Process Mapping and Why You Should Be Doing It
What is Process Mapping?
Process mapping is a management and business planning tool that helps you clearly visualize and define the flow of work. It’s used by leaders to show the series of events and tasks required to produce a certain end result. Most commonly you’ll see these used by IT teams, but they have serious significance in the operational functions of any organization.
In fact, they’re so important, teams should always have one map for each of the most important processes under their responsibility. The reasons are many, but simply put, process maps help organizations in numerous ways avoid pitfalls of communication, bottlenecking, and ultimately, poor customer experience.
6 Benefits to Process Mapping
1) Knowing your system from start to finish
If there was one thing a manager wanted more of, it’d be oversight. Not the micro-management, annoy your people type, but the genuine understanding of what’s going on, where it’s at, and when it will be completed. Every business, organization, and team has certain processes they follow each day – be they crude ideologies, or carved-in-stone absolutes – to accomplish their work.
2) Visualize the flow of work
Most work comes and goes in waves. Rarely is there a steady flow of work load that keeps a consistent pressure on the team. Because of this cyclical nature of industry and work, it’s critical to know what’s coming. Visibility is then your best friend as you plan the ups and downs of what’s to come. Process maps help you intuitively synchronize the capacity of your team with the tasks at hand, as well as the tasks to come, putting you in control and at the helm to lead through difficult times.
3) Team collaboration
One of the most important benefits of process mapping is the collaborative impact it has on the team. A complete and accurate map requires every touch point and input be noted and included, so as to provide the appropriate level of detail, and to ensure nothing is overlooked. That then means every person who makes those touch points will have some eventual contribution in the mapping activity.
And it’s not just limited to those whose do the actual work: it can (and should) include those on whom you are dependent, as well as those who are dependent on you for the successful completion of that process. We call these external groups or individuals “dependencies.” Everyone at all levels of an organization is a dependency in some way. It’s important to remember that failure because of a dependency is a failure on your part. Don’t pass the blame. Process maps help identify and streamline work between dependencies.
4) Highlight and fix breakdowns
When work gets hung up, we always want a scapegoat. It’s human nature to point the finger. A major benefit of having the process map, and going through the activity of creating a map, is that you can identify, together with your team, the potential weak points of the entire system. It’ll help you prevent the angst of point that finger.
As you start mapping out the process, one thing you’ll do is review capacity. It’s inevitable that all systems fail at some point. Knowing that breaking point is critical to your team’s success. Breaking points can be anything, from time, to people, to systems like computers and software.
Once you identify these possible pitfalls, you can make contingency plans, rework the process, or eliminate the problem altogether. And the best thing is, everyone on the team contributing to the map gets to share their feedback and help perfect the process. This helps them gain more confidence in the work their doing, find greater satisfaction in their jobs, and feel more effective in their roles.
5) Simplify and expedite
As you work with your team to create and design your process maps, you’ll come to realize there are areas of opportunity. You may or may not have been aware of work getting bogged down at certain points in the process, but now’s the chance to pay attention and give support where needed.
Many times you’ll see an area where work goes through two or three iterations or cycles before it moves on to the next step. Or you’ll see where it gets hung up for longer than you’d expect. These are called bottlenecks, and can seriously hinder the performance of the team and have a devastating effect on customer experience.
When and where possible, the act of “simplifying” a task should involve automation. Automation comes in many forms, but removing manual inputs increases the efficiency and capacity of the system, while at the same time reducing variability. Our recommendation is to start with any and all “data” related tasks and focus on them first. In today’s world, almost all types of data can be systematized and automated. If you’re unsure where to begin, contact us and we’ll be happy to help you chart a path.
6) Limit variability and increase efficiency
Efficiency happens when variables are controlled. Variables make up most of the challenges we face in the workplace. Humans crave consistency and depend on its familiarity to find comfort in what we do. While calculated risks are necessary for growth and improvement, fine-tuning recurring processes can have impact at all levels. Variability not only influences employee satisfaction, it also plays a significant role in customer experience.
Consider your last few shopping experiences on Amazon.com. For the most part you know what you’re going to get. You know how the system works, how to check out, and even how long it will take to get your packages. You might even know within a few-hour window when to expect the package on your doorstep from the delivery company. Amazon has worked tirelessly to fine-tune and perfect the shopping experience so customers can move through the process of buying quickly, efficiently, and without any surprises.
But what happens when there is a problem? Sometimes it feels like the end of the world. We get frustrated and complain. We have become so intimate with the Amazon model of shopping, that as soon as our experience deviates from the norm, we become upset and demand answers. But here’s where it gets even better. Amazon has already planned, mapped, and tuned the “bad experience” process, too. They can route, respond, and resolve issues quickly and powerfully, all in the spirit of keeping their customers loyal.
All of this, and much more, is a result of knowing their processes forwards and backwards, inside and out, top to bottom.
They’ve limited variability, automated what they can, and focus relentlessly on experience.
Things to Remember
Process mapping is a time consuming, intense deep-dive into the “how” of an organization’s work.
It helps answer the questions of how tasks are completed, in chronological order, from start to finish.
You’ll be able to have a high level view of the process, including a view into manual inputs and human touch points.
They help you see capacity challenges before the process is started, enabling you and your team to be better prepared and more effectively manage to the result.
The end goal is to limit variability, create consistency, and enhance the customer experience – to keep them coming back, recommending you to their friends, and help you organically grow.
We have over a decade of experience helping organizations of all sizes across multiple industries. If you’re facing frustration and feel you don’t have a firm understanding of your team’s various processes, or feel like your organization is missing the mark, we can help. Creating a process map is just one tool we use to help align the tactical approach with the strategic vision of the organization.