Are you ever struggling to figure out why something in your business isn’t quite working right?

it-process-mapping

Is it taking longer to get work done than you’d like? Is your team frustrated that efforts of improvement aren’t working the way anyone had hoped?

Most businesses face necessary process changes over the course of time because environments change. Customer demand changes. Vendors change their products and services. Team members change. There are too many unpredicted events that could have serious implications on your ability to produce high value products.

Too often, businesses produce work product without even considering their processes. Many core and critical processes go undefined, which leads to an accumulation of waste and diminished value from a customer perspective.

Today, I want to outline a process using LEAN techniques, that has helped many of our clients better understand how work gets done, where to put efforts into improvement and how to deliver the best product or service without investing in wasted time and activity that ultimately adds no value to your company core values, strategy or purpose.

But before I delve into how we improve processes, I want to briefly describe what a process is and why IT can make mapping out a process easier.

What is a process?

In the simplest terms, a process is a series of individual operations that must occur in a specific sequence to create a design, complete an order, or produce a product or service. Processes have some core characteristics that differentiate them from activity.

All processes have some shared characteristics:

Response to a specific event—every process requires a trigger, some event or request stimulating a need for your process. If a process had no on switch and was always running, it likely isn’t fulfilling its objective (nor meeting your business’ objectives).

Tasks involved in a specific order—without order, end products from process will likely be inconsistent, failing to meet client expectations and ultimately creating more problems for your workers.

Inputs to the process (tasks)—every process has inputs, whether in the form of raw materials, information, or people.

Time allotted for each task— by defining the amount of time needed to complete tasks, we understand the amount of time to output client demand. We can use time as a metric to evaluate whether production is

Environment in which to operate tasks/process—processes likely operate best in a certain environment. For example, if your process was to make milkshakes, you probably don’t want to be working on a stove top. Rather, you’d probably want to be away from the heat.

Deliver a specific result outside of the process—successful processes consistently deliver a specific product that is beneficial to the business (to clients or services your team somehow). The result should be consistently the same each time. If you were making those milk shakes and you couldn’t guarantee a creamy texture- sometimes being icier like a slushy and other times watered down, your customers likely would consider their alternatives!

Someone or thing receives the result—process are meant to help your business accomplish work more consistently. If no one benefits directly from a process, it may not be adding value to your organization.

Once you’ve identified a process, why use a process map?

A process map is an easy planning and management tool that visually describes how work should be flowing within your workplace. Process maps show you the details—with series of events, intermediate products, the time it takes for steps to get completed and where the end result (or product) flows out.

Process maps help you and your team gain better understanding of your process.

With very precise flow charts, you are able to understand areas of improvement for your process. Improve your efficiency in operations, finance, supply chain, accounting and sales and marketing.

Process maps help identify waste along your workflow—enabling you to streamline work process and build understanding within your teams about how to change behaviors to get better returns on everyone’s investments.

Here are a few ways that our process maps have helped clients:

  • Better understand a process
  • Analyze how a process could be improved
  • Show your clients how a process is done why they can trust you.
  • Increase communication and description between individuals engaged in a process. Specifically, visualizing process can make it easier to communicate problems embedded with your current processes and can help to problem solve and find solutions to problems impacting work production.
  • Explicitly document your processes
  • Plan projects that may impact processes
  • Speed up process design

How do we create process maps? Below are steps involved in visualizing your process:

Step 1: Identify your process. Before diving into process mapping you need to identify the critical process(es) within your business. Why is a process critical? Processes should directly be linked to your business objectives and core values.

Step 2: Understand what is involved in a process. Have a meeting with team members that touch the process. Get everyone to write out the steps they feel are involved in your current process. The steps at this point don’t have to be in order.

Step 3: Determine the order of your process. Let everyone help map out a process. Use a white board (we prefer sticky notes) to identify the ordered steps in the process. As your team puts up process steps, decide what detail you want to include and determine who or what department does which steps. (You may need to reiterate through sub-processes with specific people that acutely understand specific steps in the process to make sure you’ve got all the information you need). But at this point, having a general understanding of the steps is sufficient.

Step 4: Figure out process boundaries. Different folks involved in the process may see the start and end to occur at different times. Identify what your input(s) are and what comes out at the end of your process to hone in on where a process starts and stops. Be aware that a process does need a signal to start (it can’t start autonomously).

Step 5: Draw a flow chart. Each step on the map should be depicted in its own shaped box. Define different types of steps—are they questions, part of the normal flow of the process, documentation, the end of the process? We denote each of these types of steps with specific shaped boxes.

Setp 6: Rinse and repeat.  Before calling a flow chart complete, check with specific step owners to ensure you’ve captured everything within each section of the process.

Step 7: Identify waste. Before calling it a day, you likely want to identify any waste that does not add value and is not required (for compliance or policy) to be a part of your process. You also want to identify places within your process to check on quality of the product you are producing and record the amount of time each of the steps tend to take (at least estimate this part).

Step 8: Finalize your process flowchart.  Review your flowchart with all stakeholders. Specifically, with team members and workers that will be touching the process to ensure they are on board with your flow.

Step 9: Revisit the flowchart and process regularly. While you’ve documented a working process, realize that environments are always changing. Client demands change, competition is always changing, and so might your processes to meet business needs. Revisit your flowchart at least annually to make sure you’re not inhibiting processes. Ensure that your processes evolve with your business needs.

Are you sure your business processes are working? Are you planning big changes to your business? Are you opening new offices? Need programming or are evaluating software implementations? Are you concerned with efficiency or need to meet changing client demands? Contact me today to set up a process map consultation.