Lean Leaders: How Pulse Point Maps Help You Manage Processes - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Leader Standard Work is a set of actions, tools and behaviors incorporated into the daily work of leaders to create a Lean Management System. One of the first priorities is to make your work environment more visible, so a great tool to start with is a Pulse Point Map.

What Is A Pulse Point Map?

A Pulse Point Map is a tool to make a process more visible. The map identifies the key checkpoints (or pulse points) in a process that indicate if a process is working well.  For each selected process, building a Pulse Point Map helps leaders and those that work in the process to understand the following:

  1. What are the key questions throughout the process that we need to ask to know that the process is working well?
  2. How can we know the answers to these questions at a glance? (At 10 feet in 5 seconds?)
  3. What kinds of Visual Controls will help us manage the process more effectively and where should they be located?

The Benefits of Using Pulse Point Maps

Here are a few benefits that occur when developing Pulse Point Maps:

Increased Process Knowledge and Visibility

Understanding the key Pulse Points in a process, helps build knowledge of the process, how the process works and the critical components to monitor. Once Visual Controls are put in place, the process becomes more visible. This is especially helpful in transactional or service processes where it can be difficult to see the process. Most transactional or service processes are invisible. All we see are people sitting at their desk or computer! Transactional or service processes can cross buildings, cities and countries! Pulse Point Maps help increase visibility to the horizontal flow of a process.

Saves Time

Do you want to spend less time in meetings? Building a Pulse Point Map can help. If leaders can understand what is going on with a process at ten feet within five seconds, than why have a time-consuming, unproductive meeting? Ideally, once Visual Controls are set up, leaders and process workers can spend less time sitting in conference rooms. However, some of this saved time should be re-allocated to reviewing Visual Controls on a regular basis. If leaders don’t monitor or use the Visual Controls, they will quickly become wallpaper. Fifteen minute Team Huddles around Visual Controls can be more efficient and effective, than long meetings in conference rooms.

Elevate Process Focus Instead of Person Focus

This benefit was mentioned in the introduction to Leader Standard Work blog, but it’s worth repeating here. Pulse Point Maps help elevate process focus and process-related problems, rather than focusing on the person doing that particular job or position. This can help organizations move towards blame-free work environments and make it easier to talk about process improvement opportunities without process workers getting defensive.

Encourage Communication and Collaboration to Fix Process Problems

Since teams are acting and behaving differently, and process focus is elevated, employees feel safer about making problems visible. Employees are less guarded and can have constructive conversations around process issues without feeling like the finger pointing will start.

How to Build A Pulse Point Map:

1. Gather a group of people that work in the process.

The people to involve are: Leads, Managers, Supervisors, and frontline workers. Each process step, and/or functional area should be represented when building this, because involvement helps build employee commitment to using it. Don’t make the mistake of only involving a few people to build this.

2. Start with a basic process map.

Below is a process map for processing a birth, death or marriage certificate by mail:

Process - Pulse Point Map 2 - GoLeanSixSigma.com

3. Determine What Key Questions Are Important To Ask

Work with the team to determine what key questions would be important to ask about the process. Facilitate by asking: “What questions might we ask throughout this process to know if the process is working well?” Ideally, these questions are typically related to cost, quality, accuracy, and/or delivery. For example, questions related to delivering customer requirements like cycle time and accuracy are ideal.  Managing workload and/or staff allocation can also be important. Here are some examples of questions that that have been used for Pulse Point Map development:

  • Who is working on what?
  • What is the workload?
  • What is the flow of the work?
  • How will we know if errors occur?
  • When is information incomplete?
  • How will we know if there is a problem?
  • Are we meeting a customer requirement?
  • Are we meeting a stakeholder requirement?
  • Are things being completed timely?
  • Is there a bottleneck? How will we know if we need to reallocate resources?
  • What percent of the inputs are complete?

Taking our process example, for processing certificates by mail, these are some of the questions that would help the team to know if the process is working well:

Process - Pulse Point Map - GoLeanSixSigma.com

4. Identify Ways To Answer The Questions Using Visual Management Tools

Once the questions are identified, the group will work together to identify ways to answer the questions using visual management tools. The purpose of using Visual Management is to answer these questions, at a glance (at 10 feet within 5 seconds). Often, the first several times Visual Management is developed, it doesn’t meet the ten feet, five second target. Building effective Visual Management is an evolution! Nobody should get in trouble for trying! Something might seem like a great idea for a Visual Control and then after a few weeks, the team discovers that it’s not very easy to interpret. It’s important the team knows that adjustments will be made. The goal is not to have pretty and/or perfect visual controls right out of the gate. Experiment with pencil, paper, and tape first! Encourage the team to experiment!

Shown below are the Visual Management tools that the team came up with for the certificate by mail process. The Visual Controls help workers to communicate better about the process performance. The Visual Controls also help leaders to know, at a glance, if the process is performing as it should. If there are process related problems, it’s much easier to identify them and focus process improvement efforts.

Pulse Point Map - Visual Management - GoLeanSixSigma.com
Production Board - Assignment Board - Pulse Point
Pulse Point Maps are only one of the Leader Standard Work tools to help generate continuous process focus and continuous process improvement.

There are many other Leader Standard Work tools such as Huddle Meetings, Leader Process Walks, and Process Performance Boards that when integrated into Leader discipline as a management system, it can help build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

What other Leader Standard Work tools can you think of integrating into Leader discipline? Share tools with us in the comments below!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.