UPN Process Workshops

UPN Process Workshops

[bws_pdfprint display=”print”]

Process workshops are the best way to obtain consensus around a workable process that is best for the organisation.

Despite advances in virtual conference technologies, a live workshop[note]Live means everyone is present in the room.  Remote attendance is suboptimal and requires some special techniques that are described in another section[/note] remains the gold standard because it brings the right people together to document the process in a team effort.  By comparison, process discovery by isolated, individual efforts or by very small teams, can produce disjointed and biased perspectives.  And the most perfectly crafted process produced without key stakeholders may struggle to gain traction. 

Workshops create consensus, without which even the smartest process will fail

Built on decades of experience of process discovery, this is a comprehensive guide to running UPN process workshops, large and small. It starts with live workshops, describes the things you need to do differently when running virtual workshops, and goes on to describe how to run multiple concurrent workshops.

Please feel free to adopt, adapt, disagree with or ignore this content.  If you find it useful and want to use all or part of it, all we ask is that you acknowledge this site as the source.

If you need more information, head for the Q & A link in the menu.

The purpose of any UPN process workshop is to design a process that is

  • best for the intended use
  • best for the organisation.

Each workshop needs an explicit set of project objectives so that all participants are:

  • aware of the success criteria
  • share a common goal

Every project needs sponsorship.  Without a mandate from senior managers / executives a project will go nowhere. If the process area to be addressed is a day-to-day operational area, the process owner can be the sponsor.  Enterprise level projects need executive and even main board sponsorship.

The importance of having the correct participants cannot be over emphasised.  Omit a stakeholder for any reason and your process will likely fail.

If someone can’t attend, rescheduling the workshop is the way to go.

If you genuinely can’t wait for their return, you must find an adequate substitute – someone who they would recognise as having the right skills and the authority to proceed.[note]Don’t let time be the sole criterion for pressing ahead without a stakeholder.  The time and expense of reworking content that was based on false assumptions made in their absence will probably be far greater than any initial delay[/note]


Many of these roles are explained in more detail in the UPN Dictionary.  You’ll find links in the appropriate places.

If you have too few participants the workshop will not produce anything worthwhile because of lack of expertise or absence of stakeholders.

The Ringelman Effect

But there are practical considerations that limit the number to 8 -10.[note]In a virtual workshop this reduces to 4 – 6.  More on that later.[/note]  Exceed 10 and individual effort and commitment will decline so that adding more people will deliver little additional value and demotivate existing participants.  This is the Ringelman Effect, which was developed in a sports environment. There is even a special term for this drop off in effort – ‘Social Loafing!’

Exceeding the recommended limit will also make the facilitator’s job exponentially more difficult.

The person who runs the workshop and has overall responsibility for its success.

In the interests of neutrality the facilitator should not be an expert in the process area. The less they know the better because this will allow them to focus on:

  • encouraging the participants to contribute
  • controlling the flow of ideas to the mapper so they are not overwhelmed
  • asking the ‘obvious’ questions

Facilitator and mapper should be a double act.  The best UPN facilitators and mappers are able to perform either role, which gives them an intuitive understanding of each other’s job and allows them to work even better together.

The Editor / Author / Mapper / Designer is responsible for accurately capturing the participants’ inputs directly into the UPN application, in real-time. 

Q. Can the facilitator and mapper roles be carried out by the same person?

A. It is recommended that the roles are performed by different people.  Someone who is both a highly experienced facilitator and mapper might perform both roles if the number of participants is low and they are all familiar with a UPN workshop but, normally, the roles must be separated so that:

a) the facilitator can concentrate on the audience (eyes up)

b) the mapper can concentrate on capturing the contributions from every participant (eyes down)

It takes a lot of skill to divide your concentration between the audience and the computer and not miss something, somewhere.

Whether or not the process owner attends is something that they and the facilitator should decide based on the subject matter and any internal politics factors.  In some countries there may be cultural norms in which subordinates defer to the most senior person, in which case the process owner should definitely not attend.  The process owner also has to set an example and if they are unable to commit to the Team Charter (described later) they should not attend

  • Having the process owner present may be essential to provide strategic direction, especially if the subject matter is contentious.

  • There is a risk they may drive the workshop towards a solution that meets a personal agenda or a preconceived solution that is not compatible with achieving the best design.
    • This could make the participants feel that their contribution is not valued. 
    • It could kill the energy of the workshop and deter the users from attending others.

