Process Mapping

Process vs Expectations

The process map is a tool that graphically shows the inputs, actions and outputs of a process in a clear, step-by-step map of the process. This is tollgate # 3 of Define in the DMAIC. The purpose of process mapping is to help team members and others within the process to understand the process.

Process Mapping

Process Mapping. Photo by Justin Lincoln

What is Process Mapping?

Process mapping is the graphical representation with illustrative descriptions of how things get done. It helps the participants to visualize the details of the process closely and guides decision making. One can identify the major areas of strengths and weaknesses in the existing process, such that the contribution of individual steps in the process are recognized. Further, it helps to reduce the cycle times and defects in the process and enhances its productivity.

The major components of a process map include the inputs, outputs and the steps in the process. A good process map should illustrate the flow of the work and the interaction with the organization. It should make use of common language (symbols) that are easily understood by everyone. An ideal process map should contain proper detail with respect to multiple paths, decisions and rework loops.

Why do businesses need process maps?

Process mapping provides the visual glimpse of different processes of the business. It provides the necessary information and helps to determine the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How aspects of the process and problem, and even guides towards possible solutions. Some of the reasons for the need of a process map are:

  • Pictures guide better than words. The use of graphs, charts, tables and images guides better than a big compiled report with lot of data fixation issues in it.
  • Process maps facilitate improvements in the process, since it becomes easy to pin point the specific areas that need changes, like bottlenecks, delays, capacity constraints etc. in the light of efficiency and effectiveness of the process.
  • Decision making becomes fast as it deals with the ‘show me’ aspect and not the ‘tell me’ aspect of the process and the problem areas.
  • The improvements made in the process can easily be tracked using process maps since it becomes possible to audit and understand different areas in the process as well as the organization.
  • Visual illustration for training would be much more effective than any oral tools explained, as the visual examples register faster in human brains and helps them understand the things better and fast.
  • In the need of change, when the organization moves on making the changes without understanding the current working process, it is likely to commit more mistakes or deploy its resources in creating more troubles. Process maps provide a detailed outlook of the current process and guides the effective management of change.
  • Process maps serves as a measurement tool for a process, that is very much necessary to manage and finally improve it.


Types of process maps

There are two major types of process maps- that are process flowchart and deployment flowchart.

Process flowchart:

A process flowchart is a simple process map that provides the visual representation of the sequence of activities along with their points of decisions. These flowcharts provide the basic details of the process, which can later be augmented by adding the roles of different staffs.

Deployment flowchart:

These process maps provide the interactions between different departments and the roles performed by different people in the organization. Also termed as ‘swim- lane’ charts, these process maps have vertical lines showing the movement of process from person to person.

Why Bother with a Process Map?

Why bother mapping your process? Several great reasons.

1) Process Maps Help You Uncover Waste

Mapping your process gives you a visual tool where you can uncover waste. I am normally not a fan of commercials but check this one out from GE (remember that GE is a renown adopter of Six Sigma to dramatically improve business results.) Here they use Process Mapping to double output speed of a manufacturing facility – a 100% increase.

To paraphrase the ad; It shows who does what, when, and where. Then you can follow up with the questions why? You can propose hypothesis and test it. In this case “could you reduce 5 steps to 2?”

2) Process Maps Help You Deliver to Expectations

Because there is a process and then there are expectations.

Process vs Expectations

How to Start Process Mapping

Before beginning the process mapping, you must have clearly established boundaries to make sure the scope of the flowchart that will be created will be manageable. The boundaries must be established first so the team knows what tasks, activities and decisions should be included in the flowchart.

Steps to follow

Business managers can develop an effective process map that facilitates continuous improvement in the business processes by following some simple steps. The steps for developing the process map are identified as under:

Step 1: Select the process

Firstly, the managers must identify the reason for creating the process map. Is it that the process is not performing up to its mark? Or firm wish to plan a new service? Or the goal is to augment the value derived from the process?

Secondly, the beginning should be identified, that is the events that create the demand for the process map and trigger behind the process.

Thirdly, the end needs to be uniquely defined, that is what parameters or conditions will finally satisfy the demand.

Lastly, the business managers must develop a document containing information about details of the specific process, business problem, shareholders expectation, business objectives and scope of the process.

Step 2: Identify the scope of the process steps

The business managers must observe the entire process and collect data and information. The observed process and collected data must then be properly documented. It is also essential to identify all the parameters that are involved in the process like the machinery, suppliers, etc. it is also vital to identify and verify the inputs involved and outputs of the process. This can be done through effective brainstorming, industry standards, work instructions and experience of the operators and managers.

Step 3: Plan and schedule resources

Identify the systems that are involved in the process. It is necessary that the mindset of the managers should be shifted from functional to process- oriented while designing the process map and this can be done by focusing on the roles and not the jobs. Based on the systems and roles, proper scheduling of the people involved, task involved and estimated time needs to be done.

Step 4: Select Mapping techniques

The next step is to select the mapping technique, like process flowchart or deployment flowchart. Next would be to plan the process interviews with individuals as well as focused groups. It is also advised to review any previous documented process map to understand previous mapping efforts, organizational charts and job descriptions.

Step 5: Conducting interviews

Now it is time to conduct the interviews! Plan and conduct the interviews in the sequence of roles established in the process map. Explain the purpose, objective and scope of the interviews as well as the process maps to the participants in order to reap effective results. while conducting the interviews, it is vital to identify and establish the input tasks, roles, output tasks, decisions, task performed and linkage to other processes. During this step, every task and decision are uniquely identified.

