as a tool for creating business success has been around in one form or another for quite a long time. The earliest forms of flowcharts were developed in the 1920′s and 1930′s as part of industrial engineering. Since then, highly sophisticated Process Mapping tools and techniques have been developed. Helping to drive the development of these tools was the certification standards of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 in the early to mid 1990′s and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the early 2000′s.
But perhaps even more important a driver is that old standby of capitalism: Competition.
If your competition has a shorter, less costly, and more effective process, they’ll eat your lunch. Why would any customer pay more to wait longer for a less reliable product? Of course, they won’t. But under pricing pressures you can’t just price on a “cost-plus” basis. Result? Your prices are the same as the competition’s prices, but your costs are higher, so what suffers? Your profitability. Under such competitive pressures, businesses have come to scrutinize their processes in ever more detail, seeking waste that can be cut out.
Tools of Lean Manufacturing such as Value Stream Mapping have come to be used in every type of business process. Lean Manufacturing was pioneered by Toyota and has since spread to every corner of the globe. But Process Mapping is also a key part of Total Quality Management (TQM) and Six Sigma as well, plus combined methods such as Lean Six Sigma.
What is Process Mapping? Simply put, it is a chart which shows every activity that must be completed in order to deliver a product or service to the end customer. Modern versions typically include not just materials flow, but paper flow and information flow as well. Put that way, it does sound simple. But it’s harder than you might think, and requires an experienced business analyst and leader to do it effectively.
Here are some key areas to consider when beginning a project of Process Mapping:
(1) For one thing, you’ll need to set the boundaries of your process map. Are you mapping a process at the macro or micro level? Are you looking at an entire factory, or only one workcell within the factory? How much of the upstream and downstream sub-processes do you need to show, to help inform your understanding of the area under study?
(2) You’ll also need to identify the product, and maybe even the customer. It’s not always as easy as you might think! This is especially true in the case of service industries, or internal departments where the “customer” is another department of the same company.
(3) How much detail should your map show? Too much detail and you risk losing the forest for the trees. Too little detail and you may miss some important factors.
(4) Who should be on your team? It should be a multifunctional team from many levels, yet if it is too large the team becomes unwieldy. Often only the workers know what really goes on, but you must be sure that these team members will not be intimidated by the views of higher-level members who have a different vision of what “should” be happening. And when all of these people have their own “real” jobs to do (as of course they will in a multifunctional team), getting them to focus on the Process Mapping project is an art in itself.
Despite all these challenges, Process Mapping is a crucial part of business process improvement. Just remember, your competition is monitoring their processes. Literally, you can’t afford not to.
- Value Stream Mapping: Get To Know Your Process
- Creating Process Maps: Key Ideas for a Team Facilitator
- Process Flow Chart: Tried and True
- Reduce Cycle Time in Your Process Map with Concurrent Activites
- Why Your Business Needs a Continuous Improvement Blog