As a representation of “the way things are done”, it is important as a communication tool for providing:
- a platform for educating the steps required to produce a specific result
- a means to collaborate among staff and obtain concensus on how things are done
How to create a process map
If you’ve never analysed a business process or tried to map a process, then the prospect may be daunting.
- Where to start?
- What are the “right” symbols to use (to represent the various aspects of your process)?
- Do you have to follow a particular format?
As in many areas of business, there are a number of recognised standards that may be used. A quick search for business process mapping will uncover information on “flowcharts”, “workflows”, “BPMN”, “swimlane diagrams”, and “process modelling”, to name a few. (Refer to the list of Abbreviations under the Resources menu.)
In the first instance, the standard or format that you use to create a process map should be the one that is easiest for you to implement. Follow the principle of keeping it simple. After all, the initial purpose is to create the content and communicate the content – capturing individual’s ideas and creating a record of what is known about a process.
The medium you use to start creating your process map will often be a large sheet of paper or whiteboard, remembering that you are likely to make multiple changes before you settle on a working version.
The other reason for initially drawing a business process on a whiteboard, is that this an excercise best undertaken by a group, where all team players contribute by brainstorming the steps that make up the process – it is rare that only one person is involved in a given process; involving all stakeholders will facilitate buy-in across the team.
Once the content of your process map is agreed upon, then you can transfer it into a drawing package that can be used to create and manage the agreed version and future changes.
A: “Which ever drawing software you have available and are most familiar with.” Often the easiest to use is what you already have available. In many instances, this will be one of the applications from the Microsoft® Office suite – Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. While none of these are specifically just drawing applications, all of these have drawing capabilities as part of their functionality. (If you need to enhance this functionality, you may consider an add-in such as Flowbreeze for Excel by BreezeTree Software.) Open source office software suites have comparible drawing functionality.
Be aware that there are also some good cloud-based (SaaS) solutions emerging. Depending on your organsiation, and how your workers interact with resources, these may be viable considerations.
As process documentation matures within an organsiation, the additional features of applicatoins such as Microsoft® Visio can be beneficial. The advantages of applications such as Visio for drawing business processes, is the capacity to define specific meta data that sits behind each object in your process map. Such data effectively becomes a database of information that complements your process map. The point at which this becomes beneficial will depend on the complexity of the processes and the number of stakeholders involved (or size of the organisation).
Q: “Should I map my process from left to right, or top to bottom?”
A: “It makes no difference. The specific process itself may dictate that it is easier to format in one orientation than another.”
In developing a process map, remember that it is as much about identifying the steps that exist within a process as it is about identifying the order in which the steps occur. The orientation or layout is secondary to the steps and their order.
A business process map should be considered as a dynamic diagram – it is not set in concrete; it changes over time as people, processes, and technologies change. Ideally, the validity of process maps should be regularly tested and adjusted where required.
How does this improve my business processes?
Once you’ve completed an initial process map, ask whether there are steps that are redundant or steps that can be rearranged to improve efficiency.
The important aspect here is to provide a basis for ongoing, continuous improvement. Something that can be refined over time, as and when influencing factors change. Factors that can impact on your now documented process map(s) include:
- market changes
- legislation or regulation changes
- organisation structural changes
- changes in available resources
Draw on the experience of others
Further reading: Business Process Improvement
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