Process maps, in all their varying forms, are a powerful and illustrative tool that should be leveraged by process improvement practitioners, project managers, business analysts, and leadership. They can be used to demonstrate the flow of products, services, and information. It can be used to help identify waste, constraints, and re-engineer processes. It can also be used to help identify gaps and define new process requirements. In this article, I outline three points that will help drive increased value during your process mapping efforts.
Point 1) Value Creation
What value does process mapping provide and how do you achieve that value? Lucid Chart (https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/value-stream-mapping) defines process mapping as a “method to illustrate, analyze and improve the steps required to deliver a product or service.” As I see it, the value of process mapping is ultimately what you seek to get out of it. It will allow you to illustrate a process, analyze its activities, and improve the steps, but it also helps explain the “why” behind the “what”.
Process mapping is not a prescriptive step-by-step development sequence but should be tailored to achieve the value that you seek when creating a process map. That value may include simply striving to understanding what the process is, who is involved throughout the process, dependencies in the process, bottlenecks, waste, and so much more.
When process mapping, document the high-level “what” first. Do not worry yourself with how activities are performed, but freely ask why activities are performed. Start with the current process before solutioning and creating the future-state process map. It is also important to understand the scope of the process map, otherwise you can get overloaded with drawing lines and boxes that do not achieve the intended value.
Point 2) “Proper” Process Mapping
It can be said that there are no right ways, but many wrong ways to create process maps. In my career, I have seen the positive and negative effects of process mapping efforts. I once sat in on an improvement project where the project owner was overly concerned with capturing as much detail as possible before understanding and illustrating the over-all high-level “what” process. What ended up happening is that the process mapping effort lost its intended value (which was to identify waste and re-engineer the process) and the process participants (aka various department heads/SMEs) got lost in the entropy of the process intricacies. It is my opinion that the project’s Define, Measure, and Analyze phases took much longer than was necessary AND participants lost interest (“what’s in it for me”) very quickly.
So what process mapping technique should you use? Goleansixsigma.com mentions six types of process maps which include SIPOC, High Level Map, Detailed Map, Swimlane Map, Relationship Map, and Value Stream Map (https://goleansixsigma.com/6-process-maps-know-choose-right-one/). While they are probably correct, I feel that this can be simplified into three (maybe 2.5) types of process maps that you can use. In some projects, you may use all types of process maps, and on other projects it may only makes sense to use one type. Again, what is the intended value of the map?
- Process Map: The most generic type of process map that will include activities illustrated with a simply box (rectangle or square) and decision points illustrated with diamond shaped boxes. These boxes and decision points are then also linked with directional arrows. Beyond that, you can be as creative as you would like with the use of line types, colors, swim lanes, etc. and as it makes sense for your process mapping needs. These maps may be very high-level, and they can also be granular low-level maps. They may also represent the current state process, and a separate map for the future state process.
- Value Stream Mapping: A Value Stream Map (VSM) is a linear type of process map that is keen to illustrate dependent activities and the value-add (VA), non-value-add (NVA), and essential non-value-add (ENVA) activities. Additionally, I’ve used VSMs to illustrate process time vs wait time of the process and activities and have found great success in doing this. When striving to document and quantify improvements between the current state process and future state process, VSMs are very effective!
- SIPOC: SIPOC, which stands for Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer, are a form of Value Stream mapping (hence type .5 as mentioned above) that also documents the supplier, input (or initiator), output, and customers of the process. I have used a SIPOC approach to my process mapping efforts to keenly identify the required inputs and outputs of a process both at an end-to-end high-level as well as a granular process activity level while keeping in mind the ultimate customer of the end process.
Point 3) Guidelines to Process Mapping
- Don’t “boil the ocean” with process maps.
- Understand what is in-scope and out-of-scope for your process documentation.
- This will allow you to focus on the intended value.
- Let the problem statement help define the scope of your project.
- People will try to add wish list items or recommend additional things to solve that may be out of the scope of the project.
I once worked on a project where team leads and executives wanted to introduce scope creep throughout the duration of the project. If that would have been allowed, the project would have never been implemented. Defining the scope up front allowed us to focus on the current state process, identify gaps, wastes, and automation opportunities, and then create an ideal future state process with less interference, exceptions, or rework.
- Call out process waste and opportunities for improvement! Leverage group thinking and call out wasteful process activities and gaps. These can be identified directly on your process map documentation in the form of “Kaizen Bursts”.
- Process maps can be leveraged during all phases of your project. Process maps can be used as you Define the process, Measure the process and the problems, Analyze it, Improve the process, and Control the new process. I have also used process maps as the outline for business and technical requirements, when creating dashboards/SLAs/SPCs, and new standard operating procedures.
- Process maps are great way to structure requirements, inputs, and outputs of various activities. These requirements are then very useful for user acceptance testing and validation.
Process mapping has been the most effective tool for me, and I find that it is leveraged repeatedly and in just about all of my projects. I also hope that you found this article to be useful and provide additional context and perspective.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experience!
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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With 12 years of diverse project management experience, Chad brings a unique perspective to PMforToday.com. Whether it was at the start of his career as an ice cream store manager or more recently as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ITIL leader in the telecommunications arena, Chad has always zeroed in on the kinds of changes that make a business function more effectively. Chad's formal background in process improvement complements his seasoned project repertoire. He's never found a team or process that couldn't improve in some area, and Chad is a firm believer that a healthy company culture is fundamental to any process improvement initiative.
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