When starting any process improvement effort, whether it’s a Quick Win, a Kaizen or a larger Green Belt Project, building the “As Is” Process Map is an essential first step.
Teams often find immediate and actionable opportunities for improvement simply by uncovering “the way we do things now.” The following are some simple but powerful techniques to make your mapping efforts count.
1. Don’t map for mapping’s sake.
The goal of process mapping is to learn and improve, so spend time upfront deciding what and where to map and select your “start” and “stop” points accordingly.
2. Start with the current state.
Once the “prime suspect” process area is selected, focus on documenting the “as is” state as opposed to the future or ideal state. This might seem obvious but when people are asked to improve a process, their initial impulse is to move right to solution – but they can’t improve what they don’t understand!
3. Walk the process.
Conduct a formal “Waste” or Process Walk prior to building the “as is” map. Engaging in short, structured interviews with process participants becomes a rich source of data, flow and process issues. It also increases external interest in process improvement since people appreciate being asked for their input.
Engaging in short, structured interviews with process participants becomes a rich source of data, flow and process issues.
4. Map what the process really is.
People often relate what they “think” the process is – so when mapping the “as is” process you have to push past the SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, to find out all the shortcuts, rework loops, cheat sheets and workarounds – nobody thinks of those on the first pass. And keep the steps at the same “elevation level”, meaning don’t combine general tasks such as “generate the invoice” with details like “turn the page.”
5. Keep it simple.
Basic tools like flip chart paper or rolls of butcher’s paper and sticky notes are often the best and simplest tools for building process maps with teams. They can be “prettied up” later in Visio, Excel or PowerPoint but there’s no substitute for jointly building the actual, physical map.
6. Include process data.
Process maps are more accurate and powerful when they include cycle times and wait times. Value Stream Maps are designed to include these two elements of lead time, but including this data on any map helps reflect what truly gets in the way of meeting customer demand.
7. Display the variation.
When capturing cycle times in a process with high levels of variation, it’s helpful to include not just the average times, but the ranges as well. Averages hide the real impact of lead time on customers.
8. Indicate root causes.
Display pain points and potential root causes right where they occur on the Basic Flowchart, Value Stream Map or Swimlane Map. This takes advantage of the process map as a visual tool and builds on the knowledge of the group.
9. Apply visual management.
When mapping on the wall with sticky notes, try using different colors for the different “lanes” of a Swimlane map and choosing a contrasting color (classically pink) for pain points. Hold off drawing connectors and arrows until you’ve verified the map or you’ll end up with scribble marks – and that’s rework!
10. Spark energy and excitement!
Whenever possible – create a “War Room” or some dedicated space for the team to build the map and display their work throughout the life of the project. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ripples of interest and engagement throughout the organization.
There are a few things in the Lean Six Sigma toolkit that should be used on every project and process mapping is one of them. It’s an unsophisticated tool that everyone can relate to. By mapping the “as is” process, many things happen at once; The team builds their understanding of what really goes on in a process, they invest in team dynamics by creating it together, they immediately uncover pain points and Quick Wins and they build engagement as the rest of the organization becomes curious about the map and what the team is trying to achieve.
That’s a lot of benefit coming out of one simple tool!