Hopefully, ‘Yum! That looks delicious!’
Or maybe it doesn’t look too good, and you’re wishing you’d chosen the same thing as your dinner partner.
Either way, what’s sitting on the plate in front of you immediately sets a positive or negative impression.
MasterChefs know this. They don’t go to all that trouble with presentation for nothing. They understand its importance.
They understand that the way food is presented is just as important as the way it tastes.
So when you’re documenting your business processes, how much thought do you give to the way they’re presented?
Because the way you present a process is just as important as the way you’ve explained it.
First impressions are important
Here’s what you can learn from Masterchef, then:
A great process document isn’t just about clear instructions. A great process document is one that engages its audience. A great process document looks as good as it’s written.
Of course, providing a process that works for your business is the most important aspect of the document. But don’t underestimate the impact of the way the process is presented, and how that affects people’s interest and ability to understand it, absorb it and to use it.
This is where MasterChef can help you.
Keep a laser focus when developing your process documents
MasterChef’s George Calombaris says:
[What makes a truly great dish is] to be able to respect an ingredient and make it shine. The best pumpkin soup only has pumpkin in it!
Your lesson: don’t confuse the process, and therefore your readers, by including unrelated content.
The starting point for any process is having business requirements. Your business requirements document, then, should be about business requirements only. And they should be business requirements that are related to the process, and that process only.
This reminds me of a project to define the IT change management process for a NSW government organisation. While gathering the business requirements, I found that people were confused about what change management covers.
For example, some wanted the process to explain how to finance a project, while others wanted it to explain how to resolve conflicts between the project and operations teams. These, clearly, are not within the scope of IT change management.
I addressed their concerns by documenting them in the workshop outcomes report. And during the workshops and in the process definition document, I clearly delineated change management’s role compared to that of related business processes.
But these concerns didn’t end up as requirements in the change management requirements specification.
It’s important to keep everyone focused on what the process really is about, and not let them take it off track at any point during its development.
Remember to stand firm and keep sight of what soup you’re making.
Be engaging and make use of your brand
MasterChef’s Gary Mehigan says:
… A great dish not only combines textures flavours and subtleties that we enjoy but at its best, says something about who we are …
Your lesson: make your documents engaging for readers while reinforcing your company’s brand internally.
I worked on a process document for a small but critical team, in a large, well-known Australian financial services company. The manager loved the document, but for a reason he described as ‘shallow’. He loved the colour-coded sections and the general look of the document.
I used colour and layout to make it more enjoyable to use and to make information more accessible: coloured callouts, coloured tables, coloured diagrams. It’s these things which engage users, make content easy to navigate, and help to lessen any negative perceptions related to a document’s length.
So the document, which is also true to the company’s brand, has hit the mark. So much so, that other parts of the organisation wanted to use it as a template for documents of their own.
A great-looking (and well-written) document is going to be used more than one that’s just page after page of black and white … no matter how well-written.
With any luck, you’ll have a template to start with, branded to your company’s standards. If not, make sure you use your company’s colour palette and style guidelines. That way you’ll craft a document that your company is proud of.
Prepare a process document which appeals to the different tastes of your readers
MasterChef’s Matt Preston says:
… the really great dishes I have tasted get you to look at ingredients in a new way, are original and inspire a deep emotional reaction when you eat them. This means that a truly great dish is a personal thing.
Your lesson: present your content in different ways to aid different learning styles.
People have different ways of learning and absorbing information. So, develop a process document that appeals to as many of those different needs as possible. And be creative!
A flowchart definitely isn’t enough.
Now, I have to single out flowcharts because they’re probably the most common way of documenting processes.
It’s just that flowcharts aren’t always effective. Not everyone likes them. They might be visual but they’re technical. And they need to be drawn well … and very often they’re not.
So what else can you do?
Well, if you use flowcharts, learn how to draw them properly. But consider other ways of presenting the process … ways that appeal to different people.
Time to plate up
You’ve slaved over your process, meticulously documenting it.
Make that document work for its audience — those fussy users who turn up their noses at an unappealing plate of spaghetti-like flowcharts.
Much better to present them with a tasty assiette of your process.
In food terms, an assiette is a selection of dishes using the same core ingredient. An assiette of chocolate might consist of three mini-desserts on a single plate, all made with chocolate. Yum!
If you’ve prepared a main course of step-by-step super-detailed work instructions, ease your readers into understanding the process by offering bite-sized chunks of information. This way they can get their fill, stop when they’ve had enough, and still feel satisfied they’ve tasted the essence of the process.
You can create an assiette of process by describing it at increasingly lower levels of detail.
Try this recipe
Start by summarising the entire process in a single, simple diagram. And here’s a challenge: use a diagram that’s not a flowchart!
Next, try developing a single-page model of the process. You can use something like a SIPOC diagram (the Six Sigma tool which depicts suppliers, inputs, process, outputs and customers), or style your own. I often do. Oh, and use A3 if you need to.
Then, how about a one- or two-page narrative describing the process from beginning to end? This could be straight text or, even better, text in some visual form (obviously, not a flowchart).
Finally, serve up your readers those in-depth work instructions … with a side of flowcharts, if you must.
How to give your process documents the MasterChef treatment
You need to consider how your content is to be presented all the way through the process of developing it. Plan for it from the beginning. And apply the lessons of MasterChef.
It’s the equivalent of choosing and preparing your ingredients: those dashes of colour and sprinkles of tables, seasoned with diagrams, pictures and other visual elements to make it appealing to look at, and to satisfy people’s different tastes … I mean, learning styles.
Don’t let your document’s garnish be the equivalent of a wilted parsley sprig.
Valuable content is lost when it fails to address the needs of its audience. There’s little point spending hundreds of hours cooking up your process document if it’s just going to end up in the bin!
Aim to develop great-looking, well-structured process documents that present engaging content, in varying levels of detail, with various ways to navigate to that information.
Remember: it’s not just what’s inside that counts … how it’s presented matters, too.
This is the reworked version of an article I wrote for the IT Service Management Forum Australia (itSMFA) Bulletin, Winter 2011.
All quotations were taken from the MasterChef Australia website in January 2011.