ou can’t know where you need to go until you know where you are.
That is why mapping your business processes is an essential first step to improving your operations and increasing your effectiveness. That said, the act of mapping any process can be a daunting and overwhelming task. Also, given the sheer volume of conflicting approaches to process mapping, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are a few things you can do to make the whole experience easier and more beneficial to you and your organization.
Give everyone the opportunity to add their $0.02 about how things work, especially as it relates to their specific work activities. Do not assume a manager knows how tasks are actually completed and why.
Any good map is a visual tool. Only essential text is included. It is clear where you are and where you are going within the context of your activity. It should only have enough information to get the point across without being overwhelming.
This means you and your team need to be able to use images to represent your processes, which is not always an easy task for everyone. Therefore, I recommend that practice with something easy.
Tom Wujec has a TedTalk about making toast that outlines a truly excellent design activity that is a great way to practice visualizing processes both on your own and in groups. I recommend that you take some time to go through this exercise with your team before diving into your process mapping activities.
Think of Nodes as your software and Connections as your data
In the “making toast” activity above, you learn to consider processes as a series of Nodes and Connections that spell out the steps of any process. In my experience, you will get a clearer picture of your overall business processes if you consider the Nodes in your map to be the software you use to manage each step in the process.
The Connections between the nodes then will show the path that your data takes as it moves through your company or organization. When drawing your connections it is vital to indicate how the data is connected across each node, such as an integration, import, or if it is manually entered.
This will give you a hybrid of a System Architecture and a Process Map and is a helpful tool for planning operations and related technology improvements. It will show you how the tools in your enterprise are working together (or not working together) and will give you a view of your overall operations from a 30,000 foot perspective.
Most importantly, it will highlight the processes that rely on manual data entry which are ALWAYS the first place you should look to make process improvements.
As you can see in the example below once the processes are mapped out as they relate to the software in play, a major manual data-entry bottleneck is visible at the heart of the operations.
With this insight we focused improvement on the data and processes that were central to this bottleneck. We then sourced and implemented new software, and developed specific integrations that virtually eliminate manual entry across the organisation.
Capture what IS happening, not what SHOULD be happening
You must capture the current state before you can start mapping improvements. If you don’t capture your initial state you will miss things. It is easy to start working on improvements as you see them but you need to resist this urge.
I have found it helpful to have someone in each group who’s only task is to ensure the current state is captured before moving on.
Stay out of the weeds as much as you can
A process map is not a training document. If you have too much information on it, even if it is visually represented, it will diminish the effectiveness of the map. If the map is not useful without it then include it.
If it doesn’t add to the overall flow or context it is not needed.