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Getting the best out of process mapping

Article by
Moya Bawden and Jon Foulkes

We love maps. They are brilliant for showing (not telling) what’s really happening by providing a highly digestible representation of what’s going on, as opposed to a wall of words.

Just imagine trying to navigate the London underground’s 270+ stations without the iconic tube map!

In our work as business analysis consultants, there’s a type of map held in our toolkit that does for businesses what the underground map does for commuters.

Process maps can show what we’re really doing and the gaps to what we’d like to be doing. They allow us to look up to the context and scope of the work being covered, and down to the individual tasks to be completed.

As well as showing the steps a process includes, they can also show a huge variety of other useful information.  They may include a RACI; showing which roles are Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed at various stages, they can show the interaction between process and systems and the flow of data, they can show wasted time, actions that add no value - the list goes on.  Process maps provide an excellent opportunity to challenge the status quo and to ask “why?”

They clearly illustrate the difference between where we are and where we plan to be.

Because they’re collaborative and relatively quick to draw and understand, everyone involved in the work can (and often should) have a voice in building and validating a process map. The moment people have a chance to tell their truth, there is an increased likelihood of buy-in for any change. Better yet, the best changes we see often come from the people who are doing the work. 

Business process mapping is an essential part of the discipline of managing business processes.  It sits at the nexus of People, Process, and Technology and is a powerful tool to deliver better business outcomes.

Just like any other asset, business processes have a life-cycle (establishment, monitoring, maintenance and improvement, and eventually retirement or replacement). The key to successful process management is prioritising for attention the processes which add the most value to your business.

Processes that are well managed and well mapped are easier to refine and automate. Process automation can take the benefits and value of a process to a whole new level.

Process Management Lifecycle

Strengths of business process mapping.

1. Easy to understand

A great process map manages to accurately present what can be complex in an easy to understand way. Process maps can look remarkably simple, but are usually the product of careful work enabling them to be laid out in a way that allows for debate and validation. There are several notation systems commonly used and, whichever convention is used, the people putting them together can be supported to learn and use the convention fairly quickly. Conventions range from simple flow-diagrams through to the more formal BPMN (Business process mapping notation).

At Redvespa we match the client’s preference or use whichever we feel is most suitable to the task at hand.

2. A catalyst for engagement and immediate change

Every time we engage with a client to produce a first-cut business process map, we find the contributors - most often from the coalface - are energetic in suggesting changes that might improve things. Sometimes these are small tweaks, sometimes they are profound. Almost always we work through a number of iteration, as those small changes improve interactions between teams and help focus people involved in the process on the flow and value of steps. Often we do this more than once until we reach a much improved ‘future’ state.

We love the way staff are heard and engaged in this way. We love working with organisations to support their staff to improve the quality of their interactions and enjoyment of their work.

3. A good way to understand context

Sometimes a context diagram, showing what is in, and what is out of scope (including systems, people, and processes) is a great way to clarify objectives. Where people don’t have the time or inclination to read a document, a single well presented process map will often tell enough of the story to obtain buy-in, or, even better, to clarify questions and provide direction.

Before changing something at the tactical or operating level, it pays to ensure we and our clients are clear on the implications of any proposed changes. In our experience, businesses always value their investment in taking the time to understand the linkages between the difference people, processes, systems and data in the wider context of how their business operates.

4. A well crafted map provides a useful understanding at the right level of detail

An important consideration in larger enterprises is the need to consider the level of detail to which your processes should be mapped. There are several conventions for numbering process levels, but they all start at the top, with the smallest number and cascade down the levels, adding more detail at higher numbers. This is done to help quickly move up and down as well as across an organisation to identify where proposed changes will have an impact, and where decision-making should consequently be sought.

Process Hierarchy

5. Identifying who is accountable for the processes (RACI)

Getting an organisational agreement on the roles which is accountable for processes is often the most difficult - and sometimes the most important - activity in the process mapping task list.

If no-one is specifically accountable at a high level, it will be difficult to develop reliable process management and governance. We notice a tendency to opt for shared responsibility which, in our experience, tends to lead to no or slow decisions where the business needs certainty - particularly in a business-critical process.

A full, validated  RACI (the list of people Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed at each process step/task) is a great way to make sure everyone gets the right story, at the right time, to support the process and its evolution.

6. Great process mapping supports great process governance

Process governance is especially important for those 20% of processes that have 80% of the impact on the organisation’s management of risk or bottom line. The point of governance is to develop awareness, understanding and control of these key processes within a business.

It can often be helpful to apply a value-chain map at a high level to ensure that resources are directed where they will do the most good, rather than undertake the massive and potentially wasteful effort required to map every process.

Where value is known to be high then the need to identify expectations, report on and improve performance becomes most important. Beyond the awareness phase, it is usual for decision-making around the process to become more rules-based and robust. This provides control and certainty for the business, and can be a useful path forward in times of change.

7. Process mapping provides the foundation for process automation

At its most developed, rules-based processes lend themselves to automation, which can take the value and repeatability of a process to a whole new level for organisations.  Discipline with process design, monitoring, management and governance is essential to deliver on automation’s promise.

In our world the only certainty is change, and some of that change, as we’ve all found recently, is disruptive. Well documented, well understood, well managed and governed processes form a strong foundation for training new staff, building good job descriptions and supporting business agility.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on business process mapping, process governance and workflow automations.  What has worked well for you, and what do you wish could have been better? As the pace of change picks up, where are you turning to, to find tools and techniques you need to stay responsive and resilient in our faster-spinning world?

If you recognise that your processes could do with some love and that you might benefit from the expertise Redvespa has to offer, get in touch - we’d love to help. 0508733837 or info@redvespa.com

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