Stakeholder presence  ensures your process is compatible with the immediate upstream, downstream or connected processes:

  1. Does your process handle the inputs given to you by other processes?
  2. Do you need more inputs than you are being given?
  3. Do you need fewer inputs than you are being given?
  4. Are you creating the outputs that the next process requires?
  5. Do you need to create more outputs than the next process is expecting?

Of course, these related processes may belong to your team anyway.

If you are reworking a diagram in such a way that none of the inputs, outputs or flow line connectors to other diagrams change then you probably do not need to invite the stakeholders.

SMEs are invited because of relevant specialist knowledge in areas such as:

  • Applications
  • Business controls
  • Legal requirements
  • GDPR

Make sure that every area that could be involved in performing the activities defined in the diagram is represented.  You can’t hold people to account for something they were not involved in designing or where their department wasn’t represented.  You need people who understand how things really work, who can keep the workshop grounded in reality.

Observers are not necessary.

You are an active participant or you are not allowed in the room.  The process will be immediately available online, so there is no need for anyone to take notes (other than the mapper) or “report back.”

‘Fail to Prepare – Prepare to Fail.’ [note]’By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ is one of many quotes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but the source is not clear and many quotes are wrongly attributed to Franklin.[/note]

‘Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance’. [note]This a British Army saying[/note]

The facilitator and process owner need to do some prep.  The more complex / important / broken the process to be mapped is, the more important the preparation.

  1. Understand the attributes of the team members, potential conflicts and the corporate politics
  2. Find out from the process owner:
    • Scope of project
    • Business objectives
    • What is the name of the process to be designed / improved?
    • Is this process part of an existing process or processes that will provide the start and end points, or is the team responsible for defining them?
    • Are we capturing As is or To Be?
    • Are there some pain points to address?
    • Is there any existing process documentation to frame the process or it a blank page?
    • What are the expected outcomes?
    • Are there any undesirable outcomes / known pitfalls to avoid?
    • Are you planning to attend?
      • If so, will you agree to the Team Charter
        • If you can’t, do you want attend at the start to set the scene?
  3. Are there any standard process models for the area to be mapped that could provide an overview of what ‘good’ might look like?
  4. Are there any milestone events, such as month ends that will interfere with the availability of key attendees?
  5. What are the project timelines?

This section is both an agenda and a set of guidelines on running or participating in a UPN process workshop.

A session should be limited to 3 – 4 hours.  If you have to go ‘all’ day e.g. if people have travelled from other offices / countries, then 2 x 3 hour sessions with a 2 hour lunch break will allow people to eat, recharge their batteries and attend to important matters

This is the standard team familiarisation that is used any workshop but in UPN workshops everyone will benefit from knowing what skill set each person brings, so that they can confirm there are no knowledge gaps.

The objectives and desired outcomes for the session will have been agreed with the process owner during the prep stage (see above.)  It’s a good idea to have these permanently on display on a whiteboard or flip chart so the team has a constant reference point.

The project sponsor shows their support for the team and the work they are about to undertake, and how it related to the organisation’s strategies.

(You can omit this step if everyone in the room is experienced in UPN)

First explain the notation:


To make this less abstract, show an example of a finished map.

For more information about the notation refer to:

Why not email those links to the participants so that they have permanent access to the resources they need?

UPN process workshops differ from any process workshop you have attended previously:

  1. You will be capturing the ideas and evolving the process using a simple notation that anyone can understand, in a medium that is immediately available to everyone
  2. Your content will be the process document of record that is referred to by users, app designers, internal audit, external audit, ISO9001 inspectors, other process improvement teams
  3. There is no intermediate “transcription” stage where your content is reworked into a different format
  4. Most important of all, no one will be issuing post-workshop documentation for review, approval and distribution to a wider team.  All of those steps are subsumed into the workshop – so you need to express your views in the workshop.

You need to commit to the team as set out in the Team Charter.

Team Charter


1. Collective Responsibility

The team is collectively responsible for producing the best process and championing that process.

2. Every voice is equal

There is no hierarchy in a workshop. 

  • All members have an equal voice. 
  • Managers – let your people speak – they are the people who are most aware of the day-to-day reality and potential solutions. You may learn something.

3. No personal agendas

Do not try to impose your preferred solution on the team.  You can state it, but don’t be offended if they reject it – see item 1.  If you disagree with them you can request the facilitator to add it to the list of issues to be resolved by the process owner and senior managers.

4. Representing your department

If you are representing a department you need to represent all views in that department – see item 3.

