Every problem in an organization can be found within an operational, support or management process. We often ask ourselves why the problem keeps occuring, and we try to solve it using the same level of thinking as when the problem originally appeared.
If used properly, a simple tool named process mapping can help not only solve the problem but lead to lasting changes that reduce costs and increase profits.
At some point in our careers, regardless of our field of experience, many of us have attended a continuous improvement workshop where the main objective was to map a process. Typically, facilitators are assigned to organize and lead these meetings by capturing and linking process steps. They identify roadblocks, look for waste, capture information and other important tasks. However, why are some mapping sessions better than others? There are many reasons for this. The most common pitfalls are found before, during and after the session by using this valuable continuous improvement tool.
Before, during and after a mapping session
Process mapping is frequently used as the first milestone in improving a business process, either to establish a baseline from which improvements can be measured or to solve a specific problem that has been previously identified. In some cases, it can be an activity that provides a learning experience and reveals details about a process and its challenges for the first time. When engaging in a process mapping session beyond its purpose, being aware of these common pitfalls is critical to moving forward with business process improvement.
Here are some scenarios of what could occur if the sponsor doesn’t run a vetting process that describes all the requirements to ensure a successful mapping session:
- Did not inform and validate the objective and scope with those attending the session. A detailed agenda was not shared.
- The right individuals were not chosen to participate, e.g., subject matter experts (SMEs).
- Did not involve a seasoned facilitator or choose an adapted methodology.
- Did not try to gain more knowledge about the process¹ that will be mapped.
- Scope creeping: The various levels of understanding were not balanced, which could get the meeting off topic.
- Tried solving the problems raised during the process mapping session.
- Tried to map every contingency that could occur.
- Failed to capture all relevant data or information to improve the process.
- Did not have a standardized way of annotating your process maps across the board.
The mapping process is not a race. You must involve the team in decision making, even if another session is required.
- Analyze and document results.
- Process maps are a living document. They evolve, but often don’t get updated.
- What do you expect to occur when the process is implemented? It isn’t a piece of paper that will be audited.
- Involve management to ensure the effectiveness of how the organization addresses the critical elements that were captured.
A Lean Six Sigma practitioner actively promotes process mapping as one of the best methods not only to diagnose problems or opportunities in an organization, but to establish a baseline to solve a well-known problem. In both cases, it’s critical to have strong facilitation skills to deal with the issues.
“The spirit of digital transformation is to improve existing processes or create new ones that are efficient and effective for a fast-paced climate.”2
- Strategic Lean Mapping, Steven Borris, page 33
- Excelling on a DT Journey, Therese Costich, page 7
About the Author
Jean-Pierre Vera P.Eng., MBA
Operational Excellence & Digital Transformation Expert