Process Mapping - The Way to Engaged Employees and Better Business Results
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It amazes me how many medium to large-sized organisations are still
communicating fragments of policies and processes to employees through one-time
emails. In one nation-wide organisation, employees were informed of a new
purchase authorisation policy via email. In another multi-national, a manager
conveyed new data entry procedures the same way. I am not talking here about
notification of changed policies and procedures. Email may be a good medium
for mass communication of such changes. I am talking here about relaying
important policies and procedures to employees and ensuring that they understand
and act on them.
Imagine these employees two weeks down the track. “Now how does that new
procedure go? Oh yes! I think it was in an email I got last month. Now where did
I file that email? Or did I delete it?” In most cases, the procedure is long
forgotten or a fruitless or time-wasting search is begun to locate what should
by then be common knowledge and practice.
Process clarity is one of the three key foci in effective organisational
design, along with people and technology. Yet how many organisations are
struggling with poorly defined and communicated processes. How an invoice is
processed, customer complaint handled or engineering drawing approved in many
organisations depends more on who does it and what day of the week it was done
on rather than on sound business reasoning. Where process and role clarity is
lacking, personal idiosyncrasies and political manoeuvring take over.
In this environment, there is little point in paying above market salaries to
attract the best talent. High-performers will simply leave the organisation when
they tire of beating their head against a brick wall. The solution is to
conscript these new supercharged recruits into working with your people to
clarify, define and agree the way things should be done. Achieving this synergy
between people and processes is a key lever in improving organisational
Research indicates that less than 20 percent of product defects and service
problems are due to non-random factors such as malicious employees, machine
breakdown and poor raw materials. The other 80 percent or more of problems are
due to systemic deficiencies with processes. Defining and mapping your business
processes is simple to do, involves no costly capital expenditure and pays huge
dividends in business efficiency and employee motivation. If you are thinking
about mapping your processes, here are ten key pointers to keep in mind.
Involve employees who actually do the
work in the mapping
Employees who do the work are in the best position to know the detailed steps
in each process, the common roadblocks and bottlenecks and the key contacts in
the organisation to get things done. Our workers are our greatest resource,
however, many organisations do not tap in to the enormous wealth of experience
that walks through their doors each morning and walk out again each night.
Involve your employees up front by inviting them to join process-mapping teams.
Keep managers and supervisors out of the process-mapping sessions, as they have
a tendency to dominate the sessions with their own “expertise”.
Getting employees to map their processes is a powerful morale booster. Apart
from mutual goal-setting, there is no more powerful method that I know of for
engaging the hearts and minds of employees. I have seen employees’ eyes light up
during briefing sessions in which I offered them the opportunity to identify and
remove the roadblocks to them doing a great job. Most employees are tired of the
day-to-day fire fighting that comes with many jobs. At one briefing session,
employees were so enthused that they all volunteered to join the team!
Set up one process-mapping team per work area, with no more than ten
employees per team. Look for a team leader with good interpersonal and
organising skills and that has the respect of the other team members. The team
leader’s first task is to get the team members to brainstorm all the activities
they perform and then to group them into separate processes. The following
sessions will then see one process mapped per session. If you don’t have a lot
of time to spare, teams can meet weekly. Each process should take no longer than
two hours to map.
Identify process start and end activities
For each process, clearly identify the start and end. If the team neglects
this important step at the start of each mapping session, in the team’s
enthusiasm, extra activities will quickly creep into the picture until the
process becomes unmanageable. Think of one activity that triggers the process,
such as an invoice appearing in an intray. This is the start. Then think of the
last activity performed. It may be, for example, posting an item to the General
Identify process objective and inputs and
This is where work starts to take on new meaning for employees. The team
leader should ask employees why each process is performed and what are the
expected results of each process. Not only does this help to focus attention on
removing non-value add activities, but it also gives employees a sense of
purpose in their working life. Instead of work being a disconnected set of
meaningless activities, employees begin to appreciate that everything they do
helps to achieve a bigger goal. So, I no longer just remove boxes from one shelf
and put them on another. I am maximising the use of warehouse space and reducing
pick times so that we can deliver widgets to our customers faster and cheaper.
Asking the teams to identify the inputs to the process and the expected
outputs will serve to clarify what the process needs before it can begin and
what customers of the next process will get before they can begin. For example,
agreeing that widget assembly cannot begin until the joining screws are supplied
will eliminate a lot of idle work in progress.
Identify Customer and Supplier
Next, each team needs to work out who the suppliers and customers of the
process are. This step is critical as it identifies who the team needs to work
with collaboratively to maximise business results. If a process does not have a
customer, then eliminate it as it serves no one’s purpose. Every employee
working in a process should serve either an internal customer or an external
customer or both. The team will then ask their customers what it is they want
from the process, in terms of quality, turn around time and so on.
Conversely, the team needs to clarify what it is they need of their
suppliers, both internal and external, to perform their process effectively and
efficiently. A purchasing team may require other departments (suppliers) to fill
in all fields of the Purchase Order prior to submission. The customers of
the purchasing team (other departments) may require orders to be fulfilled
within two days unless placed on backorder. As in this case, suppliers of the
process can also be customers.
Seeing how their own local processes fit into the wider organisational
processes and goals allow employees to see the “big picture”. For many, this is
incredibly empowering and motivating. Through engaging customers and suppliers
and taking responsibility for the complete process, employees, supervisors and
managers will all start singing from the same hymn sheet.
