Business process mapping answers the who, where, when, and how questions about what actually happens inside your company. They can range from relatively narrow questions (how are credit applications approved?) to more comprehensive questions (how is a customer enquiry turned into a factory work order?)
While a business process can be complicated, business process mapping itself is straightforward. Here’s how:
Only three elements are required:
(1) A box captures a process step. A typical business process will have dozens or more steps from start to finish. Write process steps in a “do something” format (“Review Credit Application”).
(2) A diamond captures a decision point. They are often written as questions (“Credit Approved?” or “OK?”). Yes goes one way, no goes another. Diamonds are very important as they are often the start of rework loops. In our credit approval example, an incomplete credit application (a quality defect) will have to be sent back for missing information, a waste of both time and money.
(3) A triangle captures inventory. In our credit approval example, there is a queue of applications (electronic or paper) ahead of the analyst. Where inventory collects in a business process is a great clue as to where the constraint (bottleneck) resides. Break the bottleneck, and the throughput of the entire business process is improved.
Connect these elements in process logic and you have a business process map. A brainstorm session with sticky notes on a white board is a great way to get started. Map your existing process first. Take a picture with your cell phone…this is your current state process. Now for the continuous improvement. Experiment (move things around, add or delete steps, change approval authorizations, change acceptance levels, etc) until you have a nimble and robust business process.
As an example of business process mapping, here is a redacted portion of the upstream “sales funnel” for a manufacturer of custom products:
Business process mapping is a great training aide. There is no better way to visualize how a new employee’s roles and responsibilities fit into the bigger picture.
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