Processes are the way your business runs – whether you have mapped them or not. Mapping processes is a great way to visualise what happens in your business including who is involved across the organisation and for whom (the customer!). Process maps are the baseline against which process performance can be measured and issues identified.

How can you make sure that your process maps are relevant and useful?

Here are four questions to help you focus…

Having mapped, analysed, and improved processes for most of our professional lives, we thought we would summarise some key questions that we have learnt to ask as part of our process endeavours. We hope you will find them useful…

1.    Why are you mapping?

Our experience

We are still amazed at the amount of process documentation that some organisations have compiled over the years that are little more than (e-)shelf-ware – they are often out-of-date, use varying notations, and are not referenced as intended. They represent a history of initiatives and consultants who have done a lot of work that is (and perhaps was) not understood or valued by the leadership team of the day.

Our advice

There are many good (and a few bad) reasons to map processes. Being clear about which reasons apply will help you to adopt the best approach to get useful outcomes.

The most common reasons to map a process include:

  • As part of a general business review
  • To support compliance and risk management regimes
  • To develop a shared understanding of general issues that the business is experiencing
  • To identify specific improvement opportunities
  • As part of a systems requirements effort to support ICT systems implementation
  • To map the enterprise “just because we can” (hint: this is not a good reason!)

Understanding our reasons will inform the approach to undertaking the work… and sometimes even whether the work should be undertaken at all!

2.    Who are you mapping for?

Our experience

Unused process documentation (hardcopy or electronic) is a stark reminder that the stakeholder engagement aspects of process work is much more important than being technically adept as to how process information is gathered and represented, and what conventions are used.

There are different types of process stakeholders:

  • The executive accountable for the potential process improvements
  • The process steward whose role it is to ensure the performance of the process
  • The players in the process who have a role in enacting it
  • The customers (internal and external) of the process who feel the direct impact of the process performance
  • The systems design team who will supply the ICT platform

Our advice

Spend at least the same effort engaging staff and management in the mapping activities as on the technicalities of mapping the processes. Engage them through interviews and collaborative workshops and provide opportunities to elicit feedback and ideas throughout the exercise.

3.    What is the context of the process?

Our experience

An organisation chart is useful in understanding the structure and reporting lines in an enterprise though it gives little information on how work is done and for whom. Hence the value of taking a process perspective.

Part of the appeal and value of process mapping is being able to visualise what happens, how, when, and by whom. While processes are cross-functional, budgets are often allocated organizationally and so many process mapping projects have a limited scope based on the organisational boundaries within which the project is being funded.

Our advice

These limitations are very real though your process endeavours need not be compromised by such functional realities.

We always start our process mapping projects with context maps that clearly place the process project within the customer, organisational, process, and project context of the rest of the enterprise. That is:

  1. Customer – who does this process serve – what are their needs and expectations?
  2. Organisation – Who owns this process and who else is involved in its successful enactment?
  3. Process Scope – what is the process model of the enterprise and where does this process mapping/improvement project sit on context of other processes?
  4. Project – What other projects are in flight or planned that may be related to this process?

4.    What is the current state?

Our experience

Unless we are designing a “green fields” process, being clear about the current state of the process is an essential pre-requisite for initiating incremental improvements or radical redesign.

A key reason why executives do not have a shared vision of the future state of the enterprise/processes is that they do not have a shared understanding of the current state – the strengths, the issues, or the opportunities. Using effective visualisation methods is essential for focusing any cross-functional team on what the current state is, the issues, the opportunities, the priorities.

A word of caution:

Our experience, is that much of the shelf-ware we spoke of earlier is the result of ‘analysis paralysis’ – too much effort and detail in mapping of the current state without benefit will often see any process effort (and the process roles/group) shelved. Process for process sake is the bane of the functional executive.

Our advice

Map enough of the current state to:

  • create the dialogue with the executive team;
  • engage enough of the management team that they become champions of the need for process improvement; and
  • enough of the operational staff to ensure a shared understanding and ownership.

Of course, the amount of detail and rigour of your current state mapping should be driven by the why and for whom questions earlier, though in general we suggest that you do enough of the current state to enable the stakeholders to:

  • Get a high-level shared understanding the enterprise/process/issues
  • Identify and prioritise the issues
  • Agree on where ‘deep-dive’ process mapping is appropriate
  • Scope the improvement projects

And finally…

It is not a one-off exercise!

The words “process mapping” and “process improvement” are usually followed by the word “project”. While you do need good project management discipline and practices to undertake a process initiative; mapping processes with no commitment to use the process documentation for managing and improving the business will just add to the shelf ware. Use these questions to guide your process mapping and engage the stakeholders in understanding the real value of taking a process view of the enterprise.

Our focus for more than a decade has been on ensuring that the enterprise has a focus and capability to manage their processes as much as they do for mapping and improving them. Why invest in process improvement if the improved processes will fall into decay because they are not managed as part of standard operations?

Written by Imre Hegedus and Robert Lamb


Business Process Management – Insights and Practices for Sustained Transformation - $69

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The ability to visualise your enterprise as a dynamic system is the first step toward being able to manage and improve it as a viable business.


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