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 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?

Customer Point of View

As a supplier, do you understand or appreciate what it is that your customers are really buying?

Have you identified your market segment and have you profiled your ideal customer?

It’s so important to focus on what it is that you are delivering to your customers. What is the need that you are satisfying? Have you asked them? When was the last time you conducted an impartial survey of your customers? Have you ever surveyed your customers?

Customers today are more informed about products and services than at any time in the past. As such, it is most likely that they understand more about you and your product or service than you do about what their requirements are. As suppliers, we need to reach beyond fulfilling the obvious and aim to satisfy their real requirements.

The hospitality industry has generally been more adaptive in this area. They understand that in providing that meal to you, they need to match it with quality of service, ambiance of the environment, etc. Extending beyond this, they may provide access to entertainment, accommodation, or even transport services to and from your home. In this scenario, they are offering to provide a good night out, not just a nice meal.

When a customer purchases a new car, finance is invariably available at the point of sale, and it is not unusual to be provided with roadside assistance for the term of the warranty period. How about a mobile service van to come to you for the regular servicing? You are not just buying a car on the day, you are purchasing comfort and practical, reliable, personal transport for some years.

It’s easy to ignore the true motivations as to why customers purchase from us. If we can understand this, then we can be more effective in satisfying their needs. Widening our view to provide a more comprehensive solution for our customers is essential in today’s environment. In the cycle of continuous improvement, this is the next step in “raising the bar”, but to really achieve this, we need to place ourselves in our customer’s shoes.

What do you think?

BPM Systems