In any large organization, even the simplest processes tend to get convoluted over time. From the desk of Person A to Department B to Division C, steps get missed, orders get tangled and important data gets dropped. By the end of a complicated or specialized process, everyone agrees something went wrong – but how do you fix it? The answer: process mapping.
Process mapping involves gathering everyone involved in the process (administrators, contractors and even front-line personnel) and determining what makes that process happen: inputs, outputs, steps and process time. A process map takes that information and diagrams it visually.
The visual aspect is key: If pictures are worth one thousand words, then a well-executed process map could be worth one million dollars (or more) in decision-making power. But the benefits go beyond making it easier to understand or simple to grasp. Let’s start with number one.
When you involve everyone in the process improvement and mapping exercise, each person in the room is empowered to enact positive change within your organization. The first aspect of empowerment comes from a key human trait: a sense of camaraderie in physical presence.
Include as many employees as possible in your process mapping meetings. For large, complex organizations, this might be easier said than done, but every warm body in the room accentuates this benefit all the more. Even small delegations or single representatives from large divisions are better than not having anyone from that department.
Physical human presence draws immediacy to the task at hand in a way that other virtual communication doesn’t match. Once you reach a solution, the impact of mapping and streamlining the process imprints the positive experience on the minds of everyone involved. Employees feel the power of collaboration and don’t feel alone in the face of a menacing problem.
Having every key team member in attendance also improves morale on several levels. First, they see that this frustrating, complex problem is being dealt with. Second, they have a part in creating the solution. A physical meeting also means an opportunity for immediate feedback – which is good for you as well as your team, because employees feel that they’re being heard.
When the process starts at Point A and ends at Point Z, it’s not always easy to determine where the process is taking too much time or using too many budget dollars.
That’s where process mapping shines: everyone discovers exactly how the process happens, not how it is supposed to happen or how it happens on paper. In creating the process map, you uncover where those discrepancies between the ideal and the reality creep into your process.
The key to isolating your most vexing trouble areas is being detailed to a fault. Who sends the project approval? When do they actually do it? How do they communicate approval or changes: by email, phone or in-person?
Get everything down, even if you have an idea on how to fix it. Once your process has been mapped and everyone in the room understands where it’s breaking down, then you have the insight you need to re-map the process and eliminate any problems.
This is a commonly praised attribute of process mapping, and it’s often glossed over too quickly. Yes, both you and your staff understand a process better when you see the whole thing visually diagramed, but there’s more to it.
First, the process mapping exercise connects everyone to the process as you’re diagramming it. They feel the pain, frustration and confusion of their fellow team members. That creates organizational empathy, priming the team to create a solution that works for everyone involved.
Second, a finished – and improved – process map provides a clear vision of the future. It’s one thing to map how the process works in the present, but after pinpointing problems and proposing solutions, you have the ability to re-map the process to what it should be. Now, with the big picture in hand, employees are able to carry out improvements with a shared vision in mind.
Third, it makes employees more aware of how their work affects everyone else’s. With a pictorial understanding of the process, Employee A won’t take so long when sending his work in, or Administrator B now knows to check in if she hasn’t heard from Manufacturing by the 15th, because everyone else down the line is waiting and frustrated.
Working in any organization with complex compliance and audit requirements makes a simple process immediately more intricate. Fortunately, process mapping helps with that too.
When implementing new compliance procedures or preparing for an audit, mobilize your team for a new process mapping meeting. As usual, start with the current process and map it completely – something may have changed since the last time you mapped, so be detailed.
Then, redesign your process map to include the new compliance requirements. This communicates the importance of the new procedures to everyone involved and gives team members specific compliance ownership of their tasks.
When it comes time for an audit or certification test, hand the auditor your new process map. The diagram helps the auditor understand your compliance procedures and communicates your responsibility in the process.
Process mapping lays bare every detail of the process, putting the process under a microscope for inspection. Just like any look in a mirror, it reveals areas that need work.
Once your process is mapped, examine it for non-value-added steps. Discover unnecessary repetitions or time-wasting sidetracks, then trim as needed when you re-map the process.
Also look out for bottlenecks, worst-case scenarios and other wasteful habits that have crept into your process and brainstorm with your team about how to eliminate them from the new map.
When was the last time a new staff member actually understood your complex processes on the first day of work? In the first week? In the first year?
Too much process discovery time is wasted time. Catch your new team members up to speed with a detailed, accurate process map. Visually, it is much easier to understand, and it provides a great avenue for questions about the process.
Business process improvement mapping isn’t just about helping your current employees – it’s also about helping your future ones.
Any specialized, complex process usually accumulates variations in its practices. Planning does Task A different than Manufacturing, who varies from Marketing who follows the tradition of an employee that retired five years ago, and so on. As a result, your processes become widely varied at best and tangled at worst.
A process map highlights all of these variant practices, allowing you to prune out the inefficient and propagate the most effective.
After your initial map is complete, draw attention to what or who on your team is performing exceptionally well. With the whole team present – and with a visual map to clearly understand the benefits – one person’s great idea becomes the whole staff’s best practice. The more often you map your processes, the more often you’ll glean these innovative and insightful solutions.
Organizational and business process improvement doesn’t have to be difficult. Process mapping with your team helps you untangle complex processes and visualize them with ease. As a regular discipline, process mapping prepares your organization for the evolving future with empowered decision making.
Need more ideas on how to visualize solutions for your business or agency? Click the button below to download our free guide: