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by Lauren Hisey

In today's fast-paced world, organizations relentlessly pursue operational excellence, which has caused them to head straight to solutions, especially using technology as the solution, without truly understanding the business issues, the actual current state, and the real problems causing the true pain. They move right pass all of this and bypass one of the critical tools and steps: process mapping.

But what happens when we bypass this critical step? Allow me to share a story.

The Story of Automation Go Wrong

An organization within the financial industry was running into resource issues. The organization was supposed to have a staff of 150 but was only staff of 75 due to hiring issues. The organization's productivity was down by 30%, and its Efficiency was down by 40% compared to last year. Incoming work coming into the organization was up by 20%. The leaders and managers of the organization knew they needed a fast fix. They made a hasty decision that automation would be the answer.

After implementing automation into the process, they soon realized that it did not provide relief. In fact, automation has made things worse. It was so bad that their employees started to go around the automation because it was more cumbersome to use the process with the automation. While the automation seemed to "speed" things up, the reality was that they could see just how bad the process was.

The leaders and managers realized they didn't solve anything because they did not truly understand the process and the underlying problems. They soon decided they needed help and that one way to start was to map out the process.

They started with a SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Output, Customer ) high-level map to understand the starting and stopping points of the process that they wanted to improve. Then, the Team created a detail process map and input map to dive deep into the process to ensure they understand what was happening in the current state. During this exercise, they could see the process's Lean Waste and non-value steps. They immediately realized they needed to make process improvements before implementing any technology. They find out that the automation only shows how bad the process is. Once standardized, they applied the right technology in the right places. They realized it was not the right idea to throw technology at the problem without knowing the root causes and what was causing the most pain.

They were also to gain buy-in from all the employees because they conducted the exercise with those who did the process. They made decisions together. The senior leaders, through the rest of the company, realized that they needed to go to Gemba – got to where the process was happening – to do process mapping exercises. With the findings, the company decided to roll out Lean and Lean Six Sigma throughout the organization.

Understanding Process Mapping

What Is Process Mapping?

Process mapping transcends mere flowcharts. It's the visual embodiment of a workflow—a canvas where each step, decision point, and interaction finds expression. Beyond shapes and arrows, it reveals the heartbeat of the organization. It is where the people are doing the work. It shows us what is happening with the Current State, the "as-is" process versus the perceived process. Most people are so engrained in their day-to-day jobs that it is hard to conceptualize how the process works. It is also hard for people to move away from their silos and to even understand the journey of the customer, regardless if they are internal or external. While many think that the current process is operating just fine, once you start to draw the process out and add measurements such as cycle time, defects, and inefficiencies, many are amazed at how incapable the process is. Then, when you measure what your customer truly desires or benchmark against your competitors, it starts to paint a different picture than what was initially thought.

Current State Value Stream Maps and detailed process maps also reflect how badly the technology is put together without a holistic approach to understanding the process. These maps often show that technology might have been injected into the wrong part of the process or is not used in the most efficient manner.

Through these exercises, you start to open the minds and eyes of the people in the process. People are so passionate about their jobs that they often forget about the customer. As Lean Six Sigma practitioners, we usually guide the people in the process through exercise. Many who designed the process in the past do not realize that processing mapping needs to be done to increase customer satisfaction. People can only operate at what a process is capable of doing. Sometimes, it takes stepping back and doing the mapping exercise that change needs to happen because there are always better ways to do things at the end of the day. It is about continuously improving to improve employees' lives and increase customer satisfaction through throughput and efficiencies.

Why Process Mapping Matters

If we take a minute to stop and see why the process mapping matters, we can genuinely start to paint a more holistic picture. It would help if you saw things from end to end with the internal and external customer's perspective to see the following:

1. Identifying Bottlenecks

Process maps spotlight where processes falter or bottleneck. These bottlenecks hinder Efficiency and impact overall performance. By pinpointing them, organizations channel improvement efforts strategically. Bottlenecks can occur as rework loops, bad technology, manual work, too many approvals, defects, etc. Just think of any Lean Waste, and you can identify a bottleneck.