Identify a Process Owner for each process
For each process, specify one Process Owner. Identifying one person who is
responsible for the process end to end is critical to ensuring process
efficiency. There is no more effective way that I know to dismantle quickly and
effectively the silo walls that get built separating departments. Where
processes flow through departments, as all major processes do, the Process Owner
will need to have sufficient authority and credibility to make decisions
spanning these departments.
Manage the level of detail
The magic of process maps lay in their seemingly simple visual presentation
of complex ideas. One picture can tell a thousand words. Each process map should
take up no more than one page, with its definition taking up just one other. If
a map takes up more than one page, identify sub-processes within each process
and show each sub-process on a separate page. Use clear referencing to link each
sub-process with its associated macro process. I have seen process maps that
flow on page after page after page. These do little more than confuse employees.
At the operational level, for each activity in which you need to convey detailed
information, have your employees or subject matter experts write clear and
logical step-by-step work instructions. Once again, use unambiguous referencing
to link the work instruction to its associated process.
Do not try to document everything that goes on in your organisation. Decide
on the priority processes and concentrate on these. Processes from which you can
gain quick wins are those that interface with external customers and suppliers
and those that are currently providing you with your biggest headaches.
Use standardised mapping conventions
What you want is for anyone in the organisation to be able to pick up a
process map and understand instantly what it is they are seeing. Standardise on
mapping conventions and formatting of the maps. Mapping symbols, flow direction,
page layout, fonts, titling and so on should be the same from one map to
another. Keep the number of flow chart symbols to a minimum. You should need no
more than six to keep the maps easy to read.
Get agreement on the process
The most beautifully documented process will mean naught if there is little
commitment from the major actors to follow them. Crunch time will come in those
tough times of impending deadlines and snappy stakeholders. I find what works
well is getting formal sign-off from the process-mapping team leader, the
Process Owner and the managers of the interfacing processes (both supplier and
customer). If the interfacing processes are being mapped as well, then also get
sign-off from their process-mapping team leaders. This may seem overkill and you
may get some resistance, however, getting formal agreement now will save you
much heartache later when people start to come up with excuses as to why the
seemingly agreed process does not apply in this or that case.
Document the process
The most important thing that team leaders can do after the team agrees on
the process definition and steps is to write it down. I remember working with
one nation-wide distribution business where at the end of a mapping session with
a group of managers, two of the managers came to me and said that this was the
best thing since sliced bread. You see, they had held meetings before to thrash
out and decide process flows and responsibilities, but nobody wrote down what
they agreed. Two weeks after the meetings, these managers lamented, nobody could
remember what they had agreed.
Do not fall into the trap of writing down the process as the team
brainstorms. During the next two hours there will be many changes to the flow.
Writing it down will only lead to a mess as process steps are added, others
removed and other moved forward or backward. What works extremely well is
brainstorming all the process activities first, writing each process step on a
Post-it note and then having a team member place the Post-it notes in order on
flipchart paper. The next hour or so is then devoted to arguing about the
activities and order of steps. Post-it notes can easily be moved around during
this debating process. Only when there is full agreement are the lines and
arrows drawn in to signify the process flows. I have seen managers trying to
shortcut the process waste a good two hours writing their processes on a
white-board and then having to start again when they could no longer understand
their “spaghetti drawing”.
The documents must now be made easily accessible to all who need them. Have
the documents centrally managed and well indexed. If employees have access to
computers, make the documents available on-line. You want everyone working on
the latest version of each document, so practice strict version control. If
you’re a small to medium-sized organisation, you don’t need expensive dedicated
document management software. An electronic spreadsheet or simple database will
suffice. As with many things in organisations, its not the technology that is
limiting business effectiveness; its the commitment to following practices
rigorously. By the way, don’t forget to document your document control process.
Convey management commitment and train
Although mapping business processes will not cost you much in capital
expenditure, it is not for the faint-hearted. The management team will need to
show unswerving and visible commitment to the project. Teams will loose faith
and energy quickly if management support is piecemeal or grudgingly given. Team
leaders will need time management and organising skills, along with
interpersonal skills and analytical thinking. Each team will also need a mix of
skills; people who can think creatively, bond the team and follow through on
tasks, to name just a few. Where these skills are lacking, they will need to be
learned. However, these teams have proved to be a fertile ground for developing
the next line of leaders.
Use as a basis for further improvement
Business Process Reengineering was a big buzzword in the 80s and 90s. A key
objective of reengineering efforts was often technological implementations with
a consequent radical downsizing. The severe dampening of employee morale as a
result is well known. What is not so well recognised is the employee enthusiasm
and business improvements that may be gained by many organisations in
engineering their processes for the first time.
There is a lot to be gained just in mapping initially your core processes.
Every team that I have worked with have uncovered many areas for improvement.
One team reduced dramatically the incidence of lost inventory items whilst
another improved substantially the pass rate of electronic circuit modules.
Once the mapping is completed, they then serve as excellent induction and
training resources. However, the fun does not stop there. The process maps and
work instructions can now serve as the agreed baseline for ongoing process
improvement. Through continuing process improvement teams, your employees will
remain emotionally engaged with the organisation and motivated to continue
working towards a common organisational goal.
Copyright 2004 Leslie Allan
About the Author
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a
management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has
been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as
project manager, process consultant and trainer for organizations large and
He is also the author of five books on training and change management and
is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of
the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia.
He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the
Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted from his website at
www.businessperform.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-02-10 12:00:35 in Employee Articles