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Mapping for the Future: Being the Business Process Lead

Note: Katie Frehafer worked on the Student Information System (SIS) Project as its Business Process Lead from its inception through early May 2022. She has since moved on to an exciting new opportunity outside of UC San Diego; the interview upon which this article is based was completed just prior to Katie’s departure. The entire SIS Project team wishes her luck in her new endeavor and thanks her for the incredible work she’s done to set the SIS Project up for success. 


Long before I began working as a change lead for the Student Information System (SIS) Project, I remember sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start with the business process analysis team. They had arrived to talk to my colleagues and I about our processes at the Division of Extended Studies, then still known as Extension. I wasn’t aware at the time that the meeting had anything to do with the SIS Project and I no longer remember much of what transpired in the meeting. I do, however, remember meeting Katie Frehafer, the Business Process Lead for the SIS Project, for the first time that day.

Katie carried herself with a level of outward strength and self-assuredness I envied, and she demonstrated herself to be the kind of leader I had long aspired to be: leading from a place of empathy and respect for those with which she worked and wielding a quiet kind of power that was displayed through her work and its results, rather than through any overt ostentatiousness. She also rocked a hairstyle I could only wish to pull off.

Following that initial meeting, Katie and I crossed paths a few more times but it wasn’t until we’d worked together on the SIS Project for roughly a year and a half that I sat down with her to discuss her role on the project.

What it Means to Be the Lead

“I am here to make sure we document as comprehensively as possible all of the business processes that take place in or are connected to the student information system,” she explains when I ask her what it means to be a Business Process Lead. “The university has never before documented this information and has never before taken this comprehensive of an approach to process documentation.”

When she says the documentation is comprehensive, she’s not exaggerating. To date, more than 10,500 hours have gone into creating the SIS Project business process landscape and process maps. More than 250 subject matter experts (SMEs) from across the university have participated and continue to participate in this work, which began in 2019 with the creation of the business process landscape. 

The business process landscape categorizes all of the student system-related processes into areas, and as the lead it is Katie’s role to facilitate its creation and continual evolution with the input of SMEs. It took six months to create the landscape and its three increasing levels of detail. Once the business process landscape was created, then 67 key processes from the landscape were prioritized for detailed mapping. 

With so many processes to map, Katie could never do all of it on her own. Thankfully, she has a team of Business Systems Analysts, or BSAs, to help her with the mapping. At its largest, the SIS Project business process team had a total of nine members. It is Katie’s responsibility to train her team on how to conduct process mapping sessions and to document mapped processes in a tool called Promapp. While some process mapping is still ongoing, such as the mapping being done to prepare for the new financial aid system, more than 170 process maps have already been completed.

In addition to training them, Katie also has to coordinate and prioritize the work of the BSAs as well as put systems and processes in place to support the work of the team. She also often facilitates process mapping sessions herself. And we haven’t even touched on the work she and her colleagues completed for the ideal state process analysis, which has been highlighted in detail in a previous article.

The amount of time spent on this work might seem staggering, but it is some of the most important work that we can do to prepare ourselves for a new student information system. “Because of all the time we have spent with the SMEs,” Katie explains, “we now not only have detailed maps of their processes, but we also have an insight into their needs, wants, hopes, and fears for the project. We also better understand the complexities we will encounter as we begin to implement a new system.”  

“It’s also my job to think strategically about the business functions of the university,” she says, “and give input into the decisions that the project team has to make about change management, technical issues, procurement and configuration. All of the business process mapping is intended to be critical input for the design team discussions and key configuration decisions that the business process lead is responsible for coordinating.”  It takes a certain set of skills to be able to accomplish such far-reaching, detailed work, and Katie is perfect for the job.

