Process mapping is a useful tool for what can be summed up as “seeing the big picture and little pictures at the same time”.
That may sound silly to you, but that’s really what it is.
The primary benefit achieved from mapping out your business processes is that you can accurately evaluate each of the steps needed to complete a certain workflow, while understanding exactly how each of them interacts with one another and contributes to the process as a whole.
This ability to evaluate all aspects of a process helps managers identify constraints, opportunities for improvement, and formulate strategies to implement changes without disrupting day-to-day work.
But how do you go about ensuring that the time and effort you put into constructing these maps translates into improved performance?
That’s the question we’ll be tackling in this post.
Before doing so, however, we must acknowledge that there is a huge range of complexity when it comes to methods for process mapping. If you are a small organization it can be as simple as drawing it out on a whiteboard, whereas enterprises use sophisticated mapping software tools like Appian and Lucidchart.
This point regarding complexity and different kinds of process maps leads us to another important sub-topic that needs to be addressed early on – the difference between process mapping and process modeling.
Understanding the distinction between process mapping and modeling
It must be said that the difference between a process map and a process model is difficult to understand through online research because most articles on the matter either contradict one another or do not provide a clear explanation of the difference.
Everyone seems to have a different opinion. Some say there is a lot of overlap, while others say they have totally different purposes and should not be referred to interchangeably.
Many writers on the subject paraphrase the statement “Process maps are a simpler version of process models with a lot of similar characteristics”. I find this rather confusing as there is no clear line of separation.
For example, check out these definitions from the Process Excellence Network (PEN):
“This involves drawing out all the activities involved in a business process, step-by-step, so that it’s entirely clear what is involved at any stage of a given business process.”
“This is the creation of a graphical description of a business process so that current processes can be analyzed and improve business operations.”
While a difference in purpose has been stated (improve business operations), there is no indication of how a model enables such improvement, and the rest of the definitions feel like the same thing expressed in a different way.
Similar question marks are raised when reading the definition from Appian:
“In business, process mapping is the task of defining what exactly a business does, who is responsible, and what is the standard by which the success of a business process can be judged. This is not to be confused with business process modeling, which is focused more on the optimization of business processes.”
In all fairness, the writer of the PEN article does conclude with a very reasonable statement that makes perfect sense:
“There are a number of articles circulating that process mapping and process modeling are two very separate approaches. This is true to an extent, as they are separate tools; however, it is wrong to polarize them as an either-or choice, as they are both aligned.” – Jason McGee-Abe
While I am in no position to provide a final say, I will attempt to clarify the difference, at least for the purpose of this article.
One is an extension of the other
In essence, the difference is that process models are a more digitally enhanced and therefore more capable version of process maps.
What I mean by this is that process models are often created using software, enabling it to contain rich operational data, details regarding relationships to business goals, and adapt to change dynamically through various software integrations.
A process map, on the other hand, represents a static, linear sequence flow of activities that do not necessarily account for other business processes or the environment as a whole, concerning itself only with one particular flow of activities. Think of it as a snapshot of how a process is currently executed, like a balance sheet is a snapshot of a company’s financial health.
“Business process mapping is the tool focused on documentation. It shows how work is done, not necessarily how it should be done. Business process modeling is more about in-depth analysis and optimizing inefficiencies and bottlenecks.” – Smartdraw
Therefore, we can say that process models are a sort of extension of process maps that offer greater potential for executing process improvement initiatives as the business grows and experiences unforeseen changes.
Although it is more logical and efficient to set up process automation through models as they are easier to connect to various software tools and business systems, it’s important to note that in terms of what the graphical representation shows, there is not a lot of difference.
“Both activities serve to create a graphical representation which ultimately serves to improve business processes.” – Appian
With that said, the bulk of this post which will focus on how you can increase productivity with process maps applies equally to process models, as they are an extension of process maps and therefore at their core, serve the same purpose.
Whether you are mapping your processes or modeling them, the techniques discussed here to boost productivity apply equally.
Make them practical: How to use your maps to increase productivity
Process mapping and modeling are standard ways to plan, manage, and optimize all kinds of business processes, with the primary purpose of continuously improving operational efficiency throughout businesses’ various departments.
So to achieve this improvement in efficiency, processes need to be well understood and followed by employees. That may sound obvious, but process adoption is a big challenge for most companies, especially as they scale and onboard new employees at a rate they’re not used to.
For the purpose of this post, I am assuming that you’ve already done a fantastic job mapping out a bunch of your processes. If you’re not quite there yet and are looking to get started, there are a ton of great articles out there guiding you through the process step-by-step.
Nevertheless, even if you are at the very beginning of the process mapping journey, the following points will be valuable food for thought as you look to implement the models you build in a way that actually has a notable impact on productivity.
That’s what I want to dig into – how to apply your process maps so they provide value and go beyond being a document sitting in a binder on a shelf somewhere.
As stated by Commandment #1 in PEN’s article The 10 Commandments of Process Mapping:
“Thou shalt have no process maps that gather dust”
1. Utilize BPM software
Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first.
If you are not using BPM software to manage your processes, you are, without a doubt, missing a huge opportunity to improve productivity.
These are a few of the main benefits of investing in a BPM tool:
- Ability to adapt and continuously refine processes
- Centralized view of all activity in real-time
- Automation of tasks for improved efficiency
- An effective channel for team collaboration
- Limit or entirely eliminate human error
When you consider that the BPM market is expected to be worth around $14 billion by 2021, almost doubling from its valuation of $6.96 billion in 2016, it becomes clear that it will be a key area of competitiveness in the years to come.
If you are not sure how you would like to construct your checklists and need some inspiration, there are hundreds of pre-made, fully customizable templates for all sorts of industries and business processes.
