What is process mapping?

Mapping your company’s processes helps identify areas of waste in order to improve efficiency, teamwork and employee engagement

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Companies often do things a certain way because that’s how it has always been done. But to improve operational efficiency, it’s always a good idea to question your methods. This can be achieved through process mapping.

“It’s a matter of mapping out the sequence of activities in the identified process, in detail—for example: Who does what? When? How? —to see where there are opportunities for improvement,” explains Éric Frenière, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services.

He agreed to answer a few questions to demystify process mapping.

When you bring all these people together to map the processes, they often gain a better understanding of what the others are doing and why they’re doing it that way.

1. What are the benefits of creating a process map?

A process map allows you to:

  • improve flexibility
  • increase quality
  • reduce costs
  • improve client satisfaction

“When you can deliver exactly what the client wants, on time and at a very competitive price, you’ve got everything in place to exceed their expectations,” Frenière says.

To do this, you need to understand where the problems lie by looking at the company’s major processes, people’s roles and responsibilities, and then by setting objectives and tracking the various performance indicators for the process in the management dashboard.

Never lose sight of the client’s needs

When you’re analyzing processes, always keep in mind that they must provide value to the client.

Frenière explains that a company that is not sensitive to this may barely achieve 20% added value in its processes. Conversely, world-leading organizations are achieving 60% to 70% added value in their processes.

“It’s never going to be 100%, because there will always be travel, waiting, and transportation that doesn’t add value to the client,” he says. “But the client should not be paying for poor organization. Process improvement means minimizing waste and adding value.”

For example, a client will not be willing to pay more because the company had to bring in a part by plane rather than ship because it was ordered too late.

On the other hand, they may be prepared to pay more for a particular raw material. “But sometimes they don’t need that quality, so they don’t want to pay more for it,” Frenière says. “Process mapping must be done with the client’s needs firmly in mind, not wandering off to one side or the other.”

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2. How are processes mapped using the Lean method?

Process mapping is a central aspect of Toyota’s Lean method. In this method, you look at every major activity the company does and you analyze it. You identify the key elements and who is responsible for them.

Ideally, the people who are directly or indirectly involved in these major activities on a daily basis can participate in the mapping process.

“They will have a lot to say because they really know what isn’t working and there is a good chance that this will bring them on board,” Frenière says.

“Also, when you bring all these people together to map the processes, they often gain a better understanding of what the others are doing and why they’re doing it that way. This way, they immediately see what they can do to collaborate better and work more effectively.”

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3. What are the different levels of Lean process mapping?

Lean can be used to map processes at different depth levels, depending on the needs of the organization.

Preliminary

With this first level, the organization’s major processes are mapped in a diagram. This is referred to as SIPOC (suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, clients).

“Doing this exercise often quickly reveals dysfunction,” Frenière says. “For example, if a process does not create an output at the end that has added value for the client.”

Detailed

“To take it further, activities are mapped sequentially, from order intake to invoicing,” Frenière says.

To push the analysis further, you add the functions involved in each of the activities, such as sales, administration, purchasing, production, shipping and finance.

“You put the major functions of the organization from top to bottom and you put the different processes in sequence, in line with the function,” Frenière says. “This way, you see the problems quickly. For example, if several responsibilities are concentrated in the hands of a specific function, it creates delays or a bottleneck in the process.”

Detailed (with information systems)

Then, you have to look at which databases are linked to the processes. Frenière offers some examples: “Is my inventory in a stand-alone file or part of a software package? Does my client information come from customer relationship management software?”

You can then connect the databases to an integrated operations management software package. Details about the process, such as meetings and production schedules, can also be added.

4. What is process mapping in the manufacturing sector?

Process mapping principles work well in manufacturing plants. For example, consider order processing, from entry into the system to delivery.

“As soon as the order is entered into the system, you have to plan it, so make sure you have the raw materials to make it and the capacity to produce it by the delivery deadline,” Frenière says. “Then you produce the order and gather the items for shipment. All these things need to be analyzed.”

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5. What is process mapping in project management?

Process mapping can also be done in offices.

“When a new project comes along, you start by determining the objective, who will be involved and what resources will be dedicated to it, both material and human,” Frenière says. “These early stages of planning are crucial, and if you do not dedicate enough time to them, you risk derailing the project and exploding the budget.”

From there, you’ll be ready to carry out the project and monitor its progress.

You need checkpoints and you need access to information. This is not a given in all organizations, according to Frenière. “Managers often make estimates, but it is important for the actual situation to be reported accurately in order to manage the project well.”

6. What is Six Sigma process mapping?

The Six Sigma method, developed by Motorola, relies on exhaustive data analysis to quantitatively determine the starting situation before taking action.

“It requires a high level of maturity because, before taking action, there is a great deal of data analysis and statistical calculation, to ensure the actions are extremely rigorous. That’s not always possible in SMEs,” Frenière says.

7. What tools are used to map processes?

For process mapping, all you need are regular old Post-its, in different colours, that you stick on the wall and move around as required.

“Ideally, you bring the stakeholders together and workshop the exercise through discussion,” Frenière says. Each colour of Post-it is assigned a meaning, so things are clear at a glance.”

Then you enter the results into process mapping software or, if everyone is working remotely, you can use it from the beginning. “Generally, it’s an online platform that more or less mimics everyone being in front of a whiteboard and putting the activities in sequential order,” Frenière says.

8. How to adjust your operations with the help of a process map?

Once the process map is complete and the problems have been identified, you have to set objectives and implement a plan to achieve them.

“You can review everyone’s roles and responsibilities, measure results and incorporate new technologies to get people to collaborate more effectively,” Frenière says. “The processes are live. By adjusting them, you can get closer to what world-class companies are doing.”

Want to learn more about process mapping? Check out our free guide: Optimize Your Business Processes or contact us to talk to an expert.

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