Process mapping forms the basis of how business gets done on a daily basis as well as how the consumer-facing experience reflects those processes. Indeed, for a process to be a positive experience, it should be well-defined from beginning to end; and it all starts with mapping, refining, and codification.
Define the Sequence.
For a task to be done efficiently and consistently, each step needs to be defined in a sequence of events that results in a defined goal. Mapping is the organization of how to arrive at a specific goal. Be it just starting your day on the “right foot,” or getting to the moon, it takes a schema of events that creates a chain of planned actions that reach a goal.
There can be any number of schemas to reach the same goal. Mapping is the act of choosing the best path to a goal.
The Critical Path.
In business, we speak of the most basic route to a goal as a critical path. Before you get dressed, you take a shower, which transitions into another task and another and another until you walk out the door ready for another day.
Successful “mappers” have the ability to first define the goal and then work backward.
Logically, the question is: what does it take to get to the goal in the most efficient way, and is it repeatable under a range of circumstances?
In reality, even small tasks can have a number of sub-tasks and missing just one of those subs- tasks can take the processes off on a tangent with the result of an unhappy outcome. Computer code is a great example. Miss one step and its GIGO.
The answer to developing successful processes is doing the rather tedious chore of documenting each step in full detail. Of course, there are critical tasks that may have little or no impact on the desired end result but are necessary. And that raises the question: do even need “irrelevant step” at all?” In terms of business management, taking time to do an irrelevant step or task still costs money. So why have an irrelevant step in the process flow at all?
Be Efficient AND Cost-effective.
The philosophy of “Lean” is to be efficient AND cost-effective. Indeed, many companies do things a certain way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Maybe the anecdotal way processes are done did work well in the past, but things change. Interestingly, people involved in a process are usually the ones who see where better ways of doing things can take place, but management does not codify a more efficient process. Indeed, having variations in how a process is done can have a significant cost in terms of poor quality, waste, and worker productivity.
Take a Step Back.
As a Manager, how often have you taken a microscope to how your company defines its processes and how they are actually being done? In fact, unless management has firsthand experience in a process, how can they judge whether or not a process can be improved? So, how do you go about defining and refining a process flow? It’s really quite simple, but it takes time and collaboration.
A general approach to process mapping:
1. Identify the goal of each step in a process, and what is the measure of success of achieving that goal?
2. Follow the process step-by-step. Who does the task and what skills are required?
3. What documents track the various step and where is that document kept for review; or does it even need to be documented? (Is it a critical task?)
4. Ask the person doing the task what they think could be done to make the task more efficient.
5. Make a process flow chart that represents each step in a process. If there are any documents that track the step, note the form, (When mapping a process, many consultants will tape butcher paper to the walls and as they move through a process, write the name and number of each task and tape a copy of the documents used for each step (if it exists). When the wall flow chart has been completed, have others related to or even tangential to the process come into the room and see if they can substantiate each step and document. Often, it becomes obvious when certain tasks are not needed or can be combined with other steps.
6. When inefficiency is identified, brainstorm and come up with alternatives or whether the step is needed at all.
7. Put a cost on the inefficiency; this may be needed to support any formal charges.
8. When a more efficient process flow has been developed, test it in a way that does not interfere with normal operation.
9. Consider how any changes in a process will affect the whole process by considering the impact on tangential processes.
10. Once approved, the new process needs to be documented, and if any new training is needed and periodically reinforced to make sure the changes become “hard-wired.”