Process Mapping: What Is It and Why Should I Care?

Process mapping is a useful management tool. Here''s a brief on using process mapping.
Process Mapping: What Is It and Why Should I Care


Reengineering has come and gone as a management fad. However, it has left a legacy of business process mapping. Because companies are looking to improve efficiency and reduce costs, process mapping and analysis are becoming useful business skills again. Here''s an overview of the process mapping business skill.

What is Process Mapping?

Process mapping is an activity for modeling common business activities to understand how they work and identify ways to improve them. The term is often associated with Reengineering (or Business Process Reengineering), and suffers a bad reputation unnecessarily. Process mapping is related to operations management, where shop floor activities are studied to make improvements.

Scenario: Launching a New Supply Chain Management System

Let''s suppose you want to launch a new supply chain management system. You have buy-in from your suppliers that the concept is good, but don''t know specifically how your business processes will work. This scenario is ideal for business process mapping.

How Process Mapping Can Help

Process mapping can be used in this situation in several ways. First, you can map your current purchasing processes and your suppliers'' current ordering processes. Then, you can work together to build a new integrated process for how the supply chain management system will work. This gives you a frame of reference for seeing what changes need to be made and agreeing on how the new process will work.

Why Should I Care About Process Mapping?

Here are some reasons why you should care about process mapping:

1.      Technology is creating many new business opportunities that require new processes to deliver the outputs reliably. You can help design these new processes by understanding current processes and mapping the new ones.

2.      Process mapping is a great tool for understanding how business activities interact with your computer systems. Most business processes have a significant computer system component, which you can understand and plan improvements for with process maps.

3.      This technique is essential for building business cases for new technology implementations. If you include activity cycle times and costs in your process maps, you can accurately estimate how much they will improve by implementing new technology (e.g. step 3 will take 1 hour instead of 4 hours with an accompanied reduction in cost from $10 per unit to $5).

4.      Process mapping can be used for incremental process improvement projects instead of radical reengineering. If you only need to reduce costs by 10%, those savings can be a lot easier to find in a process map than finding a 50% improvement.

How to Map a Process

1.      Identify the start and finish of the process. For example, a customer acquisition process can start with marketing analysis or calling a prospect. The customer acquisition process can end with the placement of a sales order or the payment of an invoice.

2.      Identify participants. Once you have clarified when the process begins and ends, you can determine who is involved. Try to stay at a job description level (e.g. accounts receivable clerk, customer service representative) instead of using people''s names (e.g. Mary, John).

3.      Interview participants and document the process steps they take. This can take a long time, but it''s important to understand all the steps involved. You have to ask questions like "Does that always happen", "What happens next", and "What is the output of this step?" Make sure you document the following for each step:

§         Time per unit of activity (e.g. 3 hours, 5 minutes)

§         Quantity of output and unit of activity (e.g. 50 individual invoice, 1 batch of 500 purchase orders)

§         Specific resources required (people, machines, other)

Remember at the beginning of the process mapping exercise to ask the participants how long the entire process takes. When you have finished mapping the individual tasks, add up the times that all the steps take. There will likely be a large difference that you''ll have to reconcile by altering the process map.

General Guidelines When Mapping Processes

1.      Focus on things the end customer values, not on the people or relationships involved in delivering the process today.

2.      Manage the change process systematically if you''re changing a process based on the mapping exercise. This requires a great deal of planning and communication, so don''t leave it until the last minute.

3.      Think creatively about how to improve the process. Don''t limit yourself to making one step 10% more efficient.

The Bottom Line

Process mapping is an excellent technique for visualizing the integration between technology and business.

Want to Know More? has a good series of articles about process mapping, including why to map processes, what good process mapping projects have, and how to create a process management system.


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