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3 Tips for Getting Your Process Map Right 

By John Dillard

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You already know that process mapping increases the effectiveness of your organization, boosting employee efficiency and delivering other hidden benefits beyond its graphic appeal. But only if you do it right!

We've collected some expert tips to help you take your process mapping efforts to the next level:

1. Start Small

Choose a process that promises immediate dividends when deciding where to begin your process mapping and improvements. (Click here for more on how to prioritize). Selecting a process that’s small and manageable allows you to find every input, output and key activity of the process along with the person responsible for each step.

Improving a “quick win” process is particularly important if you’re working in an environment that is resistant to change. Consider processes that improve your daily productivity or reduce your team’s exertion level.

Case Study: At one large government agency, employees received both electronic and handwritten applications as part of a key process. These forms had to be printed or copied then sent to other staff members via FedEx, courier or mail – an expensive and time-consuming delivery method.

After a process mapping exercise, the office decided to begin using scanners to send all applications electronically. This simple tweak saved the agency a significant amount of money and effort.

2. Don’t Boil The Ocean

Many leaders want to improve their operational processes, but all too often they try to fix too many processes at the same time, or fix only the largest, most complex process in their purview. Focusing all of the effort in either of these directions typically requires an excessive amount of budget and oversight approvals and therefore can result in a disouragingly meager amount of noticable change.

Because many operational processes have evolved over long periods of time, they tend to handle not only normal requirements and inputs but also just about any exception that arises. These processes become so difficult to change in their entirety that most attempts at change require too many resources and the process improvement fails.

In order to enact change, start with a short list of targeted processes within your control – and within your budget. Not only are you able to complete these changes, but small changes set the stage for larger process improvements to occur later.

Case Study: In the early 2000s, the IRS was transitioning to electronic filing for tax returns. At first, stakeholders wanted all returns to be filed electronically. While this would have been an optimal outcome, the enormity of the tax code and the limited ability of tax software providers wouldn’t have allowed for the budget or time required.

Instead, the IRS executive overseeing the project led the team through a process mapping exercise and determined a simple solution for allowing a specific subset of taxpayers to file electronically. The process map showed that this alternative required the least amount of programming, but also eased the tax filing process for most U.S. taxpayers. The result was an e-file system that won numerous awards, saved processing time and money for the IRS and opened the door for additional types of electronic tax filing in the future.

3. Map End-To-End

Process mapping is most effective when you select a process you are able to map from end to end without crossing any departmental lines or requiring multiple layers of approval to change. Don’t try to map your most complex process, particularly if you’re unable to map the entire process.

Leaders often map the small part of a process that they control and initiate changes to improve their part of the process, only to discover that they’ve caused problems for their colleague who manages the process downstream – rendering the process improvement useless. Before you begin process mapping, carefully consider the inputs and outputs of the process and focus your main efforts on process improvements that you are able to enhance from end to end.

Case Study: A large federal agency worked with first responders to collect, analyze and disseminate data concerning natural and man-made disasters. The information technology system the team developed was a near-perfect solution, but they failed to develop an end-to-end process map of its implementation.

The team misunderstood who would need access to the data and how the data would be consumed. As a result, multiple stakeholders at the federal level were unaware of this valuable project, and they developed their own system that replaced the original solution.

The team that built the second system completed a process map, giving them a better understanding of their entire stakeholder community and garnering increased buy-in at both first responder and federal levels for a successful deployment.

As you implement organizational process improvements, keep these three tactics in mind for more effective process mapping and better outcomes.

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