Process Mapping – its role in business process improvement

Business process mapping is one of many tools used in developing a process based management system. It provides a pictorial representation of a process. In this context, a business process is a series of steps within a specific activity that combine to produce a required outcome. Clearly understanding, defining, and mapping a business process is always the first step down the path of continuous improvement.As a representation of “the way things are done”, process maps are important as a communication tool for providing:

It is the first or second generation of process documentation that organisations often struggle with, and which is the focus of this article. The goal of the initial creation of a business process map is to benchmark the process for reference and future improvement.

The goal of the initial creation of a business process map is to benchmark the process

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.

As in many areas of business, there are a number of recognised standards that may be used for process mapping. 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 of process mapping 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.
Simple Business Process Map
The other reason for initially drawing a business process on a whiteboard, is that this an exercise 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.
Questions and Answers - Q and A

Questions, Answers

Q: “What program should I use to draw my business process map?”

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 comparable drawing functionality.

Be aware that there are also some good cloud-based (SaaS) solutions emerging. Depending on your organisation, and how your workers interact with resources, these may be viable considerations.  One which we have found to be particularly effective is Miro.

As process documentation matures within an organisation, the additional features of applications 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 process mapping improve my business?

light bulb ideas depicted on a blackboard
By documenting your process(es) through process mapping, you are creating a benchmark to work from and improve upon. Quite often, the very act of brainstorming your business process among the relevant team members and stakeholders, will raise questions, improve collaboration, and uncover improvements. Depending on how well established a process is (its level of maturity), and whether or not there are any recent changes that impact on the process, there can be benefits in mapping out an initial process, then re-drawing it to represent the way that it needs to be. This is sometimes referred to as drawing both the “as-is” state and the “to-be”, or “future” state.

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:

Draw on the experience of others

As with many challenges, trying to find solutions by yourself is not always the best strategy. This is definitely the case when it comes to business process mapping.  It can often be that business process improvements are more readily identified through a fresh set of eyes, by someone who is impartial to the situation.

This is where an experienced business process improvement consultant can provide significant value. The short term cost can lead to significant long term gains.
If you have a specific Business Process Mapping project requirement that you feel we may be able to assist you with, either now or in the near future, then tell us about your project here. We love helping others solve the challenges of business process mapping and process improvement.

Further reading: Business Process Improvement

(Microsoft, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Visio are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.)

Business Process Training by BP Group

BP Group Business Process Training

In March 2012, BP Group have scheduled business process training sessions in Australia.

Certified Process Professional, CPP, sessions 1&2 have been scheduled in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne for March 2012.

At the end of March and again in May, sessions have also been scheduled for New Zealand.

Business Process Training Dates

Check out the training dates and the session nearest you at the BP Group site

Anyone who is involved in managing business processes within their organisation will benefit from this business process training and most likely walk away viewing business process management in a completely new light.

Update (May 2012): link updated to latest schedule on BP Group site – indexed by city

Renovation – Home Improvement vs Business Improvement

As managers, when you are head-down, working in the business, day in, day out, it’s hard to step back and evaluate what’s needed to improve the performance of the business. It’s also easy to take the view that because you know your business better than anyone else, that you are also the best person to evaluate what’s best for your business.

I refer to this as “renovation blinker syndrome”. Business owners and management teams often look at their business the same way and with the same bias as someone looking at their own house renovation project. You know what looks and works best, and where and in what order, to satisfy that mindset you’ve cultivated over many years. You may have tried different colour schemes, furniture layouts, etc. Often there are perfectly valid and practical reasons why one layout works better than another. But it takes a certain amount of daring, evaluation, expertise and external influence to achieve the best solution. What we think might work in our mind’s eye is limited by the blinkers we wear.

Think about all those specialty trades people who you work with on a renovation. They review your ideas, advise you of options, massage you ideas, maybe even enhance them, then turn them into reality. Although some of us may try, we don’t tell them how to do their job, instead we seek their advice and discuss the options. For most of us we just want the job done, but leaning on the expertise and resources of specialists and working with them to understand what’s involved and any potential implications, will typically lead us to a better solution and a much greater appreciation of the end result.

When it comes to thinking about improvements and changes within the business, it’s not so different. We may have an idea about a change or improvement, but we don’t always have the the time or the experience or resources to take a step back and impartially evaluate the best options and implement a solution. It’s easy to underestimate the inertia and conservatism that can exist within a company. Specific changes may have been tried before and failed. So why should you even consider those changes again?

I often meet with companies that have a perception that there’s a need for improvement of a specific KPI or business process. Something in their business is not working and needs to change. But often they have a blinkered approach as to what specific change is required and how it needs to be implemented. That’s not to say that it’s all bad, given that the first step towards change is in recognising the need exists in the first place.

Business consultants are specialists whose assets are the depth of our experience and the number of specialty tools in our toolkits. We have the capacity to see beyond what you’ve always seen, using a fresh set of eyes with an independent, outside perspective.

A good renovation adds value, often improving the functionality of specific areas and the capacity for all areas to work well together. It does take time. It also takes effort and commitment. But we also recognise that it’s worth some short term pain to achieve a better outcome.