Check out this list to find the best BPM software for your business.
2. Focus on process automation
Adopting BPM software is the first step, which should be swiftly followed by setting up automation rules to enable processes to run as smoothly as possible.
Automation and productivity go hand-in-hand, as you are minimizing the waste in time and resources that the original, manually-intensive process contained.
Have a read through our Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation for all you need to know about applying automation to the processes you’ve built or are currently building.
Also, here are 50 workflow automation ideas to help get you started.
3. Don’t overlook the importance of simplicity
The truth is that processes need to be simple if they are expected to be followed consistently by all team members, especially new hires who need to be ramped up in the most efficient way possible.
While some processes, particularly at the enterprise level, are by their nature complex, managers must always be asking themselves how they can distill processes in a way that makes it easy to understand and follow.
iSixSigma has written a great article titled Practical Guide to Creating Better Looking Process Maps, that illustrates how an overly-complicated map or model can be simplified by taking extra care with the use of connectors and other important symbols.
“One should be willing to start from scratch and redraw the whole process map in order to make it easier to serve its purpose.” – Hussain Thameezdeen Abubakker, iSixSigma
Below is an example from the article of how a process map, concerned with the request and issuance of an airline ticket, can be transformed from looking like “a plate of spaghetti” to a couple of neat and tidy diagrams that can be more effectively implemented, adopted by employees, and therefore contribute to an increase in productivity.
The author then completely transforms this headache-inducing diagram by breaking it into two separate diagrams, one for the request and the other for issuance, and re-organizing the connectors to simplify the flow of the process.
For an explanation of how these edits were made to simplify the process map, check out the article here.
4. Always link processes to strategic goals
When it comes to user adoption and productivity, there are two key benefits of linking your process maps to strategic business goals.
Firstly, by doing so you can communicate to those expected to follow the process why it is valuable and how exactly it will make a positive impact on business performance.
If employees don’t feel as though the process is actually going to make a difference, they won’t take it seriously and therefore it will likely produce little to no increase in productivity.
Secondly, creating strong links between your diagrams and business goals will motivate managers to make sure that process maps and models are serving their purpose.
If the process is not doing its job, they can identify shortcomings and refine it accordingly.
In other words, it gives the otherwise stagnant process map a sense of direction and purpose, which is nothing short of essential to see a notable improvement in execution.
5. Encourage and provide channels for team collaboration
You may be wondering how collaboration is linked to improving productivity with process mapping.
The answer is simple: A process that has been mapped out and put in place via BPM software will be followed by a set group of people. As time passes, managers need to keep track of how the process is being used and to what extent there is need for improvement. The most effective way to do this is listening to feedback from the employees who are actually following the process on a daily basis and collaborating with them to identify opportunities for improvement.
For example, a great way to collect feedback is surveys, which, according to CultureIQ is the most popular method to actively manage and drive employee engagement (55%).
Managers must recognize that without providing vehicles for collaboration such as Slack, CRM group chats, video conferences, all-hands meetings, and surveys, it will be incredibly challenging to accurately evaluate and optimize processes.
“Collaboration is often dismissed as a nebulous concept and one that does not have many tangible benefits, yet an increasing body of research is showing that working together makes companies more productive and drives higher returns for shareholders.” – Mark Frary, Raconteur
I have written an article discussing 5 great ways to involve employees in process design, which I recommend reading if you are looking for better ways to encourage collaboration amongst your team.
6. Establish a process for continuous improvement
This point is closely linked to the previous one emphasizing the importance of collaboration, as they are joined at the hip. Continuous improvement to processes is simply not possible without open and honest communication between the whole team.
How do you go about managing process improvement initiatives? Do you have a process in place to involve team members, evaluate feedback and implement changes efficiently?
The two main tips I have in this regard, as mentioned in my article on process design, are:
- Use a variety of communication methods to involve other employees. Beyond just sending them an email, create internal newsletters, lunchroom posters and a slack channel dedicated to process improvement.
- Identify process improvement champions and empower them to foster interest among other employees.
Another way to instill a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement is to adopt the Kaizen strategy.
The main idea behind Kaizen, which literally means “change for good”, but has been reinterpreted in the West as continuous improvement, is to establish a systematic way to identify, plan, test, and deploy improvements to current processes in real-time, resulting in the creation of a business that is continuously improving itself.
My colleague has written an excellent piece on how you can deploy this strategy in your business, which I highly recommend reading, especially if you are in the manufacturing or finance industry.
Key takeaways before you go
Let’s do a quick review and leave you with some important takeaways.
- Process models are an extension of process maps in that they are digitally enhanced versions of them. Techniques for implementing them to increase productivity apply equally.
- If you are looking to create process models, we have written in-depth tutorials to do so in BPMN and UML.
- Investing in BPM software is an absolute must if you want your process maps to notably improve business performance.
- Process automation may sound intimidating, but is surprisingly easy to set up and will have an immediate impact on productivity.
- Without the care to prioritize simplicity while process mapping, employees will not consistently follow processes and it will be more difficult to onboard new hires.
- Linking process maps to strategic goals gives them purpose and direction, helping all employees see the value of implementing the process following it as directed.
- Team collaboration is essential in identifying constraints, opportunities for improvement, and to encourage process adoption.
- Establish a process for continuous improvement, and your process maps will never go unused. Constant attention is key to enabling your maps to go beyond a document and into the engine of consistent, high-quality business performance.
I hope you found this article practical in some way, as it was intended to be! What steps do you take to make sure your process maps don’t gather dust on a shelf somewhere and contribute to productivity? Is there a great technique that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!