Process Mapping

Facilitator leading a group through a process mapping exercise to find opportunities for improvement
A good facilitator doesn’t have to know the process, they do have to ask questions and document the group’s work.

When it comes to making improvements in your business, process mapping is step number 1. Do you know you have opportunities, but don’t know where to start? Now you do; start by mapping the process.

Process mapping is the best tool to move you from a vague feeling that there is a problem to concrete “next steps.”

What Do You Need?

  1. A big place to write
    • It can be a whiteboard or just a huge piece of paper on a wall. It has to be big enough to see from across the room. Process mapping is a group activity, and everyone needs to see to participate. Start bigger than you think you need to.
  2. Markers
    • One or two colors will do. Make sure they won’t go through the paper. It’s embarrassing to mark up a nice wall.
  3. Big notepaper
    • Good quality flip chart paper is worth the money. This is where you’ll capture the treasure. The sticky-back kind makes it easy to see all the notes, without having to fiddle with tape.
  4. People
    • The people you include make this worth the time and effort. Mapping a process without the right people won’t achieve the results you want. At a minimum, you should include:
      • Someone who actually does the work. If they aren’t available, wait until they are.
      • Someone who knows why the process is what it is.
      • Someone who doesn’t know the process, but is willing to speak up and ask questions. I call them “naive observers.”
      • A facilitator. Naive observers often make excellent facilitators if they’re willing to ask questions. Avoid making the process expert the facilitator. The facilitator needs to be comfortable standing at the front of the room, capturing the process, making notes, and asking questions. If that seems like too much for one person, have one person make the map while another captures the notes on the flip chart.

6 Steps to Making a Process Map

  1. Decide where to start.
    • Choose a point at the beginning of the process you want to map. For example:
      1. “The customer calls with an order…” or
      2. “I sit down to make the schedule…” or
      3. “We look at the recipe….”
    • This should only take a moment. Don’t agonize. If it seems like you need to back up, you can back up. No problem.
  2. Start the map.
    • To start, the facilitator asks the person who does the work: “What’s the first step?”
    • Then, they answer, and a short description goes in a box on the board.
  3. Make notes about each step on the flip chart paper.
    • This is the most important part!
    • With each step, ask follow up questions. For example:
      1. Does it work well?
      2. Is this step a problem?
      3. Is it easy?
    • Look at the reactions in the room. If there are eye rolls, heads shaking, or side comments, dig a little deeper. There is an opportunity or problem here.
    • On the flip chart paper, make notes that are clear enough to come back to, but don’t dive into these yet. Be sure to capture opportunities and problems. One short sentence each is enough.
  4. Continue with the next step.
    • Ask, “then what happens…?” and put that in the next box.
    • Draw a line from the last box to this one, and again, inquire about this step.
    • When you come to a decision point, show that with a diamond, connected by a “Yes” path and a “No” path.
  5. Keep making notes.
    • Remember that the purpose of this activity is to drive discussion and surface problems and opportunities. Take your time, but don’t get bogged down on any single issue. Once it’s on the paper, move on to the next step.
  6. Review the notes with the group.
    • By the end of the map, you should have lots of notes.
    • You can group these and filter them down to the best opportunities.

Start Improving!

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