Author: Chelsea Gaillard

Five Really Good Reasons to Map Business Processes

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!

How to Facilitate Successful Process Mapping Sessions

Process mapping is often the first step in business process improvement. It is a necessary activity that provides a baseline from which improvements can be measured and is the key to identifying and localizing opportunities for improvement. Therefore, it is important that facilitators capture the right information to help steer process improvement initiatives in the right direction.

To have successful mapping sessions, facilitators must possess the ability to lead (steer the direction of meetings), manage people (deal with conflicts and diversions), and persuade participants to open up and share the knowledge they possess.

This can be challenging when dealing with large groups and complicated processes. To help to ensure that you have a successful process mapping session, follow the guidelines outlined below.

Be Aware of Scope Creep

Off-topic or side conversations can lead to the kind of scope creep that takes time away from the original goals set for the meeting. It can also lead to the capture of irrelevant data. It is easy to get off topic in any meeting. When conducting process mapping sessions, additional challenges exist.

Mapping sessions are designed to bring SMEs and various groups together to document how tasks are performed. However, these sessions often serve as a learning experience revealing for the first time details about a process and its challenges. Because each participant may have a different level of understanding about the process, this can contribute to extended discussions about issues. These discussions can be enlightening and sometimes necessary, but can also get the meeting off-topic. For example, let’s say group A is using a manual process to calculate input for a step and it is revealed that group B is utilizing a tool that could be implemented by group A. This tool could eliminate the need for the manual process. This, of course, sparks an interest for group A and leads to a discussion about the tool rather than the overall purpose for the meeting. These types of side or off-topic conversations often happen as process issues are revealed. The facilitator must have the ability to put a time limit on these discussions and be able to determine the difference between relevant and irrelevant conversation to protect the goals of the meeting. Remember, process mapping sessions are not for solving problems – they are for the purpose of identifying and documenting potential problems.

Mapping sessions can also get off topic by the compulsion of participants to document processes as they “should be” and not how they exist in its current state. Mapping sessions typically begin by documenting the “As Is” or “Current State” process to identify opportunities for improvement and then end in the design of the “To Be” or “Future State” process after teams solve problems. Although it is a great sign when participants recognize during meetings better ways to do things, it is counterproductive to prematurely document the “Future State” before establishing a baseline for the improvement effort. It is the job of the facilitator to identify when this shift occurs and get back on course.

Capture the Right Amount of Information

As a facilitator you must be able to determine the right level of information to capture. Whether you are capturing too much or too little information – both extremes can be a waste of time and not address the overall purpose of the project.

Process mapping standards identify Level 0 or the steps identified in a SIPOC as the starting point for most mapping efforts. SIPOCs (Supplier, Input, Process, Outputs, Customers) are used to identify roles, inputs and outputs and high-level steps of a process. (To learn more about SIPOCs see the article “The Four Agreements You Need to Have a Successful Process Mapping Session”)

It is best to start with a high-level map (Level 0) and identify what topics need to be fleshed out from there. Additional levels can be mapped accordingly (see Figure 1). The various levels can be described as follows:

  • Level 0 – high-level core steps of a process listed in six steps or less.
  • Level 1 – drills down from the core steps and describes the steps involved in a process at the next level.
  • Level 2 – describes the step-by-step details of a process.

You may need to drill-down further to uncover bottlenecks and inefficiencies of a process, but it is important to get input from SMEs about relevancy of the data being captured and regularly compare project goals against your process mapping efforts to help make sure that you are steering the meetings in the right direction.

gaillard July21 1Figure 1 – Levels of Process Maps

Make Sure the Right People Are In the Room and/or Available For Participation

There is nothing like being in the middle of a successful mapping session that suddenly stalls because no one in the room knows exactly what happens in the next step! If this situation occurs, you simply do not have all the right people in the room. The SIPOC reveals your suppliers and customers or those representative groups that should be in the meeting. However, sometimes the right individuals are not chosen to participate. Instead, managers and/or process owners are chosen to represent departments when actual processors should be in the room or available for contact during the meetings. Often sponsors are reluctant to release critical resources from core work, but it is well worth it to lobby with sponsors to provide the proper representation for the mapping session to capture information correctly.

Proactively Address Conflict

Business professionals who attend meetings regularly have first-hand knowledge of how unproductive meetings can be when attendees are disruptive. Conflict that exists between individuals, departments and/or organizations can make its way into your process mapping session and prevent you from capturing critical details of a process or impede progress.

It’s important to uncover potential problems that may arise during a mapping session and proactively respond prior to the meeting. How can you prepare for these types of challenges before the meeting? Implement tools from change management principles and conduct a simple/modified risk or change readiness assessment prior to the session. Knowing beforehand the challenges groups face with their processes and/or between groups will help you prepare a response and manage behaviors in the meetings.

Here are five important things you should know prior to a meeting. Ask these questions of each sponsor and/or process owner:

  1. Do you support this initiative?
  2. What concerns, if any exist about this effort?
  3. Do your SMEs have the time and energy to participate in this effort?
  4. Are SMEs motivated to participate in the mapping activities?
  5. Do you have good relationships/rapport with external groups that will enable your team to work efficiently during the mapping sessions?

If conflict exists, it is best to deal with it openly and honestly. Start with the sponsors. Reiterate the overall project goals, restate the purpose and stay passionately neutral during the process. Taking a side will cause other sides to shut down and you will lose engagement immediately preventing the accurate capture of data. Transparency about the process and having courage to address problems will allow facilitators to meet the goals of the mapping session.

