Process Improvement

by Rus Slater

Mapping processes

Process mapping is a tool that uses standardised flow-charting symbols to produce a diagrammatic representation of a business process.

It allows the process to be

  • Easily explained to people involved or not involved in the process
  • Broken down by activity, responsibility, ownership, dependency, concurrency and value
  • Assessed for bottlenecks and critical paths
  • Measured for time and resource usage.

Consequently, it helps us to identify opportunities to improve the process.

Definitions

A ‘process’ can be defined as:

  • A series of actions by which inputs are converted into outputs
  • A description of something we do to produce deliverables

The common factor in each of these definitions is in bold and this is critical to our objective.

Identifying the output

Before we can start to map a process, we need to identify the product, service or outcome of the process. This sounds like it should be simple, but it is worth checking to ensure that everyone understands what the outcome is and that everyone has the same understanding.

In a manufacturing process, the product is physical and easily identified. However, in the UK today, most of us work in a service industry. In service industry and office processes, it is easy to confuse overall activity with the product or output.

Example

If you work for a financial advisor and you are mapping the process for a mortgage application, the overall activity could be ‘obtaining a mortgage’, while the ‘product’ or ‘outcome’ might be the production of the Certificate of Mortgage Offer, or it might be the draw down of the mortgage money (the actual payment that goes to the vendor on completion of the contract).

Deciding the ‘scale’

Process maps are useful at all levels, but it is important to recognise which level of scale is most appropriate for your specific needs: micro- or macro-level.

A micro-level process map shows small steps, such as ‘book interview rooms’ and ‘send letters of appointment’ or ‘print brochures’ and ‘set up exhibition stand’.

  • The boundaries of a micro-level process map are usually the physical boundaries of a team or a department.
  • Micro-level process maps really show up the detail, so these are most commonly created when improving processes.

A macro-level map shows the process on a larger scale: ‘recruit staff’ or ‘launch product’, for example.

  • Macro-level maps often consolidate smaller processes into single activities.
  • Macro-level process maps generally don’t show the detail, so they are normally used more for information purposes, such as describing the process to non-technical customers, new hires, senior managers or staff from other departments.

Once you have decided what the outcome is and what scale is appropriate for your needs, you are ready to start mapping the process.