How to Map A Process

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Need to Understand How Work Happens?

Process Mapping – Synopsis

Before you can improve a work area, you need a solid understanding of what works and what really needs improvement.  Now is the time to visually represent your findings, via map process so that you can profoundly understand the “current state” (also known as “As Is”) of your process and discover its true potential.  Process maps are much more than simple boxes and lines that document how work flows.  Process maps are a potent set of tools that, when used properly, can unlock urgent opportunities to improve performance.  In this article, you’ll learn a set of prevailing process mapping methods to visually represent and analyze how work happens.  You will learn an approach for choosing the right map process tool for your objectives and your target audience.

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Need to Document How Work Happens?

 Map The Process – A Synopsis

Let’s say you know which work area, or process, needs improvement. You may even have concrete data about how that area performs (effectively or not). Before you can improve the work area, you’ll need a solid understanding of what works and what really needs improvement. Now is the time to visually represent your findings, so that you can profoundly understand the “current state” (also known as “As Is”) of your process and discover its true potential.

How To Map A Process



Process maps are much more than simple boxes and lines that document a how work flows. They are a potent set of tools that, when used properly, can unlock urgent opportunities to:

  • Increase efficiency
  • Eliminate non-value-added activities
  • Reduce cycle time
  • Expand service capabilities
  • Simplify work flow
  • Minimize dependencies
  • Gain buy-in and organizational support for change

In this post, you’ll learn a set of prevailing process mapping methods to visually represent and analyze how work happens. You’ll gain insight into the key process dimensions that will add depth and meaning to your maps. Finally, you’ll learn an approach for choosing the right tool for your objectives and your target audience.
When you’ve mapped the process, you will have more than just art work for your cubicle wall; you’ll have a visual story of your process, with formidable solutions in the palm of your hand. You’ll be ready to launch that crucial process improvement project.

Defining Process Mapping

What does that mean, “mapping a process?” I am asked that every time I go to a party and explain that I teach courses on how to map processes. It means drawing out how work gets done. In the olden days, it used to be called “flowcharting.” But this term was routinely used with computers for software development. When flowcharting organizational work, a broader set of tools, appropriate for business workflow, can illuminate the multiple dimensions of process performance. This tool kit comprises process mapping.

The power of process mapping is this. When you visually represent how work happens, then you can see how to improve it. Often these improvements will jump right out the page at you. And since most of us are visual learners, a visual representation is a familiar way of communicating – so you gain influential buy-in to your change project. And who wants to improve buy in? Just about everyone!

Successful process mapping starts with choosing the right tool from your multi-faceted toolkit. As the saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This applies in process mapping. If you always use the block diagram to show how the work flows, you might be missing an opportunity to illuminate the other aspects (who, where, why) of process performance you are not capturing.

Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses; similar to photography. If you want to capture the majesty of the Rocky Mountains in a photo, for example, you might use a wide-angle lens. Yet a macro lens can also be used to capture a small Columbine flower at the top of the Maroon Bells Pass. Both lenses demonstrate the depth and breadth of the Rocky Mountains but using a different approach. Let’s look at each of the tools and what each one can offer.

What’s In The Toolkit?

Did you know your toolkit is already quite substantial? There are many ways to illustrate how a process works. Each technique emphasizes certain aspects of a process and only by taking a crack at each tool will you find the tools that capture your process usefully.

Here’s how you can illustrate your process:
1. System Map – Informal and Formal
2. Top Down Chart
3. Block Diagram – Logic Flow Left to Right
4. Block Diagram – Responsibility Matrix
5. Block Diagram – Cycle vs. Process
6. Flow Process Chart
7. Work Flow Diagram
8. Swim Lane, or Deployment, Chart
9. State Change Chart

The System Maps are very useful when evaluating the systemic interplay between processes.

The Informal System Map (Described in Article 1 of this series) provides pointers to areas that cause issues and provides useful boundary analysis. Its powerful root cause analysis and visual links guide your process improvement efforts and create buy-in with the organization in a matter of hours.
The Formal System Map presents a big picture that identifies the process and the stakeholders’ requirements. It provides an early indication of operational gaps and assists in prioritizing them. The Formal System Map clarifies which suppliers furnish which inputs to your process and describes at a high level the activities in your process. Then you can evaluate how productively the outputs of the process fill your customer needs. (This is often called the SIPOC model, forSupplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer.) When prepared in conjunction with a detailed formal gap analysis, the concrete data makes a compelling case for broad change. It demands you consider why this process occurs.

