Process mapping is a technique used to visually represent a step-by-step internal business process. It can be used merely to document business processes for reference when carrying out the tasks, or it can be used as a tool for improvement; to highlight areas that would benefit from change.
Process mapping will usually depict the consecutive tasks that are carried out in a single process, but the notation and the methods used to map this out can vary widely.
In its simplest form, a process map can be created on ’brown paper’, where a large sheet of paper (usually brown paper) is hung up and post-it notes are used to map out the process and the dependencies between tasks are drawn in. For a more professional-looking map, software might be used after the brown paper mapping, or the brown paper mapping might not even be used at all. The software used to depict a process map varies widely and can be simple or complex. Some notations use ‘swimlanes’, which separate the tasks into sections that show who is responsible for undertaking the activity. Swimlanes are particularly useful to map out a process where there are many people or IT systems involved, as the IT systems can also be depicted using swimlanes.
As mentioned above, process mapping can be used as an exercise to document current processes. In the context of business change, however, process mapping is an improvement tool used to help bring about effective and sustainable change in ways of working.
It can be useful because processes change regularly, and procedures become outdated. Process mapping enables you to capture detail from all involved in a process in order to design improved processes.
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Process maps are usually compiled in interactive workshops.
Before holding a process mapping workshop, you need to ensure you gather information in advance. Gather data and facts about the process (what, who, where, when) from the relevant people involved. A good idea is to ‘walk through the process’ yourself or ask those involved to gather data themselves, e.g. asking them to measure time taken to complete a certain task. You should also aim to read any procedural documentation before holding a workshop.
When compiling a process map, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but ensuring the right people are involved is vital. Careful consideration should be given when inviting delegates to the workshops. Front-line staff should be heavily involved but management input is also likely to be needed. It may be helpful to consider splitting the workshop into time slots and inviting only those that are required at each stage.
It’s important to ensure that all the necessary people are able to attend a workshop and provide input in order to get the most useful process maps. Workshops can also be good tool for gaining staff buy-in for the project.
Effective facilitation in any workshop is key to getting the right information. A good facilitator will ensure that the group’s discussions are relevant, will ask probing questions to fully understand the process (often including errors, time taken, remedial work etc.) and ensure that everything is covered within the time. The facilitator should focus on the task at hand, for example, if running a session to document the ‘as is’ current processes, they shouldn’t jump into the improvements straight away. It is good practice for the facilitator to appoint a scribe to take minutes and noting any issues identified. For detailed information on how to create a process map, please use the e-learning course.
As well as mapping out current business processes, process maps can also be a very effective way of prototyping improved business processes at the 'analyse needs' phase of the business analysis framework. This is called a ‘to be’ (sometimes referred to as ‘could be’) process map.
It’s important to only include as much detail as you need to find bottlenecks, where things go wrong, where there is waste etc. within a process. Most process maps will map down to task level, and then incorporate supplementary documentation on the granular process steps. Task level includes sufficient detail to note each task, for example one task could be “empty bin”. A process step is the individual step taken in the process, for example, “wheel bin to lorry”, “push button”, “wheel bin back” would each be an example of a process step.
Ensure that you include enough details to satisfy the scope of the project and ensure it is useful for you.
Often captured in a process map is the role responsible for the action and any business rules that accompany the process.
Process maps are usually mapped out on modelling software such as MS Visio.
There are many things to consider when thinking about improving the ‘as is’ current process. Some things which you may consider are: simplifying the process, removing bottlenecks, changing sequence of tasks, process automation, process redesign, a change to operational guidance, channel shift.
What may be of use is to go through the process map and challenge each step in the process. When thinking analytically, always aim to get to the real root cause of any issues identified.
Once you have conducted a thorough analysis, you can then start mapping your ‘to be’ process and can use tools such as a gap analysis at this stage to help assist in the steps you need to take to get to your proposed ‘to be’ process.
Once the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ maps have been created and agreed by the project team, the next stage involves working a plan of how those improvements are to be delivered, which may take a written strategic documentation form.