5. Distraction free work area

You need to be engaged with the creative flow – a distraction free work area will make this easier:

  1. Phones must be on silent mode and put away
  2. Laptops must be shut / tablets off (better still, don’t bring them to the workshop)

6. Attendance

You were chosen as a workshop participant because of your expertise; therefore the workshop cannot function without you.

  1. You must attend
  2. Arrive early and stay for the duration

A workshop typically lasts no more than 3 – 4 hours.  You must arrange your time to allow you to attend the entire session.  Stepping out for a phone call or another meeting, arriving late or departing early, using your phone / tablet or laptop during the session are all unacceptable.

7. Silence = assent

If you have an objection, raise it in the workshop.

8. Respect

Constructive dissent is welcomed and necessary because it identifies contentious areas and allows them to be addressed by the team but please be respectful of other team members and don’t be an energy sapper.

Once everyone has accepted the Team Charter, you are ready to proceed.

First you need to deal with the title, first inputs and last outputs.

  1. If your process area is a drill down from an existing high level diagram, these will be provided for you, and they will be visible on screen as soon as you create / view the drilldown.  If you want to challenge them you can, but only in collaboration with the parent diagram’s process owner, because it may have a profound impact on the parent activity and its up- and downstream processes.
  2. If this is a new map / drilldown the title will be provided by the process owner. 
  3. If the first and last outputs have not been provided by the process owner the team must define them before any other object is placed on the page.  This is necessary to ensure the session does not stray outside the agreed scope.

Now we have a scope for the diagram we can decide what content fits within it.

There are two approaches to process capture. Both are valid methods when you are starting with a blank page but you can’t use the first option when you are working on an existing diagram.

This approach is helpful when:

  • There is no initial concept of what the high level activities might be
  • Ideas are flowing fast and need to be captured
  • The team is new to UPN

  • BUT, while it captures ideas quickly, there is a lot of downstream work to qualify and organise the content, so the initial rush of idea gathering will be followed by a traffic jam


1. Capture the activities

  1. Capture every activity that the team suggests. 
    1. Don’t disagree with them, don’t qualify them, just capture them, verbatim
  2. Make sure that you capture activities not functions.  Production is a part of an organisation chart and doesn’t describe what actually happens. Manufacture products is an activity that can be exploded into drilldowns. Verb followed by noun, always.

2. Group, order and simplify them

When the initial burst of activity creation finishes:

  1. Group related activities together
  2. Qualify them
    • Merge near duplicates
    • Discard unnecessary activities
    • Identify missing activities
  3. Use Send to Child to create drilldowns for each group of activities
    • If one of the activities in the group is the parent of the rest then don’t send that one to child.  Instead:
      1. Select and copy the rest of the group
      2. Create a drilldown on the parent
      3. Paste the copied activities
      4. Go back up and delete them from the parent diagram
  4. If Send to Child was used, then for each of the newly created high level activities provide a high level activity text
  5. Rearrange the high level activities into logical order

3. Connect the activities and label the lines

  1. Use the normal UPN approach to label each flow line – see UPN Standard and Practice.
  2. Copy the inputs and outputs of each parent activity and paste them to the child diagram.

4. Repeat for the child diagrams

Repeat from step 2 for all child diagrams.

This approach is better when:

  1. There is an idea of what the high level activities might be
  2. The team is more experienced with UPN

In this model the team collaborates in building a high level process diagram and, in line with the principles set out in UPN Standard and Practice, refines and validates that level before creating any drilldowns.[note] Because these principles are set out in UPN Standard and Practice, they are not repeated here[/note] The same caution is applied at subsequent levels too.

This is the recommended approach because it:

  • Avoids the inefficient but unavoidable need to copy and paste flow lines and line text from parent to child activities
  • Avoids waste – creating activities that are near duplicates and are discarded
  • Results in a better quality diagram that is less likely to omit activities
  • Is ultimately a more satisfying experience for the participants

Enhance the map with supplemental information such as:

  • Resources
  • Attachments
    • Metadata
      • Data table records for application configurations / business requirements / potential metrics
    • Links to documentation / application transactions

When you can’t agree on part of a process flow, move to a whiteboard / flip chart to sketch the alternatives, then come back to the UPN application to record the outcome.

Post-It Notes have a value for capturing ideas too, especially if it’s a thought that is not an activity.

But you can also deal with these in the UPN applications. Some have sticky note capabilities which mean you can to place the notes on the diagram where they are most appropriate, or stack them up in one place so you can pick them off one by one.

Or you could use text boxes.

