What is a process map?
A process map is a visual representation of the steps in a business process. There are two types of commonly created maps – current state and future state. The current state is a representation of how the process is actually happening, and the future state is a representation of how the process should happen once you have considered what changes you plan to implement.
A current state map serves as the foundational tool a team uses to better understand a current process and to get started on improving that process. It’s a way for a team to:
- build their understanding about how a process actually works;
- identify common areas of errors or frustration;
- expose where steps of a process are not standardized;
- find the steps that do and do not provide value to the user; and
- get an estimate for how long your process takes
A future state map serves as a tool to eliminate the pain points identified in the current state map by redesigning the map to match an envisioned future, or ideal, state. It is essential to have developed your current state map before creating a future state map. It’s particularly useful when:
- there is no clear current state process; or
- the current state is unclear or not standardize
When should I use it?
You can create a process map as a standalone activity or as a starting point to a larger improvement project. You should choose a process that you are involved in and have the support from leadership to implement changes to the process. It’s helpful to create a process map when the process is shared between different staff within or outside your department, when no one person has a clear view of the entire process, and when you need to get an estimate of how long the process really takes. It is also important to map an instance of the process that happens most frequently. This is helpful when a process has a lot of variation, so you’ll want to map the instances that reflect what is happening the majority of the time.
How do I create it?
Identify the start and end point of a process you want to improve, along with the key problem areas in that process you want to improve upon. Gather the team involved in the process to create the process map together. You can use butcher paper, sticky notes, and sharpie pens, or collaborate virtually using Office 365 Visio to map.
Steps to creating a current state process map
- Write the name of the process and date of creation at the top of the map.
- Select specific colors of sticky notes to assign different steps. For instance: yellow/green for process steps, blue for decision points, and pink pain points/challenges.
- Identify the start and end points of the process. These will serve as your book ends where you and your team will fill in the steps in between. When processes are long and complex, it can be overwhelming to think about it in its entirety. Instead of trying to map the whole process, focus on one part of the process. You can always map other parts of the process later.
- Order steps from left to right.
- Steps should include the who, verb, and noun. For example: Resident submits application to Department; Department reviews application.
- Write decision points as yes/no questions. For example: Was the application completed correctly? Write “Y” and “N” to show different routing.
- Keep the map as simple as possible and relatively at a high level. Don’t worry about mapping every detailed step as you can always dig deeper into a part of the process with a separate process map.
- Write times on process steps. This is helpful to identify how long each process step takes. Work with your team to estimate how long each step takes on average and remember to consider the process that occurs most of the time.
Identifying pain points in your current state process map
This is where you demonstrate all the challenges and issues you have in your current process. To help identify pain points, you can use the acronym DOWNTIME:
- Defect – errors in the current process
- Overproduction –areas of handoffs in multiple places
- Waiting – when people are waiting for a particular action to happen
- Non-used talent and/or things –existing resources not currently being utilized
- Transportation – unnecessary movement of things
- Inventory – where there is unnecessary inventory
- Motion – unnecessary movement of people
- Excess processing – where repetitive steps are occurring that may be eliminated
After you create your current state map, use your pink sticky notes and place under the process step that contains a DOWNTIME pain point. It’s best to have every team member involved in the mapping to identify anything they consider a pain point, even if you’re all flagging a pain point on the same step multiple times. This will help indicate where the team agrees that significant obstacles happen and where you can potentially start making incremental improvements to the process.
Steps to creating a future state process map
- Before creating your future state map, spend time thinking about how you and your team want to make the process better. Here are some questions to consider: What errors can we fix in the current process? Are there steps we can eliminate, combine, or rearrange? How can we simplify?
- Once you have identified steps that you may change or eliminate from your current state map, follow steps #1-8 from above. Your future state map should keep the same sequence of steps from the current state map.
- Your team can keep this map updated to show future changes to the process.
- Avoid discussing solutions when creating a current state map. Mapping and analyzing the process before discussing/brainstorming solutions is important so you and your team can come to an agreement on what the problems are before you can determine the right solutions. If you have ideas for solutions along the way, write it down and place in a “parking lot” list to address as a team later.
- Get everyone involved. When facilitating a process mapping session, give every participant their own stack of sticky notes and a sharpie pen. This helps avoid only having one voice dictate the whole session.
- Try to avoid too much discussion. Process mapping sessions can quickly get derailed if the team gets into endless discussion about every step. Set a timer and try your best to stick to it.
- Do not try to map every variation of the process. The easiest process maps to work with are those that have no branches to subprocesses at all. Only map branches of the process if they are needed for the rest of your improvement project.
- Discuss the goals of future state mapping with your team. Here are some guiding questions to help orient your team:
- What’s the time frame for our future state vision?
- What would be the perfect process for our user experience?
- What would success look like if we were to change the current state?
- How do we ensure that these changes can be implemented?