Step 6: As-Is process

Describe the activities that help to transform inputs to outputs. It is time to map the actual process without considering the ideal ‘should be process’ or as per ‘standard operating procedures (SOP)’. Some of the points that need to be considered are the major activities of the process, decisions and source of approvals of one step before moving to the next one, areas where multiple methods occur, causes of bottlenecks, extra works and wastes and factors that obstruct process members from performing effectively and efficiently. All the steps of the process should be listed and matched with their respective roles carefully. The correct flowchart symbols should be assigned and process map should be reviewed for proper flow.

Step 7: Analyze, evaluate and Sign- off

The process map should be reviewed thoroughly to learn any redundancies, delays, unnecessary steps, ambiguous roles, cycle time, activity lapse, repeated activity flows, bottlenecks and rework loops. Next is to evaluate the performance of the process. One can make use of the tools to measure the same using Pareto Charts, Cause and Effect diagram, process behavior charts and process modeling and simulation. Finally, complete the process improvement plan and after a final review by all the stakeholders, it should be signed off.

Where can you go wrong?

Process mapping, no doubt, are highly useful tools that facilitate improvements in processes. But it does not mean that they should be applied everywhere and anywhere. The managers of the organization should be cautious while using process maps. A number of areas have been identified where process maps may go wrong, and these problems are generally related to the use of the method of process maps, and the planning and execution of process mapping. Some of the commonly identified mistakes with respect to process mapping are illustrated as under:

Mistake 1: Application of process maps on inadequate process types

Business processes are generally categorized as transactional, transformational and decision making. Transactional business process refers to the process where a number of inputs interact with each other so as to produce specific outcomes. Some of the instances of transactional business process involve sales activities and call center support functions. Transformational business processes refers to the change in inputs such that the original shapes of the inputs are changed in their physical or virtual form in order to produce the outputs. Manufacturing process and developments in systems are typical examples of transformational processes. Finally, decision making business processes refers to those processes whereby the various input parties interact with the objective to reach any decision. Some of the instances of decision making processes are inventory management, forecast decisions, pricing decisions etc.

Managers sometimes do not differentiate among these business processes before applying the process mapping. Process mapping are most successful in case of transactional and transformational business processes, and not on decision making processes with open ends. This is because process mapping yields best results when the outputs can be specifically defined, objective in nature and the variations in the process are traceable. However, in case of decision making process processes, a lot of information gathering, processing and analysis is needed and these processes tend to be intangible and abstract in nature. Hence, the managers must avoid the application of process maps on high end, open ended decision making business processes.

Mistake 2: Unclear focus of process mapping

Another mistake that the managers generally commit is in identifying the causes of the problem. There may be a possibility that the real cause of the problem lies outside the scope of the process. In such cases, the process mapping does not reap effective results. For instance- in a hotel industry when the problem identified was related to room service. After mapping the room service process, no real trouble was identified. Later on, it was found that the real issue was not related to service delivery but housekeeping staff over- engaged the lifts in transporting laundry that caused the delay in room service.

Hence, correct focus of the issue along with the possible causes should be identified. Moreover, it is also necessary to identify the focus areas with respect to secondary or primary processes.

Mistake 3: Obsession to design ‘perfect’ process map

Sometimes, the business managers become so obsessed with designing perfect process maps such that they lose the focus and goal of developing the process map. In the event of doing so, the business managers visualize and explain the process in such a way that no deficiencies are really located and all individual processes join together and sense logical. Hence, the purpose of creating the process map is totally defeated.

Things to remember to develop better process mapping:

By following some set of guidelines, the practitioners and business managers can develop effective process mapping. Some of the things that one must remember are:

  • Improvement objectives must be clear and continuous
  • Use the process mapping only where appropriate
  • Employ process architecture to develop process maps
  • Study the impact of organizational structures
  • Multiple responsibilities and tasks should be clearly identified

Questions to ask while making a Process Map

  • Name of the process. This impacts scope of the map.
  • Identify the starting and stopping points of the process.
    • When making a process map the first thing  you must do is clearly define the boundaries of the process
  • List the outputs:
    • Brainstorm all outputs – critical or not.
    • Everything leads to the outputs. (Suppliers, inputs, & process)
  • List who gets each output.  Match to Define Tollgate #2 (Identify the client’s needs and requirements)?
  • List the suppliers that provide the inputs to the process.
  • List of all of the inputs. (whether or not they are deemed critical)
  • Map 5–7 high-level, consecutive steps in the process as it is today.


Process Maps & Root Cause Analysis

Note that Process Maps are NOT a good way to identify & display potential root causes. While it is a good step, it is too broad. Try a 5 Why’s drilldown, a Fishbone diagram, or an affinity diagram.

Also see SIPOC.

Six Sigma Black Belt Certification Process Mapping Questions:

Question: A six sigma team has been formed to improve an existing process. Which of the following tools should the team use first to gain a clear understanding of the current process? (Taken from ASQ sample Black Belt exam.)

(A) Flowchart
(B) Pareto chart
(C) Process FMEA
(D) Latin square DOE

Answer: (A) a Flowchart is an easy way to map your current process. A Pareto chart can help you visualize data, but it won’t tell you how the process works. A process FMEA is great for analyzing the risks associated with a process but  you have to have a good idea of how your process works already. A DOE or Design of Experiment is a good way to test a hypothesis.

Question: Which of the following tools can be used to identify waste or non-value-added activities?
(A) Force field analysis
(B) Pareto analysis
(C) Scatter diagram
(D) Process map

Answer: (D) A Process Map can help you identify waste. A force field analysis is used in problem resolution. A Pareto analysis is a way of identifying the greatest set of contributors to a given data set. And a scatter diagram is used when you want to compare 2 data sets against each other to determine if there is a relationship.

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