The Top Down chart provides an excellent starting place. Start by describing the three to five main activities that occur in your process. These are your “macro” steps. Now describe the “micro” or detailed steps that make up each of those macro steps. This tool is great for orientation to a process. Use it to give a thorough description of what is getting done in the process.

The Block Diagram is a very flexible tool. It is so flexible that unlimited variations exist. The commonly used formats include the Logic Flow, the Responsibility Matrix, and the Cycle vs. Process Time charts.
The Logic Flow (Left To Right) presents the flow of work in the same manner as we in western society read, that is, left to right. This natural representation eases understanding. Your placement of key decision points makes the chart valuable. The decision diamonds and arrows guide the reader toward what activities follow if the decision is “yes” or “no.”

The Responsibility Matrix clarifies who is in charge of or on duty for each activity. Project Managers often use this tool to communicate roles and responsibilities explicitly. In this matrix, the columns represent the activities and the rows represent the functions or persons. In the cell that connects the activity and the function, use a symbol such as a solid dot (fully responsible) or a circle (involved). Project Managers use the letters R, A, C, or I in that connection. These represent responsible, accountable, consulted or informed.

The Cycle vs. Process chart points out the difference between “clock time” and “touch time” for activities in your process. This chart combines the flow of activities left to right with timing information for each activity. This enlightening chart directs you to the area where delays are severe. This simple yet substantial tool supports a compelling impact for change.

The Flow Process chart, also called an Activity chart, provides detailed task-level information. After listing the steps down the page, the chart provides an area for you to value each step. Specifically, it looks at value-added operational steps and illuminates potential non-value-added transportation, inspection, delay, rework, or storage. This perspective provides depth to the steps and challenges how they contribute to the overall process; whether the step is necessary or not. In conjunction with the Cycle vs. Process chart, it reveals why elapsed time and transformation time differ and it facilitates activity based costing.

The Work Flow diagram illustrates the movement of information, goods or people. The tool imparts the spatial relationships. Whenever a bottleneck in the flow, this tool offers insight to where a bottleneck occurs. This is useful for warehouse layout, data entry screen design or even seating arrangements for organizations.

The Swim Lane chart (also called a Deployment chart), tells a robust story about who does what and when. By listing the functional participants along the left side, it clarifies what each function does and their interactions. It demonstrates when hand-offs occur and shows relative timing. This chart provides a big-picture perspective and cross-functional teams appreciate understanding how they intermingle.

The State Change chart allows for blue-sky brainstorming. By capturing “what state” information of each step, the participants in its development depart from focusing on “how” and turn to the customer’s needs. Strategic in nature, it simplifies whether activities really need to happen, regardless of the current method of doing the work.
Each tool is better or worse at illustrating parts of your process and highlighting gaps you have found in your process analysis. The matrix below summarizes the main objective of each tool and their main advantages and disadvantages:

How To Map A Proces ill 1

How Do I Do It?

At the start, just pick one of the tool styles. The Informal System Map or the Top Down chart is a great place to begin. Both tools grant a sense of how the process performs. Often the process of mapping brings up other dimensions that you will find add depth.

It is helpful to use low-tech, high-touch flip charts with sticky notes. There are several reasons:
• It’s easy to move sticky notes around to adapt to another type of chart
• You’ll gain buy-in from all participants who write detailed tasks
• There is little investment in the map and that creates freedom to make mistakes and start over

Whether in a group or own your own, try illustrating your process with at least two techniques. Or combine what works from several tools into one chart. For example, use the Swim Lane chart and add the Top Down macro steps along the top, with cycle vs. process time along the bottom. Warning: Watch out for too much information!

What Kind Of Information To Map? Process Dimensions

To effectively visually represent a process, these critical dimensions will deepen your analysis and give meaning to your images:
1. Who
2. What
3. When
4. Where
5. Whether
6. What Degree (how much)
7. What Frequency (how often)

It sounds a little bit like “Journalism 101,” and that’s the point. Tell a visual story about your process and all possible solutions. When you add these dimensions you develop interesting characters and sub-plots which captivate your audience.