What it Takes to Be the Lead

A business process lead needs many skills, but chief among those are strong communication skills, the ability to cultivate working relationships, and flexibility. Because Katie, herself, is not an expert in every process that happens on campus, she must rely on learning from the SMEs and then documenting the processes based on those learnings. This means communication and relationship building are critical skills. Without very strong listening skills, Katie may not pick-up on all the details of a process or be able to clearly translate departmental jargon into widely understandable terms. “These process maps are tools we use to help make transparent the incredible work our staff do every day,” explains Katie, but the maps can only achieve those goals if they can be understood by anyone, not just the SMEs who contributed to making them.

Flexibility is important because new processes are always being discovered and plans always have to change. It often happens that Katie is working with a team of SMEs to map one process, only to discover there’s a completely different process that contributes to the one they are mapping. Often that means she has to set aside what she is working on to dive into what was just discovered. “You really have to figure things out as you go,” Katie said, “and you have to be able to get into the weeds, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the  bigger picture.” 

Flexibility is also important because, with a project as big as the SIS Project, there is always something that is changing. Katie has been working on the project long enough to even have seen the team grow and change a few times over. “I think I’ve gone through the whole forming, storming, and norming team-building process at least four times,” she laughs. 

The Rewards and Frustrations of Leading

I ask Katie what she finds to be most rewarding about her job and she responds without hesitating. “When we began creating the process landscape, it was the first time that so many disparate groups from across university had come together to learn about and from one another. It was pre-COVID and we were actually all in a room together,” she explains. “Seeing the sense of community that developed in those meetings and the ‘ah-ha’ moments the participants had collectively was so gratifying.” SMEs who thought they were the only ones to struggle with a certain process or problem learned they were not alone, and that was immensely powerful.

Katie also relishes the certainty that her work will have far-reaching benefits. “We have never done anything like this before. Much of the information we are documenting has never been documented before, and the artifacts we have developed will have uses even beyond the SIS Project,” she says. This certainty helps get her through the more difficult days.

She also shares with me some of her frustrations. At the top of the list is the volume of work she and her team have been responsible for, and the exhausting pace that has often required of them. “All those numbers I quoted are impressive,” she says, “but those are real people grinding to get that work done, on top of whatever other responsibilities they have and on top of struggling through the pandemic, which has been our reality for almost as long as this work has been going on.” 

She contrasts this crushing pace with the larger SIS Project’s pace, which has turned out to be much slower than she or anyone else on the team expected. If we knew from the beginning that the pace was going to be slower, she suggests, then we could have managed the process mapping work differently. Perhaps we may have retained a few team members who left or kept others from teetering on the brink of burnout. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and we can never know for certain how things might have turned out if the pace of the project had been anything other than what it is. What we can do is learn from those lessons and strive to do better going forward.

She shares with me the one bright point she has taken from her frustrations. “Throughout all of this, and especially COVID, I have seen the incredible resiliency of our SMEs and team members, and that has given me hope.”

Leading into the Future

When I ask Katie if she has anything else she’d like to share about her work, she laughs and tells me that it’s her not-so-secret hope that the body of work she has completed for the project—the process landscape and its many constituent process maps—will continue to be used well into the future. “Some day in the future, even if no one any longer has any idea who I am or why I did all this process mapping,” she says, “I hope that this foundational knowledge of how we do our work continues to serve the university and its growth and evolution.”

For the next phase of the project, she hopes to have her replacement be someone who is a strong advocate for improving the staff and student experiences, who is able to translate back and forth between business needs and technical decisions and who can help build community and trust that will strengthen the university in the years to come. 

I don’t think it’s so far-fetched to believe her work will continue to be used long into the future. As she has said, this kind of in depth analysis and documentation had never been done before and the scale of what she and her team have captured is staggering. The business process landscape and process maps have already been a key resource for other projects, such as the Enterprise Identity Management (EIM) project, whose team is building their own process mapping plans directly off the SIS Project process landscape and process maps. And, while the SIS Project team waits for university leadership to decide the next steps for the project, the team continues to ferret out additional processes that need mapping and Katie’s influence continues to guide them in their work.

Category: Student & Faculty, News