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Off-Topic: Why Map Your Process?

September 2, 2009
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This is an example of a macro-level process map for testing services. Source: Gupta


Efficiently managing processes is key to the success of a business. That is all the more true in this tiring economy. An early step in process management is identifying and documenting the main processes. A powerful visual tool, process mapping has been in use for many years.

This is an example of a macro-level process map for a quoting process. Source: Gupta

What is a Process Map?

Process maps diagram sequential activities, starting with input transformation activity, followed by output. Process mapping was developed in the early 20th century by Frank Gilbert, and has not changed much since. Though there are other techniques such as process charts for drawing a process map, flow charts are still very common, and that may be the reason why the names process map and flow chart are used interchangeably.

The process map is generally drawn from left to right. It can be done at the macro or micro level. Why draw a macro-level process map? Drawing a macro-level process map is important to get an overall feel for the process. It also defines the scope of a process. Moreover, it is easy to present a macro-level process map to top management, who are interested in seeing the big picture.

After one has drawn a broader map, a micro-level process map can be worked on. The micro-level process map is a detailed map that can be used to understand and improve a process and also for knowledge transfer.

The processes also involve internal stakeholders and/or external customers. Also, the output from a process may be documents either in hard copy or electronic copy. Therefore, the process map should indicate stakeholders and nature of the documents or records output. Grid or non-grid format can be used to draw the map. The advantage of a grid format is that when a process is mapped in detail, it does not run more than a couple of pages.

This is an example of a macro-level process map in which order is conformed, incorporating stakeholders and document or record details. Source: Gupta

Considerations

There are some initial activities involved in successful process mapping:

  • Identifying the stakeholders of the process.
  • Forming a team.
  • Defining the purpose of the map: Is it for problem solving, understanding a process or knowledge transfer?
  • Setting the boundary of the map.

    After this initial phase is completed, the team can start working on:

  • Determining the process inputs.
  • Determining activity involved in transforming the inputs and corresponding outputs.
  • Sequentially diagramming and numbering each activity including the decision point.

    ANSI/AIIM M54-1987 describes various kinds of flow-charting symbols. Though there is different software on the market to draw the map, it is always advisable to draw the map by hand on a board or flip chart. After the hand-drawn map is agreed on, it can be transferred to the computer.


  • Outcome of the Map

    The process map is a simple and effective quality tool. After the map is drawn, a process can be analyzed to determine whether any activity is value or non-value added. In his book “Process Mapping, Process Improvement and Process Management,” Dan Madison describes four lenses-frustration lens, time lens, cost lens and quality lens-for analyzing a process. The last thing to remember in process mapping is that no map is final; it is dynamic and should constantly be looked at for improvement.

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