Process Mapping


A process map or process flow diagram focuses on the detailed steps to complete a process. It can be used to improve a current process (improve cycle-time or to reduce defects) or to design a new process.

In this lesson, we'll review the basics of process mapping.

Process Mapping Symbols

To begin a process map, you need to understand the four most common process mapping symbols.

* Start/Stop – used to identify the first and last steps in a process, the beginning and the ending

* Process Step – a simple rectangle that shows each step in the process. The process step should include a name and an action (For example: student registers for class, teacher prepares lesson plan)

* Decision – a diamond is a decision point. It divides a process map into different paths. Most often, the decision is a "yes" or "no" that divides into two different paths.

* Sub-process – a double-rectangle is a placeholder for a sub-process. The details behind this process may be mapped out later or in a different process map. It is an acknowledgement that a more detailed process exists, but it may be out of scope for this project or the sub-process may be defined in a separate process map to save space.

Dozens of other process mapping symbols exist, but these are the most critical symbols that will help you map out nearly any process.

How to create a process map

1. Gather the team. Bring together the group of people performing the process. If the process involves more than 6-8 people, choose a representative from each team or stakeholder group that is involved in the process. Where possible, include your customers.

Note: Process mapping is not an activity to be performed at your desk. You must gather the people together who perform the process. If you are designing a process, gather the people who will be performing the process in the future.

2. Determine level of detail. Your process map can be kept very high level to focus on an overview of the process or steps or you may need to dig into the detail. When in doubt, start with a high-level process map or a SIPOC, then add details.

3. Define the beginning and end of the process (according to project scope). Where does the process begin and end? Write each of these steps on a sticky note and post them on a wall or whiteboard. Place the Start at the far left side of the wall. Place the Stop on the far right.

** If you have a geographically diverse team, you can use an electronic process mapping tool, like Microsoft Visio, to do the process map. Only use this option if it is not possible for your team to be physically present.

4. Add process steps. Use one sticky note for each step. Use a different colored sticky note than you used for your Start/Stop. This gives you a visual to keep in scope. You will find that you need to move your sticky notes around as you add or remove steps to get to the level of detail needed to identify problem areas.

For decision points, simply turn the sticky note 90 degrees to make a diamond.

Challenge the team to be open and honest about inefficiencies within the process. Our business processes are full of "hidden factories" where additional work, process steps and waste are hidden from view. 

Clues to finding hidden factories:
- "well, this is how we usually do it"
- "Most of the time the process works this way"
- "Sometimes we have exceptions, but not very often."

Include these "exceptions" in the process map. Often, the exception occurs more frequently than the team realizes, and wastes more time and resources than they think. 

5. Connect the dots. Draw arrows on the decision points as they are created. This eliminates confusion on the next step for each of the decision points.

Draw arrows connecting the remaining process steps only after all steps have been identified. If you have a large process map that spans multiple walls, use string to connect them.

6. Review & validate. Review the process in its entirety. Add any missing steps. Clarify and add detail to any confusing steps. 

Finally, number each process step. If a sticky falls off the wall or you intend to transfer the process map to an electronic form, these numbers will save you a tremendous amount of time keeping steps in order.

"As Is" vs "Future" State

Plan to prepare at least two versions of the process map – the "as is" version and the "future state".

The "as is" documents how the process works at the beginning of a CI project before any improvements have been made. It serves as your baseline. If your future improvements don't have the intended effect, you can always revisit the "as is" process to look for new ideas.

After you make improvements, you will create a "future" state map documenting the improved process. 

Process maps are meant to be used. Print and post the process map in your work area or a common space. 

Pain Points

After the process is mapped, ask the team to identify "pain points" or areas that create pain and frustration within the process.

Give each person on the team 3-5 sticky dots each. Ask each person to place their dots on the process step that represents their biggest pain point. This helps you address the most frustrating or error-prone parts of the process first.

For each of the pain points, use the 5 Whys to do a root cause analysis. Once you have determined the root cause and feel like you can address the problem to avoid recurrence, brainstorm ideas on how to eliminate the problem at the root.

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