Mapping is a crucial part of process improvement. It looks easy but there are some common pitfalls that people come across.

The most common process mapping error people make is diving into improving the process before they have finished mapping it. It is natural to want to fix the problems as you uncover them – but it’s better to define the existing or “As-is” state before you try and improve it. You need to see the whole picture before you can make informed decisions about what you want to change.

When you are conducting a process mapping session, the participants will naturally bring up process exceptions and typical ways things go wrong. It is easy to get bogged down. But be firm, make a note but don’t table these issues until you have the basic process mapped out. Then you can go back and look at exceptions and errors.

The only people who typically can tell you what the issues are, and what changes will and will not work, are the ones who use the process. They are also the people who have most at stake in the process. So make sure that all of them participate, not just one or two representatives. Unless everybody is there you will not create the sense of ownership and control the process users need in order to make successful changes.

Processes are changing all the time. If you record and print a process out on paper and store it in a binder on the shelf in an office, it won’t be long before it is out of date and ignored. But documenting processes utilising an online or collaborate tool, allows you to have a living document. There is only one version to update and everyone can have access to it.

When starting to map the “As-is” process, it is best to do this in small groups on a big map. Use a wall or a whiteboard where all the participants can see it simultaneously. If it looks temporary and sketchy, good. People will feel OK about changing it. If you try to capture it straight to computer/online tool, it looks formal and official on the screen and somehow, nobody wants to mess with it.

As you build out a big map of your processes, don’t forget to collect examples of all the documents associated with a process. That means forms, policies, checklists, tutorials, FAQs, any document that is used in the process. It’s not just about the map.

Finally, once you have all your “As-is” processes for a given team, end-to-end process or function and you have gathered all the relevant information/documents that supports it, it’s important to write up the process into formal process. Writing up and publishing the process is important so that everyone gets value from the work as soon as possible, it also helps to iron out refinements and flag exceptions.

Process Mapping Steps:

  • Map the process “As-is” first
  • Don’t get side tracked by exceptions
  • Involve the people who do the work
  • Document processes online or using an interactive tool
  • Start with a big map before writing up into a formal process
  • Collect examples of all the documents associated with an activity
  • And … write up and publish processes to improve the value

So this has been an overview of some of the typical process mapping pitfalls. I hope that this helps you with your own process improvement efforts.

Simon Adams

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