2. Improving Communication

Imagine a team conversing in different dialects—a Tower of Babel scenario. Process mapping establishes a universal language—a visual lexicon—bridging gaps across departments. Whether you're in operations, IT, or customer service, process maps harmonize Communication. It is about moving away from the silos and blaming to becoming partners working with on common goal to help improve the customer experience. Better Communication leads to transparency that removes the blocks and issues that are often seen within silos.

3. Enhancing Efficiency

Redundancies and superfluous steps lurk in every process. Process mapping exposes them. When the entire flow unfolds before our eyes, we can eliminate Lean waste, streamline activities, and optimize resource utilization. It doesn't just happen in manufacturing; you can also see this unfold within transactional environments. Increased Efficiency allows for more creativity among employees. It will enable them to become even more passionate about their work and develop even more ways to become efficient.

4. Facilitating Training

New team members often grapple with complex processes. Process maps serve as navigational aids, helping them grasp the big picture. It's akin to handing them a treasure map—the path becomes more apparent. Creating simple and streamlined processes allows everyone at all levels to see how things work. It creates an environment for learning at the core of continuous improvement.

Process Mapping in Lean Six Sigma

A Perfect Match

Process mapping seamlessly aligns with Lean Six Sigma principles; it is correct at the core of everything done within the discipline, regardless of your methodology.

1. DMAIC Framework: During the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) journey, process mapping shines in throughout the entire problem-solving journey from Define with the start of the SIPOC to the Measure Phase diving into the detail to the Analyze phase, where things are dissected to identify the pain points, and then into the Improve Phase to pave the way for improvement. You end with control of the future state to sustain the goals and a control plan to help establish continuous improvement.

2. Root Cause Analysis: Process maps lead us to the core of problems. Armed with data, we trace issues back to their origins. No more treating symptoms; let's address the root causes. It uses data and process maps to see what is causing the most pain.

The Journey from Current State to Solutioning

Uncovering the Unknowns

Process mapping begins with understanding the current state—exploring uncharted territory. As we map out the process, we unearth:

• Non-Value-Added Steps (NVA): These activities contribute little to the result. Process maps spotlight them, urging us to eliminate or optimize them.

• Lean Waste: Waste hides in plain sight, such as waiting times, excess inventory, and unnecessary movement. Process mapping exposes these inefficiencies.

After uncovering the NVA and Lean Waste, you can develop and brainstorm ways to eliminate them. While you may never get rid of it all, you can genuinely remove much of it. You move from a push system to a pull system.

Real Problems, Real Solutions

From the current state, we transition to solution brainstorming. Armed with process maps, we tackle genuine problems. It's not guesswork; it's data-driven problem-solving.

1. Brainstorming Sessions: Gathering the Team around the process map starts to open the discussion around the pain points, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement. Encourage diverse perspectives—sometimes, the best solutions emerge from unexpected sources.

2. Kaizen Events: Inspired by continuous improvement practices in Japan, organize kaizen events. These focused workshops bring stakeholders together to dissect processes, identify waste, and propose solutions. Process maps serve as the canvas for these collaborative sessions.

3. Root Cause Analysis: Process maps lead us to the core issues. Dive deep into root cause analysis. Ask "why" repeatedly (the 5 Whys technique) until you reach the underlying cause. Then, address it systematically.

4. Future State Mapping: Once you've dissected the current state, envision the ideal future state. Create a new process map that incorporates improvements. What steps will change? How will roles evolve? What technologies can enhance Efficiency?

The Hidden Gems Await

As you embark on this journey, remember that process mapping isn't just about drawing lines and shapes—it's about revealing insights, fostering collaboration, and driving improvement. The map isn't the territory but guides us toward a better destination. It is about learning together without the finger pointing. It helps to foster better teams that holistically look at the problems together and develop better ways to do things.

The next time you know you need to improve things, stop and start process mapping first. So, grab your pen (or digital stylus) and start the mapping journey.

The hidden gems await!


Lauren Hisey is not your typical consultant or coach. She uses a calming influence, Continuous Improvement, Lean Six Sigma, AI knowledge through regular conversations to help create effective change within any business. Lauren helps businesses to improve profitability and culture to drive sustainable growth. She has spent 13 years living and breathing Continuous Improvement as a coach, consultant, trainer, and speaker with different sizes businesses, universities, podcasts, and various networking associations. She has a passion for Continuous Improvement and loves to show others how to use it effectively in their businesses and personal life.

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