple”.

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