Structure Meetings to Have the Least Impact on SMEs and Groups

Process mapping sessions that are lengthy and continuous can lead to waning support. There are a few ways to construct meetings to keep participants engaged. Facilitators can hold “Cross-functional Meetings” or “Functional Meetings”. Each type has its pros and cons, but each can address issues surrounding participant engagement.

  • Cross-functional Meetings – this type of meeting gathers all teams from across functions to participate in the same full or half day workshops to map out processes.
  • Functional Meetings – allows functional groups to gather independently to map processes related to the functions they perform. If there are six groups involved in a process, six separate meetings will be held to capture the processes of each function. The individual functional maps are consolidated to create one overall map of the process and then presented at a review meeting where all SMEs and groups will gather to review and approve the final process map.

See Figure 2 for the pros and cons of each meeting type.

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In summary, strong facilitation is the key to holding successful process mapping sessions. But the real measure of success is how effectively the data captured is utilized in the overall process improvement initiative. If the identification of problems using process maps leads to lasting change that reduces costs and increases profits – you held a successful mapping session. And in that case, congratulations!

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The Four Agreements You Need to Have a Successful Process Mapping Session

Process mapping is a group exercise in which teams of subject matter experts (SMEs) and/or process owners (POs) gather to determine how work gets done. Step-by-step diagrams are drawn to document the who, what, when and how a business task is performed. Teams utilize process mapping as a way of finding opportunities for improvement, increasing transparency between groups, and understanding the roles of systems in processes.

The results of process mapping can inform strategic plans and change the course of an entire organization. However, to yield those results facilitators must first learn to establish rapport with teams and make four critical agreements to ensure success. Process mapping sessions without these agreements almost always yields poor results leaving participants weary of the value of the exercise. These four agreements will help to ensure that your efforts will not be in vain.

1. Believe That Change Is Necessary – Process mapping teams must believe that there is a need for change in order to gain commitment and rally support for holding a mapping session. If there is no support for change, it will be very difficult to convince SMEs to spend time documenting their work – publicly.
Business improvement projects often require making a case for change to win cross-functional support. You will need to do the same for launching a cross-functional process mapping session to ensure effective participation from SMEs, eliminate suspicion, and create interest and advocacy for the effort. Here are some recommendations for making a strong case for change:

  • State the problem/suspicion and how it’s connected across organizations
  • Demonstrate urgency with preliminary data and metrics
  • State the potential consequences for not investigating problems

The case for change must be shared with SMEs and all interested parties to win continued support for the effort.

2. Be Transparent, Engaged and Committed – Gathering SMEs for participation in the mapping session may require a significant amount of time and commitment. You will be asking co-workers and/or teams to take time out of their busy schedules to identify exactly what they do, how they do it and take responsibility for whatever is revealed.

This request can be met with either a readiness for change or fear that potential improvements could leave job roles vulnerable. Without open and honest communications you will most likely face resistance from those who fear change and at best obtain an intermittent level of participation from your SMEs.
Being transparent about the need for change and establishing upfront the level of commitment and engagement required will help to ease those concerns. Follow these four steps to win over SMEs:

  1. Conduct an information session to present the case for change and explain how the mapping process works.
  2. Discuss the amount of time that will be needed to document and create the process maps.
  3. Negotiate the best times for the mapping session with participants so that they will be better able to manage competing priorities and be fully engaged.
  4. Agree that data and findings are to be used as a tool for discussion and improvement rather than as a weapon to point fingers and place blame.

3. Make Sure Everyone Has A Voice – Bringing the right people to the table and allowing those people to be heard are critical to ensuring that a complete and accurate process is documented. We can often figure out at a high-level the departments or groups that are involved in a process, however, we don’t always know the details of how a process works and/or what person, group or team may be involved. Identifying SMEs to invite to a process mapping session can be ambiguous, however, using the SIPOC tool from the Six Sigma discipline can help shed some light.

SIPOC is an acronym for Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer. It can be seen as a high-level process map that is typically used to understand the purpose and scope of a process prior to the launch of a process improvement project. It is also an excellent way to identify key players for the mapping session. Brainstorm with a small team and complete the SIPOC by asking questions about each of the acronyms and answering them. See Table 1 as an example.

Table 1 – SIPOC for Contract Pricing Verification

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Note: External suppliers and customers are not required participants in the typical process mapping session. Often the goal is to document internal processes. However, in order to understand the role and activities of the external supplier and customer, liaisons are often invited to the mapping session where they will be able to provide input and share outcomes in support of necessary changes.

Based on the results of the Contract Pricing Verification SIPOC provided in Table 1 we learn which internal suppliers and customers are imperative to invite as key participants. We also identified stakeholders who may be able to provide additional insight into the process. Overall, you will be able to assemble a good team that will provide a good 360 degree view of the process.

4. Put Your Name On It – SMEs and/or POs must validate the process maps to prove that each participant was present, engaged, and stands behind their contributions. Validation confirms that the process maps are accurate and represent the current or desired future state process. Process maps without this validation hold little weight and leaders may be hesitant to rely on them for decision making in process improvement initiatives.

Obtain a sign-off from each SME and/or PO during the review process by asking them to send an email or electronic signature confirmation that they have read the maps and that their roles and activities are accurately depicted.

In summary, the results of an effective process mapping session can be rewarding and uncover unnecessary waste that can lead to great efficiency across your organization. Obtaining these four agreements prior to the launch of a process mapping session will help to ensure that you realize the benefits from the exercise. Happy mapping!

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