Who: Who does the work? Who authorizes the work? Who hands-off the work? Who verifies or changes the work? Keep asking who until you have considered all the stakeholders – the suppliers, the owners, the customers, the community, the employees, and the regulators (acronym: SOCCER). The “who” dimension shows opportunities to transfer work “to” or “from” your customer in order to simplify your process. Good map formats for this dimension include the

Responsibility Matrix and the Swim Lane chart

What: What work is being done? What work is not being done? What value-added transformation is happening, or what non-value-added work occurs due to functional silos? What waste occurs – rework or mistakes? The “what” dimension acts as the “verb” in your process map. Good map formats for this dimension include the Top Down, the Logic Flow, the Flow Process chart, the Swim Lane or the State Change Chart.

When: When is work done? Is it relatively before or after an event? Or does it occur on an ad-hoc basis? The “when” dimension provides movement, flow, or a feeling of a series of events. When work is happening serially, and you display it that way, you might find an opportunity to take advantage of parallelism – redesigning the work to happen at the same time. Good map formats for this dimension include the Logic Flow, the Work Flow Diagram, and the Swim Lane chart.

Where: Where is the work accomplished, physically? Which building, cubicle, floor, state, country, or area? The “where” dimension provides co-location opportunities which does simplify workflow. Good map formats for this dimension include the Work Flow Diagram and the Swim Lane chart.

Whether: Is this work that must be done or is it “nice to have?” What triggers this work being done? Someone or something determines whether or not to do the work. Seek to eliminate non-value-added intermediaries where decisions to do the work are separate from the participants who do it. In a simple process the “whether” decision is made by process performers. The unneeded complexity can be simplified by evaluating the “whether” dimension. Good map formats for this dimension include the Top Down chart, the Logic Flow, the Flow Process chart and the State Change chart.

What degree (how much): How much of the process can one participant accomplish? What are the boundaries – in skill or in authorization? How much work needs to be done to achieve an acceptable level of performance? The “what degree” dimension reveals excessive standardization without regard for the participants involved. One solution includes using specialists in a team with broader responsibilities, thus simplifying the entire process. Another solution includes adding a caseworker between extreme specialists, to simplify customer service. Good map formats for this dimension include the Top Down, the Cycle vs. Process Time, the Flow Process Chart, and the Work Flow diagram.

What frequency (how often): How often is the work happening? What triggers the work – time passing or completion of another activity? The “what frequency” dimension reveals the “80/20 rule”: 80 percent of the time normal activities occur, but in the 20 percent of the time when exceptions occur, we spend 80 percent of our effort resolving. This dimension reveals your exceptions. Good map formats for this dimension include the Top Down, the Logic Flow, the

Work Flow and the Cycle vs. Process chart

Whichever tool you use – be on purpose with what dimensions you are illustrating and help the reader understand the importance of this dimension.

Which Tool Shall I Use?

Every situation is a little different; there is no “right” process map. Here are three guidelines to picking an appropriate tool.

First, consider your audience. Is the audience the senior leadership? Or an end user? Or perhaps you are providing analytical information for process analysts? Regardless of your own orientation for loving or hating detail, it is your audience that must stay in the forefront of your mind.

Second, consider your intention with the map. The acronym DRIVE may be useful to recall various intentions. Are you trying to Diagnose a situation? Are you trying to map it for Regulatory use? Are you attempting to Improve the process? Are you seeking to place a Valuation on the activities? Or are you simply trying to Educate those involved?

Third, consider the gap that you are trying to close. An operational performance gap occurs anytime reality doesn’t meet expectations or specifications. Whatever that gap is, your process map must illustrate the gap; it’s affect or how the gap can be closed.

In our Process Mapping courses, we create a matrix for the organization that brings it all together. Here is a sample format:

Mapping A Proces ill2

To improve process performance, a visual display using a diverse set of tools can give you a profound understanding of your process. The process map is more than a pretty picture of your current workflow; it’s filled with solution clues and reveals the true potential of your process.

By using a combination of techniques, you can emphasize more than one dimension and add depth and meaning to your charts. Tell the broad story and bring those sub-plots alive.

Every situation is different, so consider which technique in conjunction with your audience, your intention, and the gap you are trying to close.

With the approach provided, you can find the right tool for the right time and right reason. Now you are ready to launch that crucial process improvement project.