Our second article in our top tools series from our experts in their field is about Process Mapping. Our Gauteng Director, Maurice Kuhn shares more about why Process Mapping is one of his favourite Lean tools.
Maurice has over 20 years’ experience in business process improvement and has managed strategic projects and run deployments for high profile clients. As a highly experienced facilitator, coach and consultant, he has diverse experience in multiple industries and has used this Lean tool extensively in his career as as Master Black Belt helping organizations to remove inefficiencies and deliver value to their customers.
Definition of a process: A business process is a set of interrelated steps, tasks or activities that, when carried out in the correct sequence, take a set of inputs and convert them into an output of value for an internal or external customer. This includes processes that make a physical product, such as manufacturing plants or assembly lines, or administrative processes such as client invoicing or new employee take-on processes.
What is process mapping?
Robert Bresson, the iconic 20th Century French film director, said “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen”. For me, this symbolises the power of process mapping as a tool in the hands of the skilled Lean Six Sigma practitioner. In the Lean toolkit, process mapping is a vital tool with multiple business benefits. Its purpose is to make processes visible by documenting the current and to be processes with documented improvements. I have found process maps in organisations are often used for quality management systems as evidence for auditing. It does not take much effort to scratch the surface and find the gap between what was mapped and what is actually happening in the business. This form of mapping is not Lean, but a wasteful activity. At the start of any improvement initiative, Process Mapping requires understanding and visualising the process in order to see the opportunities for improvement. There are few tools as powerful as this at discovering waste (non-value adding work) in processes. This tool can then be followed by additional Lean tools – in fact if used correctly it can lay a solid foundation for the business improvement plan.
Why is this your top tool?
Process mapping creates a great foundation for Lean Six Sigma Improvements. In new environments this is a ‘must-do’ tool for me. It helps create an aligned view for the entire team and is a great change-management tool as everyone gets to understand and feel included. It also creates great energy and inspires involvement from everyone in the team.
When would you use this tool?
There can be several versions of process maps. We have already discussed the value of mapping the existing (current-state) map, but this is irrelevant if it does not lead to an improved future-state process, which again should be mapped. Describing solutions in an improved future-state is of little use, unless it can be supported by how the process will be impacted with implementation.
What are the general steps to take when applying it?
Planning is most important before embarking on a process mapping session. The right amount and type of planning is directly proportionate to the success of the process mapping session.
- Clarify the Purpose – clarify why you are mapping this process (are you mapping the current-state, future state or desired state)
- Define the Scope – what flow (information/material) will you be mapping for which product/ service? Are there specific products, services or processes you want to exclude?
- Identify the customers of the process – Are they internal or external and what is the value they get from this process?
- Identify the stakeholders – who participates in this process?
- Map the process activities– there are various ways to map – I prefer using ‘sticky/post-it notes’ for each activity and order them in a flow (left-to-right).
- Add decision-points and arrows to indicate flow
- List any issues, wastes, barriers or rework-loops during the mapping exercise
- Verify – ensure role players review the process for validity and address any gaps
What advice would you give to others thinking about using it?
Be careful not to over-simplify the importance of this tool. Common mistakes I see include using an existing documented process map in the quality management system as a reflection of the current-state process. Also, not mapping the relevant details and perhaps keeping it too high-level can cause complications.
Maurice Kuhn is TLC’s Gauteng Director with over 20 years’ experience in business process improvement. He is a Master Black Belt and manages strategic projects and runs deployments for our high profile clients. He has trained over 500 delegates in courses such as Lean Leadership, Change Management, Lean, Lean Six Sigma Yellow, Green and Black Belt. He works with clients as a change leader, project leader, mentor and coach. His ability to engage with people in all levels in an organisation makes him an inspirational mentor and coach while he supports large scale deployments.