Always complete the sunny-day \ if-it-works \ happy-path process flow before you deal with the exceptions. 

  • It helps keep the team focused and energised
  • It allows you to be sure the successful flow is correct before you devote time to the exceptions
  • Focus on the exceptions and the successful flow will be dragged off course into something that is shaped by failure instead of success

Validate, Validate, Validate

At every step of the way the facilitator should keep validating with the team that the evolving process is what they want, to ensure that there is unanimity.  Concerns about the process design need to be identified early, before too much time is wasted documenting it.

There are three essentials when you conclude the workshop.

  1. Go round the table one final time to make sure everyone is happy with the mapped process.
  2. Make sure the each item on the issues list is agreed and assigned to someone.[note]Typically, the process owner has overall responsibility for the resolution of issues.[/note]
  3. Arrange a follow up workshop if further work is required.

The benefits and risks of virtual workshops – where one or more people connect by web conference – are:

  • Simpler logistics
  • Quicker to set up
  • Cheaper

  • How do you facilitate a group when you can’t monitor their body language?
  • How do you know that team members are paying attention and are not multi-tasking?
  • How do you create the same energy that you get in a live session when people can’t interact properly?
  • The pace of the session will be dictated by the slowest connection[note]There’s an old saying, “In a queue of slow moving traffic, the slowest vehicle is always the one at the front”[/note]
  • Co-located groups will dominate the session to the exclusion of others

Virtual workshops work best when:

  • All the team members are known to each other and there is mutual trust and respect
  • They are familiar with the UPN workshop process

Here are some tips and techniques that will help if you have to run a virtual workshop.


Make sure that the facilitator and the mapper are on fast connections.  You don’t want to make the entire team wait for updates to render.

No groups

If there is a main group in a conference room, they are bound to create a bond that excludes the others.  This is human nature.  The group will have sidebar conversations that not only exclude the others but, because web conferencing technologies don’t support multiple conversations, will block the entire call, increasing the isolation of the other team members.  It’s inevitable.  It will happen.

If you have several groups in the conference there will be several sidebar conversations going on.  There is no overall team cohesion, just anarchy.

To address this, some companies use a simple rule:

If one person has to ‘dial in,’ everyone has to dial in

This even applies to people who are located in the same office and who could use a conference room.  It creates a level playing field by putting everybody at equal disadvantage.

Number of participants

Normal group interaction is inhibited, so the number of team members has to be reduced.  You should limit the numbers to 4 – 6.


Virtual workshops will take longer than live workshops to achieve the same end and you need to plan for that.

You will need to pay even more attention to ‘going round the room’ to make sure that everyone:

  1. Has the opportunity to speak
  2. Is not multitasking
  3. And that no-one dominates the discussion

Be aware of the user experience

Remember that:

  1. Even the tiniest edit needs to be transmitted and rendered over the slowest connection and this can result in a heavily pixelated screen that takes a long time to resolve
  2. Constant tinkering means that the team member on a slow connection sees nothing but pixelation, because the screen is constantly re-rendering
  3. The person on the end of that slow line can’t contribute until they see the updated diagram
  4. If you (the mapper) are the one with the slow connection everyone else will be subjected to the constant pixelation, and you will be completely unaware of it.


  1. Avoid tinkering with the diagram.  It doesn’t matter if the boxes are not perfectly aligned or flow lines aren’t straight, yet.  You can tidy the diagram later.
  2. Don’t move your mouse around to illustrate talking points[note]In cloud-based UPN applications it might be better for team members on slow connections to view the diagram directly on the server rather than have it displayed by the web conferencing application.[/note]

In a live workshop the facilitator and mapper roles have to be segregated so that the facilitator can have eyes on the audience while the mapper has eyes on the map.  In a virtual workshop the team’s only connection is the shared map.  Because the usual paradigm has been broken, merging the two roles becomes a viable option if the individual is proficient in both roles.

In a live workshop, when the going gets tough, it’s sometimes useful to use a whiteboard to play with some scenarios before eventually agreeing on the version to  map in the UPN application.

The most effective way of emulating that is to have a separate ‘scratch-pad’ map.  Rough it out there and then cut and paste the final version into the main map.

The Team Charter still applies.  In addition, each team member should:

  • Choose a quiet location that has fast connectivity
  • Stay attentive
  • Allow others to contribute by leaving a gap for them to use or by asking for reaction

  • Don’t multitask. You can’t contribute if you’re not watching and listening.  You need to be more not less attentive
  • Don’t hog the call
  • Don’t team up with others and join the call as a group

The UPN workshop concept is scalable, from small individual teams to multiple, concurrent workshops.  This section describes the latter, and is based on running up to 8 concurrent workshops with 120 participants over a period of 2 weeks.

