Process Mapping is at the heart of many continuous improvement techniques, ranging from the very simple, (e.g. Standard Operating Procedure) to the very complex, (e.g. Six Sigma) Process Mapping is founded on the premise that if you create a picture or a map of a process, it will be much easier to understand it. Further, once you have a process map in place, you can use it for a wide variety of purposes, from teaching other people to radically overhauling that process.
Process Mapping is also subtle and requires experienced facilitators for best results. Some of the benefits of Process Mapping are:
Promotes deep understanding
Streamlines work processes
Spotlights on waste
Defines and standardizes
A process map visually depicts the sequence of events to build a product or produce an outcome and might include additional information such as cycle time, inventory and equipment information.
Process Mapping is a close relative of other charting techniques, such as flow charting and Gantt charts, which have been around for a long time. Flow charts show people what their jobs are and how they should interact with one another as part of process. Everybody should be able to see from the chart what their job is and how their work fits in with the work of others in the process.
Process Mappings are simply sequences of actions designed to transform inputs into outputs. For instance, baking a cake will involve taking various ingredients (inputs) and producing the cake (output) using the recipe (process). Similarly, the steps required to deal with a sales order from a customer, from receipt to despatch will involve a process or series of processes.
Process Mapping is an exercise to identify all the steps and decisions in a process in diagrammatic form which –
Shows that the tasks transform inputs into outputs;
Describes the flow of materials, information and documents;
Displays the various tasks contained within the process;
Indicates the decisions that need to be made along the chain;
Demonstrates the essential inter-relationships and interdependence between the process steps and reminds us that the strength of a chain depends upon its weakest link.
There are many different types of chart, each designed to capture particular aspects of work, such as travel charts that can record movement of people or materials in a process. Yet, it is important to remember that although there are many types of charts and numerous charting conventions, you should not be drawn into a technical maze. Make the charts work for you and keep them as simple as you possibly can. The primary objective is to make the chart as clear as possible, so that the process under review can be readily understood and improvements identified by almost anyone.
(1). Involve those who work in and around the process. All the following need to be involved:
The customers of the process
Those who do the work
The suppliers to the process
The supervisors/managers of the process
(2). Communicate openly about the exercise, its aims and expected outcomes. This is critical in reassuring staff and securing co-operation.
(3). Assemble a small team ideally comprising representatives from all sections involved in the exercise, who have a good overview of the processes under examination. Key points to ensure are that:
Sufficient time is provided to do the job properly – set sensible deadlines;
Terms of reference are agreed and clearly understood by all participants – what are we trying to achieve with this work!
There is clear, visible management commitment and support to the exercise;
(4). All staff must be made aware of the exercise, terms of reference and likely impact on them, together with an invitation to contribute or voice any particular anxieties;
(5). Any available IT “experts” are utilised, when required, drawing up charts from handwritten drafts, using software charting packages or using MS Excel.
(1). Observe the process in operation and talk to the staff involved. Walk through the process in sequence, asking how the work gets done. Try to obtain a clear overview without too much fine detail at this stage. If it proves difficult to get people to think sequentially it may help to ask the following types of questions at various steps in the process:
Where do you send your output? (Your customer)
Where does your work come from? (Your supplier)
What are the inputs to your task which are relevant to the process under consideration?
What do you do with it?
What form does that output take? (This output then becomes the input for the next box )
(2). Roughly and simply sketch the process (without too much detail) describing the sequence of tasks and decision points as they actually happen. The sketch should indicate:
What decisions have to be taken and
Who does what (Job title/Function e.g. Level A1)
What is done and when
What possible paths follow from each decision
(3). It can be helpful to use ‘POST-IT’ notes on a large whiteboard (or just stick them on the wall!). Each note can represent a ‘step’ in the process and save a lot of pain when it comes to reshuffling the sequence to get it right!
(4). Draw the process chart initially to represent the operation, as it actually happens - NOT what you might prefer it to be! Use a flip chart or whiteboard to produce your initial charts.
(5). Keep it simple to facilitate broad understanding of the overall process. Too much detail early on can be overwhelming and/or lead to confusion. If you agree that more detail is required on a particular action, it is easy to highlight that box and produce a separate chart showing the process taking place within.
(6). Leave the process chart on the board/wall if possible. This enables reflection and rethinking between meetings. Continue until consensus is reached. Rarely is the flowchart complete without rework.
(1). Try to lay the sequence out by working in a downward direction rather than across. This will help later if you want to convert your process chart to a ‘deployment flowchart’.
(2). Having thought through the main ‘steps’ of the process, process chart them in sequence as they are performed using rectangles for ‘tasks’ and diamonds for ‘decisions’. Use connecting arrows between boxes to represent the direction of the sequence.
(3). Concisely describe each task or decision in its own box. You may sometimes wish to number (some of) the boxes and provide a key to where the activity is described in more detail.
Software tools can make process maps easily available using a web-browser allowing easier communication to and access by, multiple stakeholders.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)