Mapping Business Processes need not be Rocket Science

What’s in a business process flow?

So here’s s definition you’ve probably come across several times over:  – It’s a series of steps or actions that take place in your business to convert inputs into outputs.

In the SmallBizKaizen context, inputs are defined as your efforts i.e.  your money, labour, software, hardware, materials, phone calls,  emails, websites, consultants, packaging, electricity and so on. Outputs on the other hand are simply what your customers get at the end of the day which could be a product or service or both.

There are other terms used for process flow mapping that you may have come across including value stream mapping,  six sigma process mapping, process flow optimisation – it’s really all one and the same thing. Call it what you prefer as at Smallbizkaizen we don’t believe in BIG words and terminology but rather in the core principles and the concepts behind the decisions and actions we take.

In Kaizen, process flow mapping can be a powerful continuous improvement tool if used correctly, allowing your business to improve the value offered to your customers. It’s what we like to call a weapon of massive improvements.

There are several benefits to doing process flow map. We recommend you consider it for the following reasons and situations:

  1. Does a process even exist for this? – You’ll be surprised how often, key processes within a business are not recognised as a process important to add value for your customers. A typical one I’ve come across is a lack of a process to allow and handle all customer feedback!
  2. Is the process consistent? – This can also reveal many more surprises if you have people in your organisation who do similar tasks. You may find everyone has their own way of doing it, some more effective than others and so you only want to keep the best practices in your business.
  3. Is the flow logical and optimised? The key here is optimised. You need to ensure every step of the process is not a duplicate, a waste or unnecessary. Additional questions to ask is are is this the right sequence, are we using the best technology available. How could we do it better?
  4. Does it Add Value? This is can be a nasty little question if you challenge anyone in your business whether what they do adds value or not. The key point here is, these questions are not aimed at a person but rather at the process. You are optimising the process not the person most of the time anyway.)  We recommended you simply ask what your customers will benefit from each of the steps outlined in your process. If the answer is nothing, need we say more?
  5. How can we improve the process? – The main reason why you want to do this is to identify improvements to the process. Once you have come up with a new streamlined and optimised process, put it to test immediately and monitor and measure the impact it has on your business.

So in typical Smallbizkaizen fashion, we give you practical tips on how to perform a process flow mapping exercise but do remember there are many ways to do this, so do what works best for you. This can be a great team building exercise so why not do it as team exercise or management team session ?

  1. Keep it Simple – it’s a boring cliché but it’s so true.  Avoid mapping out very complex, long and winded processes as you’ll easily get lost and/ or side-tracked in the maze.
  2. Start your mapping at a high level to give you an overall BIG picture of your business processes. From this high level picture, take each of the big steps in turn and map these out, one at a time.
  3. Start by mapping the processes that add or are likely to add the most value for your customers.
  4. Consider using a white-board (i love these)  as  there will be a lot of chopping and changing when you get to the optimising bit.
  5. Describe the process in simple words.
  6. Describe the objective of the process – a tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the customer (no matter what shoe size).
  7. Define the level of process to be described, stick to it.
  8. Define the boundaries:  starting / end point of the process.
  9. Who is involved in the different steps?
  10. Where are critical measure points?
  11. Follow the flow of the process and draw up all the actions and decisions in their sequence. We recommend to use the SmallBizKaizen Action Plan template
  12. Use  simple recognisable process flow symbols and arrows
  13. You could try several different software available for mapping process flows such as Microsoft’s Visio,  Excel or PowerPoint also have great templates for process flow mapping. I personally use these with pleasing results as in the Microsoft Office 2010
  14. Whatever you do, keep it real and do it for your customers.
  15. Typical symbols are used are:

process flow mapping example and symbols

As always, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback on how you get on – Happy value stream mapping to you all !

Photo used in the gallery :

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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