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 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.

BPM Systems