Process mapping: a step by step guide

Process (work-flow) mapping lowers errors, increases effectiveness, and enhances communication.  Process mapping sessions may result in sudden revelations such as:

  • “I didn’t know you did it that way, we do it this way!”
  • “But why don’t we do it that way instead?”
  • “No wonder it takes so long / goes wrong so often!”

workflow or process mapping

There are several preconditions for effective process mapping:

  • The process(es) to be mapped must be specifically defined before the meetings start.
  • The authority of the team must be delineated as well. The more authority the group has, the more motivated people will be, and the more changes can be successfully made. This means that the people who are actually responsible for making changes must be present and part of the process.
  • High-ranking team members must try to draw out the others, using silence, questions, and positive feedback to increase participation.
  • The team should consist of about five to twelve people, preferably about seven; and it should have representatives of all groups and all levels involved in the process.
  • A process consultant should be on hand. The process consultant does not focus on content, but on how the meeting proceeds. The process consultant can greatly reduce the time needed for the meetings, while increasing the quality of decisions.

There are several phases in the process mapping sessions:

  1. Diagram (map) the way work is currently done, using a flow chart to graphically portray the process. Members who come up with ideas for improvements should write them down and wait for the next steps.
  2. Identify problem areas to concentrate on (circling the areas in red may help).
  3. Create possible action steps — but postpone judgement; the emphasis should be on generating ideas and writing them down on charts all can see.
  4. Evaluate action steps and select those which are fastest and easiest to implement, and have the most significant effects. The others should be held for future meetings.
  5. Make one team member responsible for each action step.
  6. Set firm follow-up and completion dates, including a date for the next meeting.
  7. Periodically meet again to discuss progress and new issues, and to check that actions are being implemented. Meeting every two weeks will improve follow-through.

Although process mapping uses large quantities of flip chart paper, if some steps are quickly implemented, it is a motivator for change which can quickly improve effectiveness. If changes are not implemented, or no feedback is given, the result will be lower trust and morale, and higher resistance to change. When a change cannot be implemented, the reasons should be quickly and clearly communicated to the team.


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