Process Mapping is a group activity performed by teams of subject matter experts that gather to draw step-by-step diagrams to document how work is processed (see Figure 1). This invaluable tool is mostly used by consultants and business professionals to capture the current state of business operations in preparation for business improvement initiatives.
However, process mapping can also be very beneficial in helping to increase productivity among staff, implementing or decommissioning systems, streamlining processes, and protecting knowledge capital. Let’s take a look at how process mapping is used in business improvement initiatives as well as how it can be used to help in other areas of a business.
Figure 1 – Cross-functional Process Map Example
1.Launch Business Improvement Initiatives
The strategic plans and goals of a company often drive the need for change. But before making changes it is prudent to establish a baseline from which to make improvements. Taking the time to understand how a process is currently working allows you to:
- Leverage best practices from existing processes
- Capture lessons learned – learn what not to repeat
- Measure the effectiveness of improvements
- Ensure that you are fixing not shifting or creating problems
- Optimize existing processes rather than creating new processes from scratch
Look at process maps as an investigative tool helping you to understand the root causes of problems. It also supports the transparency needed to learn about how work is completed and encourages team innovation from an “all-in” stakeholder perspective for improving processes. If you take the time to understand what is and what is not working, you will be less likely to repeat mistakes of old.
Related Article: How to Facilitate Successful Process Mapping Sessions
2.Increase Staff Productivity
Process mapping can help organizations eliminate confusion and chaos among staff helping to increase productivity. A properly trained staff that operates like a well-oiled machine increases the type of productivity that leads to profits. However, in many organizations poor processes and a lack of training and communication leads to chaos that produces poor performance and low employee morale.
Process mapping requires a “parley” of sorts that brings all interested parties to the table to hash out how work is done. At the table stakeholders are identified, roles and responsibilities of each group are clarified, and sequential steps of the process are documented and then ultimately negotiated to optimize work processes.
Process maps can also be used as training aids for employees and easily converted into standard operating procedures that describe step-by-step details on how to perform each task identified.
3.Implement New or Decommission Old Systems
Technology changes as frequently as our need for it. Staying competitive requires that we use the latest technology to maintain a competitive advantage and carry out the strategic goals of the company. This frequent change requires a constant need to assess the systems being used in production and to perform administrative duties. System updates, installations, and the decommissioning of systems can be very costly if impacts to groups and processes are not considered. Implementing a new system without first identifying all user groups and how they use it may fail to meet the needs of the business. Decommissioning systems prematurely can leave user groups without a way to process or produce data that could cause operations to come to a grinding halt.
Detailed process maps can provide a deep and wide understanding of how businesses us their systems. As processes are described, and systems identified you are inadvertently collecting an inventory of all systems used, as well as learning about who uses them and how they are used. This information provides IT with the pertinent information necessary to meet the technology needs of a business.
4.Quickly Streamline Business Processes
You can also use process mapping to identify “pain points” experienced throughout a business process. Tagging steps in a process about the problems that occur can help you focus on specific areas for improvement.
“Lean” tools can be applied when analyzing maps to seek ways to streamline the process. Lean is a business methodology that involves using a set of tools that assists in the identification and steady elimination of waste in processes. Manual processes, redundant work, bottlenecks, and rework are just a few activities that can be classified as waste. Process maps make it easy to identify these activities because each step in the process is documented clearly with notes and symbols of how the process is being performed. Consideration for elimination should be given to steps that are considered waste and do not add value to the development or production of the end product
5.Protect Knowledge Capital
Knowledge capital is an intangible asset but is just as valuable as the physical assets of a company. The definition of knowledge capital is the skill set shared by employees on how to perform tasks or steps necessary for the support of production. Often the details of how tasks are performed between and within groups are not documented. Losing this vital information due to turnover or other absences could lead to work stoppages, slow production, or lead to chaos damaging the effectiveness of operations.
Process maps capture all the vital information necessary to keep operations functional. Functional areas, roles, responsibilities, systems and inputs and outputs of a process are documented providing clarity on how the critical processes to the operations of a business occur. The process maps also serve as a communication tool educating staff from a 360-degree view of how things work increasing the value of the knowledge capital thus providing a competitive advantage. In the absence of critical staff, these process maps are available to backup staff to keep operations running smoothly.
Process mapping has many effective uses, but they are most effective when used as living documents that can be reviewed and updated regularly to monitor and improve business operations. Best practice is to learn the universal standards on how to develop process maps, document critical core and supportive processes that keep the business operational, and establish a “continuous improvement” team that can meet quarterly to continually improve processes. This will ensure that your business is optimized at every possible level. Happy mapping!