What the Heck is Process Mapping (And Why Should I Care)?

I’ve seen many terms for “process mapping” including value stream mapping, narrative journey maps, or business process architecture. In essence, these varying techniques are all similar in one basic respect: They are techniques for visually mapping out the steps to a process or procedure.

The purpose for doing such is tri-fold:

  • to obtain an overview of a process
  • to understand the start-to-finish workflow, and
  • to identify the individual steps involved.

Process mapping is a helpful activity when needing to:

  • thoroughly understand a current process/procedure
  • assess the effectiveness of a current process/procedure (or perform an internal audit)
  • determine the best ways to downsize
  • devise strategies for streamlining
  • implement change
  • create a business simulation
  • review regulatory compliance
  • Design a creative project (Hey, Novelists, I’m talking about you!)

There are many ways to map a process, but the basic concept involves writing out each step and sub-step from start to finish of a process/procedure. While doing this, you can note essential personnel, equipment, materials and supplies, and whether the step is essential, helpful, or non-essential. There are, of course, lots of other factors you can measure or note but this sort of information will depend on how detailed you need to go and what you are trying to achieve.

1. PREP

The easiest way to create a process map is to roll out a long sheet of butcher paper or newsprint. Cover a table or wall with your longggg sheet of paper. The other things you’ll need (at the very least) are a variety of post-it notes (different colors), markers or sharpies, and sticker dots.

2. BREAK IT DOWN

You begin by writing down each step of a process. One step per post-it. You can use different color post-its to represent employees, different departments, phases of workflow, etc. Use the following shapes to further define parts of the process:

3.CONNECT

Draw arrows or lines to connect the steps in the process. These can represent current or future workflow depending on the goal of the activity.

4. ANALYZE 

Once you have the current process spread out before you, you and your team can begin to consider the overall scope and the individual steps of the workflow. Use the colored sticker dots at this phase to identify strengths or opportunities, essential or non-essential steps, internal or external customer service points, important values, etc. Give each participant some sticker dots and have them place the stickers where they feel they are most important/relevant. When everyone is done, stand back and have a discussion about the results. Where are the dots clustered? Which steps add value? Which steps produce quantifiable results? What problems are represented? Are steps missing in the process that could eliminate the problems? Are steps redundant that cause the problems? What solutions can you develop to address the questions that arise?

And there you have it: the most basic way to process map. If you’re curious for more in-depth methods, I would recommend exploring some books on the topic or reviewing the wealth of material online.

Try these process-mapping activities elsewhere in your life:

  • Chore chart (or household helpers strategy)
  • Story plotting
  • Vacation-planning
  • Change of careers (step-by-step plan)
  • Big decision Pros & Cons

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