Process Mapping to Improve Organizational Performance (and your morning routine)

Casey is not a morning person. From the time Casey’s alarm goes off, to the point of arrival at work, it takes about 2 rushed and frantic hours, each and every day. Some mornings are slightly better, and some are slightly worse. But overall, Casey is not happy with his routine and wants to make a change.  The big question, is where to begin. (We can use Casey’s routine to instruct us on processes for organizational improvement – after all, improvements can be found everywhere) 

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Casey’s morning routine includes:

  1. Waking up to an alarm
  2. Using the washroom
  3. Showering and getting ready
  4. Making and eating breakfast
  5. Driving to the parking spot
  6. Getting a coffee
  7. Getting to work

That’s easy enough: 7 simple steps to start your day off, but where can you make a change in that list?  Should Casey skip showering? Wake up earlier? Bike to work instead of drive? With such a high level view, it’s no wonder Casey hasn’t made a change. And really, is 2 hours to complete those steps really that bad? How do people with kids manage to get to work at all? In order to shed some light on the potential issues, Casey can take a process-focused view of the morning routine.

To do this, Casey begins by mapping all of the steps and decision points associated with the morning routine, and the initial 7 steps quickly turn into 23 steps, and 2 key decisions. Mapping for this type of process might look something like this:IMG_0117

For the purpose of this example, Casey didn’t break down individual tasks into sub-tasks, or identify where there are technology or application-driven processes operating in the background in relation to Casey’s routine (such as email applications sending data between servers). For more complex processes, these components become important to know and understand in order to identify potential issues.

Process mapping can lead to questions that present real opportunities for improvement.

With an honest assessment of the activities, Casey can start to ask informed questions about individual aspects of the routine:

  • What is the impact of hitting the snooze button? Would it make more sense to get up at the initial alarm, or change the initial alarm to match with the 2nd alarm time (i.e. wake up later)?
  • Why aren’t the shirts already steamed? Is there a better time to do this?
  • Is it necessary to have coffee with breakfast AND purchase another cup just prior to work?
  • Is it possible to make extra coffee in the morning and bring a travel mug to work?
  • Are there night-time habits influencing Casey’s routine (staying up late, not getting prepped for the next day, etc.)?

These questions all reflect a level of process understanding that allows for much more informed decision making.  Extrapolating this (admittedly simple) example and using the approach for a more complex business process can be a challenging exercise. However, the rewards come through the increased knowledge gained about the process.

A good process map will assist in highlighting the problems you should be focusing on.

Process mapping is one of the best approaches to developing comprehensive understanding of processes in an organization, and it provides a way to figure out which problems should be prioritized. This can result in three key benefits:

  1. Grasping Complexity

Have you ever worked with another person or group who has a key role in a process, but every time you ask them to review something, they take twice as long as expected?  How about working on a document or product to the point of completion, only to have the final approver request changes that could have occurred two months earlier?

These problems are common in complex or bureaucratic processes where, due to the pace and volume of work, ongoing communication and coordination can be difficult to maintain. (check out Kathy Roy’s recent post on how process mapping can be used for enabling work:

Most organizations are either facing, or are about to experience higher rates of attrition, causing a loss in process knowledge that has been built up over years of experience. Organizations can use process maps to develop shared understanding for all process participants, as well as to help onboard new employees.

  1. Narrative/Lifecycle

 Not every process is as simple or consistent as getting ready in the morning. It’s one of the reasons why answering “what do you do?” or “what does your group do?” to someone from outside of your organization feels like trying to invent a new language. How do you explain the myriad of outcomes and specialized services? When completed correctly, process mapping will frame services in terms of stakeholders, inputs, outputs and customers. This makes it easier to respond to these questions using basic terms: “We provide Service A for Group B, and Product X for Group Y”.

Additionally, the tangible product of the group’s effort can be assigned a lifecycle, which allows for increased clarity in articulating issues or challenges with individual aspects of the process.

  1. Performance Measurement

Creating a shared understanding of processes (including initial steps, outputs, final steps, etc.) can simplify the collection of data and development of metrics and performance indicators. For example, parallel efforts to define: areas susceptible to bottlenecks or constraints; inputs and outputs for each step; and even critical path lead times, will help determine what should be measured on an ongoing basis to monitor process performance. This understanding will also help determine how the process can be measured efficiently.

Shared process understanding will lead to improved organizational performance.

As in Casey’s example, it takes time to understand processes in a way that speaks to improvement efforts, and in many cases this initial investment can be a barrier to initiating work.  Compounding the problem is the fact that processes tend to evolve over time (new steps, technology, changes in resources) and rarely become less complex.

For those willing to develop an understanding of their organizations processes, they can create the necessary leverage to improve day-to-day work, services and outputs, and ultimately their stakeholder satisfaction.

All it takes is the willpower to not hit the snooze-button. (Just wake me up when that happens)


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