This arrangement will likely be used  in a business transformation project where new applications are being introduced or for an organisational change project such as consolidating country based services into a regional service centre.  When you have a workshop could be costing $30K a day, just in people costs, you need to be certain that it’s going to deliver.  UPN can’t guarantee the outcome of your transformation project, but it will get it off to a flying start with a clear definition of the needs, a set of sustainable processes, and with all participants aligned.

Fundamentally this version of the UPN workshop uses everything we have learned so far, tweaks a few settings, and adds a couple of additional requirements.

A preparatory workshop sets out the high level processes, determines how many subprocess workshops will be needed and sets the scope (title and inputs/outputs) of each workshop.  It isn’t practicable to have the individual workshops set their own scope:

  • you will lose productivity while the workshops negotiate handoffs with each other
  • you won’t know how many workshops you need until the high level process has been defined
  • you may need to select (and possibly train) facilitators from the pool of attendees and you won’t know how many you need until the high level process is defined
  • nor will you know how many meetings rooms you will need
  • or how many experienced mappers you need

Assuming that the main workshops will run over a two week period, this one could take place on the last two days of the preceding week.

This session is typical of any large scale project kick-off where you bring the team up to speed and assign people to sub teams.

The entire team needs to have the principles of UPN and the notation explained to them, as well as the workshop process.  This needs to be done by the Super Facilitator and endorsed by the project sponsor.  This ensures everybody is on the same page and will save time in the individual workshops.

The team also needs to be briefed on subjects such as:

  • How issues are to be recorded
  • What data tables exist to support their work e.g. Business Requirements, Issues, RACI
  • How to contact the super facilitator / mapper for on-demand assistance


Make sure everyone understands that:

if it isn’t recorded on the map, it doesn’t exist

At the end of the workshop, any papers, post-it notes, flip chart pages etc, will be placed in the recycling bin

The super facilitator / mapper is responsible for:

  • Choreographing the workshops
  • Providing methodology and facilitation support
  • Providing / updating common resources such as data tables

The super facilitator is an exception to the usual rule that people may not come and go from the workshop.

The normal workshop process applies but with a few tweaks.

  • The facilitator won’t need to do the usual UPN introduction as this was done during the kickoff
  • The mapper should be experienced.  Although mapping skills are not difficult to acquire, a large live workshop is not the place to learn your trade
  • It may be necessary to relax the limit on the number of attendees, especially if you need to have application / IT /  business controls experts in the room to act in an advisory capacity
  • Because the workshops are linked but the content of diagram from other groups is still developing there may be times when one team needs some live input from another e.g. to make sure that emerging processes are compatible.  Therefore the normal restriction on people joining temporarily does not apply to people from other teams.
  • The super facilitator / mapper will rotate between workshops to lend a guiding hand and will be available to assist on demand (make sure you have their mobile phone number!)

Multiple concurrent workshops need to stay aligned and the simplest way to do this is for the facilitators and mappers from each one to meet for a wrap up session at the end of each day.  Each pair will:

  • Report on / show progress made[note]This is not a competition
    • There are no prizes for mapping more than anyone else
    • Quality not quantity
    • Some processes are inherently more complex than others.[/note]
  • Report on any issues
  • Assist on resolving issues raised by others
  • Agree / receive actions for the next day


Remind them that

if it isn’t recorded on the map, it doesn’t exist.

At the end of the workshop, any papers, post-it notes, flip chart pages etc, will be placed in the recycling bin.

Just like any good wrap up session, you need to acknowledge and thank people for their hard works.  Unlike some other sessions though you have produced something that:

  • is tangible
  • the audience is committed to
  • they are proud of
  • about which they can say “We did that”
  • is accessible to as wide an audience as is required
  • and is invaluable to the business

Make sure:

  • everyone knows how to get to the content when they get back to their office
  • that they know to share it with their colleagues and encourage feedback
  • remind them (as if they need reminding) that what they designed is what users are going to get
    • there’s no waiting for workshop notes.  The map is the record of the meeting


Did I mention?

if it isn’t recorded on the map, it doesn’t exist.

At the end of the workshop, any papers, post-it notes, flip chart pages etc, will be placed in the recycling bin


I hope you found this useful.

If you have any questions please use the Q & A option in the menu.