This year, while you may be spending time renovating your house, how about renovating your business?

If you are not sure where to start, contact us today.

What are you biggest challenges in business improvement? Leave your comments below.

Announcing Business Process Training for 2011

Certified Process Professional (CPP)
Certified Process Professional (CPP)
Returning to Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks, this world renowned programme (just sold out again in Europe) offers the full Certified Process Professional (CPP) training and certification, and it is a ‘must have’ for both the practising and aspiring Business Process Professional.

If you missed out on the training last year, make sure that you don’t miss out again this year! This is the most pragmatic and immediately accessible approach that I’ve found to reduce costs, increase revenue and improve customer service.

The BP Group have just announced that they are now taking bookings for their Certified Process Professional training and has scheduled sessions for the end of January through until mid-March and in the following cities:

Looking for BPM training in Sydney, Adelaide or Hobart? Or maybe in-house training would be preferable? Either leave a comment below or email us directly via our contact form (here) and we will advise you of possible options.

The BP Group is offering discounts to members of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and the Australian Business Analysis Association (ABAA).

The programme is based around REAL case studies and draws on the world leading best practice of organisations such as Disney, BestBuy, FedEx, Virgin, SouthWest, Gilead Sciences, Emirates and many more. The result is one of the most up-to-date, thorough, and informed courses in business today.

I highly recommend it.

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Business Process Improvement or Customer Process Improvement?

Does your company need business process improvement?

Where is the focus of your process improvement project? Does it focus on:
– Business Process Improvement (BPI), or
– Customer Process Improvement (CPI)?

The aim of any organisation undertaking a process improvement project is to improve the efficiency of their operations and therefore reduce their costs and increase profits. Right? We might look at how our processes within the walls of our organisation fit together, maybe map out an “As-Is” and “To-Be” process map, and decide what to optimise. But is this all there is to it? Is this the smartest approach? If we can complete a process quicker, does this automatically translate to an overall improvement in business efficiency? And does an improvement in a specific business process automatically lead to more business or more satisfied customers? Would you even know?

The trouble is, unless a business improvement project starts off with a focus on the customer, then the best we are likely to achieve is an incrementally improved internal process. While this may be the goal, the gain, if any, from the point of view of the overall organisation is likely to be limited.

Focusing on improving an internal process might lead to staff being able to complete more tasks in less time. But without an analysis of where that specific process fits within your overall business objectives and strategy, you may well be missing a much greater opportunity to check if that process is even needed in the first place. In fact, completing more of the same task in less time could actually increase the burden on other areas of your business and hinder the delivery of your product or service to your customers, leading to a decrease in customer satisfaction. As someone once put it, “you may be doing things right, but are you doing the right things?” It may well be easier to make some incremental improvements to an internal process, but if you are not looking at the big picture, the rewards to your business, if any, are likely to be small.

Given that the reason for existence of any business is to serve its customers, the focus of any process improvement project should always start with the customer. We work to satisfy the needs of our customers. And this work is comprised of completing tasks within processes. But ultimately, anything that we do which does not directly contribute to meeting the needs of our customers is potentially a wasted effort and therefore a cost to the business. Losing focus on your customers leads to losing customers. The process to focus on is the customer; the customer IS the process.

So when you next look at improving your processes, think about whether or not you are aiming for an incremental internal business process improvement, or if instead, you are looking at the bigger picture and shooting for much greater gains for your organisation through a focused Customer Process Improvement project.

Business Process Analysis – a waste of time?

Many organisations work within a cycle of continuous improvement – monitoring current processes, identifying areas for improvement, planning an improvement and implementing the improved process.

Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle

We examine the processes that exist in our businesses and make decisions on how they need to be improved. This is the cycle of continuous improvement.

At least, that’s how it is in theory.

In reality, the method implemented for process improvement varies from one organisation to another. The motivations for organisations to undertake process improvement initiatives also varies. Many organisations work on a purely reactive basis, addressing process related issues only once they become a significant problem.

Depending on where you sit within an organisation, the level of maturity of the organisation (more on this in a future post), and what resources are available, quite often the process looks more like this:
– identifying an area/need for improvement;
– understanding the process;
– gathering enough ammunition to justify resources and/or authorise change;
– defining the improved process;
– implementing the improved process;
– monitoring the improved process.

Some of these steps may be broken down further.

All of the above steps require a varying degree of effort. Which of the above areas takes the greatest effort? Quite often the first steps of identifying, understanding and justifying take the most effort. Once a process is truly understood, improvements are often obvious. Unfortunately we often spend an inordinate amount of time analysing before we get to the point of improving.

How much do we need to know to know that we know enough to change?

Recently I saw a home renovation program on tv where the host was looking to justify the repairs to some windows. The window frames were crumbling and some panes of glass were badly cracked. The physical decay was such that it created poor sealing, contributing to drafts. Yet, a smoke machine was brought in to demonstrate just how extensive the draft was through the windows.

If you have obvious cracks in a business process, how much investigation do you really need to do to prove that the problem is big enough to address? Are you just procrastinating about fixing the obvious?

Has this ever happened in your organisation?

BPM Systems